Field Guide for the Future: Design, Theology and Innovation

A 12 week course that explores the complex and diverse cultural contexts that we find ourselves in and addresses them with an innovative methodology and new theological responses in order to help you to effectively address the particular challenges you or your organization faces.

New Cohort Starts September 23rd!

Cultural Contexts

The world around us is constantly evolving in directions that sometimes defy the imagination. Digital technology and social media have created a global interconnectedness and reframed both how and what we communicate. Our course focuses on the changing cultural contexts we are all dealing with as we journey deeper into the 21st century. We explore the macro and micro, the global and the personal, impact of these shifts upon our lives and place particular focus on the implications of these shifts on faith communities and traditional expressions of the divine.


Innovative Theology

Innovative theology is not a particular ideological approach to theology but a way of approaching the language of faith and scripture in novel ways. We feel strongly that the answer to the cultural shifts we find ourselves negotiating is not answered simply by a change in ritual or form but more importantly, by a radical recapitulation of theology. It’s more about what we talk about and how we talk about what we talk about than what we do in church services. We feel that a more comprehensive approach to the way we do and express our theological ideas is of ultimate importance.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is a core part of our approach. Design Thinking is a unique approach to problem solving. Its methodology is oriented in empathy, fueled by deep understanding and care for those with, and for whom, we do our work. Design thinking is about people not process; it's about awareness of the real and felt needs of people in our communities and with creating inventive responses to address those contextual issues. We use design thinking in conjunction with theological innovation connected to the cultural contexts we find ourselves in.

12 week outline

Week 1 will offer a brief introduction to the complete 12-week course, including pertinent technological, logistical and administrative issues, course assignments and a brief review of recommended reading.  The lecture will focus on spiritual innovation, explaining H&Co’s approach to, and the importance of, innovation in spiritual work. We expect innovation in areas like medicine, science and technology, but seldom consider its pertinence to spirituality.

Our second lecture focuses on imagination as social practice, a central element of contemporary life and action. Once viewed, along with fantasy, as an antidote to the struggles of life, imagination has become a critical component for life in the 21st century. More people in more parts of the world consider a wider set of possibilities for their lives than at any other time in human history, and fantasy and more importantly imagination has become a social practice.

We all know religion has made a comeback in recent years, but that comeback is not so much a resurrection of old gods as an entirely new permutation of the sacred. From fundamentalists to fanatics, new agers to neo-mystics, integral spiritualists to yoga freaks new forms and of course the non-religious spiritual seekers.  Expressions of the religious impulse are everywhere. What this means for traditional forms of credal religions remains to be seen. This lecture will offer a comprehensive analysis of the current spiritual landscape and isolate key issues that require serious reflection.

Cultural change happens on two key levels: internal and external. Internal cultural change can occur within a given culture when new philosophical ideas emerge or when there is a technological shift or development. Discoveries in science or medicine, hygiene or politics can also contribute to changes within a culture.  External cultural change happens through contact with other cultures, the exchange ideas, called diffusion, can contribute to change. Technology has not only made the diffusion of ideas pervasive, it also happens at lightning speed and effects a new kind of internal/external shift. This lecture will explore the key cultural changes that are reframing our world.

Economics is more than the simple study of money, it is the complex set of factors that are connected to our material lives. Since the dawn of the 21st century we have experienced a number of events that have dramatically shifted the economic landscape and brought us to a new set of realities about what it means to live a material life. The nature of work, the shift to a cashless society, growing disparities between rich and poor are re-shaping the economic geography of our time. This lecture will examine the reality of the current economic climate and establish key points for discussion.

Humans and technology have always gone hand-in-hand. Technology is not simply the electric and electronic inventions that have proliferated over the past 100 years, technology relates to all the artifacts that enhance and allow our humanity to flourish and survive. Technological revolutions are transformative to individuals and societies-they change our understanding of ourselves and the world about us. This lecture will explore the impact of digital technologies upon the self, others and the world.

One of the challenges is that theology often becomes little more than a means of managing something that is essentially uncontrollable by us. Modern Christianity has been characterized by a kind of naive confidence that declares that we have clear insight into reality and that the task of theology is essentially to give people answers to the challenges of existence. Interestingly, Jesus’ key theological device seemed to be the question rather than the answer, particularly when he engaged those who were in positions of religious power and authority.  This lecture will explore innovative theology, not as a particular ideological position, but as a means of re-framing both what theology is and what theology can offer people today as they seek to come to terms with their own humanity.

This lecture will explore the role that analysis and imagination play in design thinking. DT is solution-focused and action oriented and draws on logic, intuition and imagination to explore the possibilities of what could be and to create desired outcomes. Design thinking utilizes the imagination as a means of creating an improved future and to build ideas up, unlike critical thinking which breaks them down. Problem-solving is making things go away, creating is the opposite, it is about bringing something into being. The ultimate purpose is to improve the quality of life for people and the world around us.

Design Thinking, or Human Centered Design is a relatable, human-centered method for creative problem solving and innovation. It takes a holistic approach to design, taking inspiration from real people in real situations. DT works within all kinds of environments and technological constraints and prioritizes the ‘human’ in everything.  This lecture will introduce Human Centered Design or Design Thinking, giving an overview of its history and development, it’s key ideas, central focus and ultimate purpose, and empathic core value which makes it an ideal partner for spiritual innovation.

The approach we take in this course, and with all our work, is a holistic one. We feel strongly that every discipline should be in dialog and conversation with each other. Nothing exists in a vacuum and we are mindful of the danger of simply trying to graft a business-type practice onto a spiritual situation. We are convinced of the compatibility of Design Thinking with and for spiritual communities, not as a new management tool but as part of the core value system and theological partner to community innovation. This lecture will focus on the philosophical commitments of both Design Thinking and innovative theology, highlighting challenges, synchronicities and potentials of a model for transformation based on the blending of the two disciplines.

To create significant and long-lasting change, we have to not only understand the environment in which we are working but also alter the social systems that sustain the old ways and often resist change, even in the face of looming disaster. The fact that life is change and yet institutional and organizational resistance to change is almost expected. This lecture will address the challenges and opportunities that come with innovative ideas and practices, offering insights into effecting healthy change. The importance of a strong and fully developed ecosystem of ideas and practices will be addressed.

As we conclude our 12 week journey we will explore the values that we feel are both vital and central for innovation and transformation. We will also address un-knowing, not-knowing, unpredictability and living with hope in times of uncertainty.

What you can expect

  • One hour of live teaching a week via zoom
  • You will have access to the live video if you can't join us in real time during the week
  • You will receive an array of perspectives, research, data, resources, etc. on the topics at hand each week.  We will bring you the very latest on what is being published and created out there in the world on these matters.
  • There will be a final integrative assignment at the end of each cohort
  • You will learn how to synthesize and contextualize the material for your church, organization and in your own life.
  • You will have opportunity for Q & A at the end of each lecture


Maria French

Maria is Co-Creator of H&Co.  The tenure of her career has been in theological education, as both professor and administrator.  Maria also has also worked in ministry, church planting and denominational leadership. She is focused on faith and culture, offering new forums for faith that are viable and sustainable for an uncertain future. 

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Barry Taylor

Barry is Co-Creator of H&Co.  He is a theologian-philosopher, musician, artist, academic and author, who has spent more than thirty years challenging traditional notions of religion and church. Founder of numerous communities, professor at various universities and author of several insightful books, Barry is beloved and regarded as a cultural theorist and theological innovator.

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Victoria Sun Esparza

In the Water Designs, CEO and Founder, Victoria works in partnership with H&Co curriculum. Victoria specializes in design thinking strategies for religious organizations and non profits.  With a focus on applying principles of design to spirituality and faith, Victoria delivers the very best and latest Human Centered Design has to offer.

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The imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order.”

-Arjun Appadurai


Have questions? Want to talk things over?

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