Elina Hankela is currently researcher affiliated with both the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki and the Research Institute for Theology and Religion at the University of South Africa. She has a strong interest in social ethics, particularly issues related to migration and urban life, as well as a keen interest in the exploration of the possibilities and challenges of using anthropological research methods in constructive systematic theology and ethics.
Of particular interest for us is her research that focuses on the negotiation of Ubuntu – a concept that combines humanity with relationship – in the interactions between a local Central Methodist Mission congregation in Johannesburg and the refugees and homeless South Africans who come to live in the CMM church. It allows particularly reflection on the relation between a specific philosophical discourse and message of inclusion and embrace and concrete human relationships in which it is to take shape. That is, she takes CMM as a locus to examine the interface between theory and practice, between moral maxim and its application in specific contexts, such as inner-city Johannesburg. Her ethnographic approach allows to bring in view the concrete shapes of being (considered) human which can reshape the questions asked concerning being human, vulnerability and love. Her book Ubuntu, Migration and Ministry: Being Human in a Johannesburg Church was published in 2104.
Nhlanhla Mkhize notes that “[t]o be a human being is a social practice; it requires one to co-operate with others by doing good”.
As much as the demand for reciprocity makes the other party responsible for one’s conduct towards them, it also suggests that the other is in actual fact regarded to be a human being, that is, someone capable of expressing ubuntu towards other human beings, someone capable of participating in a humane relationship in which both are and become human. While the other group was often seen to de facto entail unyama (i.e. animal-like conduct; the opposite of ubuntu), they were still expected to behave like human beings and convey ubuntu.…In other words, there was no categorical denial of the humanity of the other group. In this sense, the rule of reciprocity was indeed based on a perception of the other as human, and a demand for reciprocal actualisation of that humanity, more specifically the potential ubuntu, became a regulating mechanism at the level of everyday interaction (Hankela, E., ‘Rules of Reciprocity and Survival in Negotiating Ubuntu at the Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg,’ Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 2013(147):89, 86-87)