Research News

New faculty: Jaco Hamman connects theology and practice

Jaco Hamman (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

The Rev. Jaco Hamman’s decision to avoid the draft—the one by the South African military to maintain apartheid—propelled his 1993 move from his native country to the United States, where work as a hospital chaplain shaped his career.

“In the South African apartheid system, all white males were drafted at age 16, but I was able to defer while a student,” Hamman said. “At age 26, with a master’s from the Stellenbosch University Seminary School, I couldn’t put this off any longer and had to leave.”

Hamman is the new director of the Divinity School’s Program in Theology and Practice and also an associate professor in the area of religion, psychology and culture. He was born and raised in South Africa, where his ancestors, many of whom were members of the Dutch Reformed Church, settled in the 18th century.

Jaco Hamman (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

Hamman’s interest in people’s emotional, spiritual and relational experiences deepened while serving as a chaplain for Yale New Haven Health System and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary, where his dissertation focused on the biblical figure Job. Hamman earned his doctorate in 2000 and spent three years as a pastoral psychotherapist, group therapist and marriage and family therapist in New York City.

Hamman loved his work but did not relish the Big Apple’s hectic pace. He landed a teaching position at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., which is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. There he was a professor of pastoral care and counseling. One of his books, A Play-Full Life: Slowing Down and Seeking Peace, focuses on the value of play for adults as a transformative experience that encourages learning and discovery for all ages.

“Having grown up in Africa, I bring a sense of community and collaboration to my work that seems different from the emphasis on individuality that I found in North America,” Hamman said. “Many African people, and I recognize this within myself, live according to the principle of ubuntu. In the language of Xhosa or Zulu, this word literally means ‘I am because of who we are.’ [rquote]Ubuntu is the defining principle for me in terms of my strength and identity.”[/rquote]

As expected, Hamman will apply the principle of ubuntu to his leadership of the Program in Theology and Practice, which recently received a $5 million grant awarded by the Lilly Endowment Inc.

“This is already a fantastic program,” he said. “Now we must build awareness among seminary schools that will hire our graduates about their unique strengths as groundbreaking scholars who do practical theology in every discipline.”

View the complete list of new university faculty for 2012-13.

View the complete list of new medical faculty for 2012.