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New data outlines Pacific graduates of Theology from the University of Otago

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2: Group photo at the Induction of Rev Dr Fele Nokise as an Honorary Fellow of Theology at the University of Otago. Photo: Provided
Group photo at the Induction of Rev Dr Fele Nokise as an Honorary Fellow of Theology at the University of Otago. Photo: Provided
Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

A list of past and present Pacific graduates who completed their studies at the University of Otago has been compiled to celebrate Pacific scholarship and achievement in theology.

It coincides with the Theology Programme at the University of Otago marking its 75th anniversary in 2021.

Project lead for Pacific Graduates in Theology, Rev. Dr. Wayne Te Kaawa says, “when we (Mikaela and I) looked at the project we realised that in Theology we have established somewhat of a tradition of Pacific graduates where for 46 years we have had Pacific people graduate with degrees, masters, and doctorates and they have never really been acknowledged.”

Working alongside Rev. Dr. Te Kaawa is Mikaela Sotutu LLB, BTheol (Hons) who undertook the research during the summer of 2021-2022.

Rev. Te Kaawa says, “the project was one way to get Pacific success acknowledged. Many of the graduates I know personally and have ministered and taught with and their impact and influence on society in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific has been quite considerable and we wanted to highlight that. I think we have built a legacy for Pacific success, achievement and contribution to society.”

From the first graduate in 1976 to 2022 there have been 142 graduates of Pacific descent in theology.

A statistical breakdown of data that was compiled and analysed reveals the following:

DipTheol 12, BTheol 88, BTheol(Hons) 5, BD 19, GradDip 13, PGDip 8, PGDipMin 1, PGCertChap 1, PGDipTheol 8, MTheol 14, MMin 5, PhD 12

Total Degrees Awarded: 186 degrees awarded. Pacific graduates constitute 8% of the total 1630 theology graduates.

Data reveals the following ethnicity of Pacific graduates:

Samoa 78 Solomon Island 4 Tonga 5 Cook Island 8 Niue 18 Tuvalu 4 Tokelau 2 Fiji 1 Papua New Guinea 5

Rev Dr Fele Nokise, first Pacific graduate in Theology (1976). Photo: Pacific Theological College
Rev Dr Fele Nokise, first Pacific graduate in Theology (1976). Photo: Pacific Theological College

Many of the Pacific theology graduates originally came into the programme in the mid-1970s through the Presbyterian ministry school based at Knox College in Dunedin who required that their students study theology at Otago as part of their ministry formation.

The research also shows that from 2006 the numbers of Pacific graduates decreased at under-graduate level with only ten graduates with a Bachelor of Theology. The data shows that in the same period there was an increase in post-graduate degrees awarded with twenty-two.

An important value in Pacific society is service to the community. The contribution of the Pacific Theology graduates from Otago to theology programmes throughout the Pacific region has been quick and significant.

Data reveals the following:
– 10 lectureships in Theology
– 1 Professor of Theology (Professor Fele Nokise, Pacific Theological College, Fiji)
– 3 Principles of Theological Colleges, (Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea)
– 4 Deans of Theological Colleges

Four of the graduates have been acknowledged for their service to Church and Community and have been awarded with a Queens Service Medal.

Rev. Te Kaawa says the first step was the creation of the list and the second is to create a Pacific Theology alumni. The plan is to develop further research that could lead into a Masters or Doctoral research.

It is also hoped other Pacific researchers could apply for funding for a publication to tell their stories.

Otago University will deliver a paper on Pacific Theology. It is understood it is the first ever University paper that looks at Pacific Theology in New Zealand and the world outside of the Pacific. The long term goal is to establish a fully funded lectureship in Pacific Theology at the University.

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