- ANGELA YOUNG MAN
Writing a dissertation on Gypsy, Roma and itinerant culture and what it meant for the Church proved eye-opening for author Steven Horne and his tutors.
Born to a Roma father and a Gorger (non-Roma) mother, Horne grew up at the intersection of two cultures. While training as a religious education teacher, he decided to focus on a subject that interested him.
“The dissertation resulted in 10,000 words of questions and few answers,” said Dr Horne. Seen. “My tutors gave me a first and said they would like to offer me a PhD scholarship to research gypsies, romanis and travelers [GRT] theology. I felt I was inspired by God to continue watching it.
It turned out to be a unique subject. Traditionally, GRT communities have focused on an oral culture, and all writing about the faith has been short and independently produced. GRT families have traditionally sought out Roman Catholic or Church of England churches, but during the 20th century many began to form their own Evangelical Pentecostal churches.
Horne, whose research took him across the continent visiting Traveler communities, became the first Roma in the UK to earn a doctorate in theology. He recently published a book about his research, The Gypsies and Jesus: A Theology of the Traveller, which provides an eye-opening insight into contemporary GRT religiosity and spirituality, demonstrating how a “traveller’s theology” can function as a mode of practice and thought for everyone, regardless of race and ethnicity.
“I looked at how gypsy Christians prioritize Christianity and how it is part of their lives. GRT sees itself as different from sedentary people, in politics, in purity. The concept of purity is essential.
Purity is considered to be more than just an avoidance of premarital sex, it is an integral part of GRT culture with spotless homes, men and women seated separately at events, and different tableware used for weddings. gypsies and non-gypsies. The focus is on heritage, with surnames linked to ancestors.
“Purity is important. It is not just about separation between travelers and non-travelers, but about purity of self. Distance is necessary – Christianity is like a journey, emphasizing purity and keeping free from sin.
Another key element of GRT theology is that of “edges”.
“The ‘peripheries’ are where the ‘others’ reside and where separation is maintained,” says Horne. “Since their emergence in Europe, GRT people have been kept physically, socially, politically and educationally on the margins of our wider society.”
“Jesus spent most of his ministry in the ‘outskirts’, spending time serving those deemed unfit and unworthy by society. He also created his own shorelines, spending time alone in prayer and even dying on the shores of the cross. I want people to see how they are both called to heed and walk alongside the marginalized and ostracized, and how they hold the sanctity of boundaries within their own boundaries of prayer, virtue and walk of faith.”
Horne says that while “everyone goes through many transitions in their lifetime”, in the theology of travelers the most important is the journey from God and back.
“Traveler’s theology places nomadism and impermanence at the center of faith,” says Horne. “Such thinking reflects the way all people engage with a church, moving from one life moment to the next, always moving, always changing.”
“Our journey through this life is just that – a journey. It cannot be interrupted, interrupted or reversed.” Horne writes in the book. “We are all travelers in one way or another.”
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