Volume 24, Issue 4
Words and Picture Fiona Basile
Dr Joel Hodge has accomplished much for his 30 years of age. The Brisbane-born theologian graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Studies in Religion) from the University of Queensland in 2009, released his first book, Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor, last year, was an assistant professor at St Anselm College in New Hampshire, US (2008-09) and is now a lecturer in Systemic Theology in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. He has enjoyed the move to Melbourne, although he is still not convinced AFL is ‘real footy’. He is a supporter of the Brisbane Broncos in the National Rugby League and the Queensland Reds in the Super Rugby—it should be no surprise that he barracks for the Brisbane Lions!
JOEL grew up in Paddington, an inner-northern suburb of Brisbane, and attended the Marist secondary college at Rosalie. Although he appreciated his education and faith formation at Rosalie, he enjoyed the move to university where he ‘could immerse himself in the intellectual life’. He was studying a double degree in Law and Arts, majoring in politics and history at Queensland University of Technology, but by the end of second year, felt a call to explore religious studies.
He transferred to the University of Queensland, where he undertook Studies in Religion, focused on Biblical Studies. He did so well that his lecturer asked if he would consider doing honours, which he did. Then, while Joel completed his honours, his supervisor asked if he had thought about a doctorate. So, Joel’s progression to becoming an academic and theologian occurred.
‘I always had a strong sense of my faith and of a particular calling,’ he said, ‘but going through school I didn’t think I was going to be a theologian. It just started off with a yearning or calling to do more study in this area and to learn more about my faith, the Bible and theology. So, it just developed and doors opened up—it was providence, I suppose, and I’ve just continued on these pathways.’
During his academic studies, Joel became involved with a local parish group, Friends and Partners with East Timor. Through this, a relationship between the Brisbane Catholic parishes of St John’s Wood/The Gap and Bardon and the parish of Atabae in East Timor had been established where parishioners would pray for each other, visit each other and provide developmental assistance. In December 2003, Joel travelled with two other young people from the parish to Atabae.
While in East Timor, Joel found out that he had received a scholarship to complete his doctorate at the University of Queensland. He spent 2004 working out the nature and topic of his thesis and knew that he would incorporate his experience in East Timor in his research project. ‘I wanted to explore questions of faith, violence, the totalitarian state and the Church in the specific context of East Timor,’ he said.
In preparing his research project and writing his thesis, Joel visited East Timor for weeks at a time in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. In 2004, he had started officially learning the East Timorese language of Tetum under the guidance of Sr Eufemia Lacerda da Costa FDCC, a ‘woman of great faith and strength’.
‘Sr Eufemia is a very generous, dynamic person and a great leader of the Timorese community in Brisbane and now in Darwin,’ said Joel. ‘She helped me in 2004 when I conducted interviews with the people and also in 2005 and 2006—she was extremely helpful in locating people who had extraordinary stories to share.’
These stories not only formed the basis of Joel’s thesis but also his recently published book, Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor.
‘They’re really extraordinary stories,’ he said. ‘The interviews helped me to understand their experiences in history, through their lens. As you come into contact with Timorese people, you come to understand there’s a deep trauma from all those years of violence and oppression from the Indonesian Government and military but, despite this, they have an amazing perspective of faith, forgiveness and hope.
‘Whenever I think of 1999 and the way the Timorese voted at a referendum for independence from Indonesia—78.6 per cent voted in favour—while being terrorised and intimidated, I get goose bumps. It took amazing courage to do that.
‘When you see the way their Christian faith is lived out in the community, in really difficult and challenging times, you can see the depths of faith there. God is with them in those challenging moments and he goes to the very heart of who they are—their identity.’
Joel is not only appreciative of the people he met in East Timor, for sharing their experiences and stories, he is also grateful to his PhD supervisor, Dr Draško Dizdar, who introduced him to French Catholic academic and literary critic Rene Girard, who inspired his research work and writing, and who continues to inspire him intellectually.
‘Girard’s insight into the nature of our desire and the nature of our relationships, culture, Revelation, and of Jesus’ self-giving, has deepened my own understanding of faith and suffering,’ he said.
‘Girard’s work helps me to understand the way in which the grace of God is poured out even in the midst of violence and that Jesus enacts that in a very intentional and purposeful way. So I’m grateful to Girard’s influence, the people of East Timor and the effect they’ve had on my life and how they’ve been so willing to share their experience with me. I’m also really grateful for the way the Spirit has touched my life and has allowed me to have faith, even though it’s difficult at times.’
Joel is also grateful to his family—his parents Vince and Susanne and his siblings, James, Andrew, Samuel and Mary—who influenced him in his faith journey.
‘Mum and Dad always cultivated a very faithful home, and one that was open to inquiry. We had discussions and were free to talk about all these things. And we had Grandma living next door, who was a great woman of faith—she brought up 11 children—so she was tough, but very caring.’
Joel is currently working on his next research project in political theology.
Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor
is available in hard copy or as an e-book from Ashgate publishers: