Russel Botman to receive prestigious Abraham Kuyper Prize

Economic globalisation and the current financial crisis are endangering not only the sustainability of the planet but also the moral welfare of humankind and the future of young people.

Prof Russel Botman

Prof Russel Botman

This will be the message of Stellenbosch University Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Russel Botman when he receives the Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2013 Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life next week.

His acceptance lecture, set to be delivered at PTS on 18 April, is titled “Dread, Hope and the African Dream: An Ecumenical Collage”.

“Amongst others, I will be addressing the current global economic crisis, and specifically its impact on young people and their future. I will refer to the high levels of despair we see globally on the streets today, and explore what it means to ‘hope against hope’ in these conditions,” Prof Botman said.

“I will argue that along our current path, we are in effect sacrificing our unborn descendants because of our own lack of accountability to the next generation.”

The Kuyper Prize, considered to be one of the highest accolades bestowed upon reformed theologians worldwide, is awarded annually by the Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) “to an outstanding scholar or community leader who has contributed to the vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance”. It was established in 1998 in honour of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a Dutch theologian, journalist and politician who was instrumental in the founding of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 1880.

Prof Botman, an internationally-known theologian, higher-education leader and human rights champion, is in his second term at the helm of SU, one of Africa’s top research universities. A former President of the South African Council of Churches, he is also a Vice-President of the Association of African Universities and has received honorary membership of the United Nations Association of South Africa in recognition of contributions to the South African society and the advancement of the Millennium Development Goals.

“It is a great honour for me to receive this prize. I feel humbled, both because of the legacy of Abraham Kuyper and the stature of the Princeton Theological Seminary. The award highlights the crucial role of multi-dimensional leadership. Throughout my life I have committed myself to a theology worthy of rigorous public engagement,” he said.

Prof Botman, the first African within the reformed tradition to receive the prize, added: “The award puts the spotlight in our continent and its people. My wish is that it creates opportunities for other Africans to make contributions on the international stage.”

He has indicated that he will be making a contribution from the prize money associated with the award to the bursary fund of SU’s HOPE Project (www.thehopeproject.co.za). He supports financially needy students in theology and learners with disabilities.

His lecture will form part of the 2013 Kuyper Conference, which will be exploring the relationship between “Church and Academy”. On 20 April, Prof Botman will also be participating in a panel discussion with an input titled “The contribution of theology and higher education in Africa today”.

“I will point out that higher education has an important role in promoting human development. Universities should not only pursue excellence but also relevance. Through a science-for-society approach, universities can help change the world for the better,” Prof Botman said.

“This approach has been the driving force behind SU’s HOPE Project, through which our staff and students are seeking solutions to major societal challenges in South Africa and the rest of the continent,” he said.

Under Prof Botman’s leadership, SU is transforming into a national and continental asset providing a welcoming home to all. The University has recently been included in four rankings of the world’s top higher-education institutions, and is recognized as the university with the highest research output per fulltime staff member in South Africa.

Princeton Theological Seminary was founded in 1812, the first seminary established by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. It is considered one of the world’s preeminent and most influential seminaries, with a number of leading theologians and biblical scholars being alumni of the school. It is also home to the largest theological library in the US.

Previous recipients of the Abraham Kuyper Prize include Charles Villa-Vicencio, former Research Director of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Marilynne Summers Robinson, American novelist and essayist who received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Jan Peter Balkenende, former Prime Minister of The Netherlands, and Andrew Young, pastor, politician, activist and from 1977 to 1979 the US Ambassador to the United Nations.

  • The Princeton Theological Seminary is independent from Princeton University, although the two institutions do have ties.