Every month I’ll be interviewing a humanities, arts or social science academic who engages extensively with their wider community, asking them about the kind of outreach they do and why they feel it’s important.
Our guest today is Reverend Dr Sarah Bachelard, an Honorary Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University.
What is your area of research?
Theology and spirituality.
What kind of outreach do you currently do? (E.g. media articles, radio and television interviews, public lectures, personal website/social media/blog, books for a general audience, other.) What’s your favourite type and why?
I have a range of ‘outreach’ activities including:
- leading retreats and quiet days
- public lectures
- a book for a general audience
- publishing reflections on ABC Religion & Ethics website
- occasional Radio National interview
- Benedictus website and blog
- talks for non-academic conferences and gatherings
- reflections and community days for the Benedictus Contemplative Church community
I enjoy all of the above – probably the most satisfying things are the talks, lectures and retreat days because of interaction with participants and the chance to explore ideas and share insights.
Why do you undertake these outreach activities (why do you think they’re important)?
This outreach seems intrinsic to my work, which is about making the connections between academic theology and the lived experience of the spiritual life. I find that having to speak theologically in these broader contexts really helps to keep my academic work grounded, and accountable to what any of this might mean in practice.
Who is your main audience and why did you choose to focus on them?
My main audience is the church and those just in and around the edges of church. This is the group most interested in connections between theology and spiritual life, although I’m always hoping that what I say might be intelligible and interesting to people who aren’t confessional Christians.
How did you get started with your outreach? What was the first thing you did?
The first thing were some talks and retreats, and also my little book for a general audience [Experiencing God in a Time of Crisis], and from this have come invitations to give public lectures, submit articles for the ABC website, and so on.
What are some of the important things you’ve learned about what works well and what doesn’t? Do you have any memorable stories about outreach activities that went either really well or really badly?
I’ve discovered that what works is a certain degree of reference to my personal experience, acknowledgement of areas of struggle or difficulty, and trying to keep abstract ideas connected to experiences people will recognise or resonate with.
What benefits do you think your outreach has had for your work (both research and teaching)?
As mentioned above, I think it keeps me ‘honest’ and grounded – it’s less easy to go up in a self-referencing academic bubble.
What personal benefits do you think it has had in terms of developing your skills?
It’s taught me to write more vividly (as in a spoken style), and to hone skills in discerning the heart of what I want to say and be able to say it more clearly and succinctly.