Prioritizing our work

From Bob O’Gorman:

As we have this discussion between now and February 15 a clarity of the initial topic(s) should emerge and then we can move on to the task of structuring the Think Tank as a vehicle to elaborate and provide wisdom. Just what will emerge from our discussion over the next two months is not clear. Thus, I do not see any restriction on the discussion we can have over this time. It is suggested that you go to the minutes of the 2013 meeting to begin to engage this dissuasion of priorities. For those of you who were not at that meeting this list may prompt other ideas. For those of you who were you may have developed other ideas. As recorded these statements are generalizations which obviously need refinement to lead to productivity. After 15 February will have a better sense of where the energy is for some initial topics for this Think Tank to take on.

I have made an initial post to begin our discussion:


13 thoughts on “Prioritizing our work”

  1. In attempting to prioritize the initial topic(s) for the work of the Think Tank I find myself immediately attracted to #6 The Embodied Identity of Religious Education in the History of the Folks who have been a part of REA/APRRE for the Last Several Decades.

    The members of the senior Think Tank have something to offer both to religious education and especially to the deliberate community devoted to it – REA/APPRE.

    #6 gives the living context for our work and gets us to reach into and articulate our identities as Religious Educators. And then from this context of self-identity I am drawn to #1 Articulation of the Academic Identity of the field of Religious Education d) “Clarifying the focus of the work of REA with religion in contrast to AAR”.

    I see this topic as not only speaking to the academy in general but specifically to the clarification of the thrust of REA. Hopefully this conversation starter can attract you to join in: not just responding to this post but expressing your emphasis and nuance in these topics.

  2. Number 4, public religious education is a field in which I have been working for some 12 years now. I currently teach at a community college. CC’s exemplify the challenge of teaching about religion in public settings including public k-12 schools. Some CC’s have NO courses about religion fearing on the one hand their capture by proselytizing teachers or on the other hand the debunking or dismissing of religion by others with an ax to grind. Few other CC’s have departments of religious studies. Some offer an Introduction to Religion course (paralleling intros to ethics and philosophy). Faculties with PhD’s in the area of religion are the minority and many of those have not had preparation in education (a problem shared with PhD’s in many fields.) A master’s degree in the area qualifies many faculty members, so a fair number of teachers are clergy. Perhaps the majority are adjuncts and do not participate in professional organizations such as AAR or REA due to financial and temporal limitations. Since religious illiteracy is rampant in the U. S. (and other countries as well) we repeatedly reap the ravages of such ignorance in the country. I contend this is a critical area. AAR does little to provide for CC teachers and a recent study by AAR mostly bemoaned the fact that there were few PhD’s teaching in CC’s but provided little in the way of working with those who are teaching without benefit of the PhD. In a sense this concern relates to the question whether REA should (can?) speak to the practitioner in the field (churches, synagogues, mosques, schools) in a way that can involve more practitioners at the annual meeting and in other ways. The Journal is a premiere contribution to the academic field but is there a need for another vehicle (blog, perhaps) which will encourage practitioners to draw from the fruits of research and to describe their work in the field reflectively?

  3. The challenge here is that all 6 points are important. I do agree with both Bob and Burton. Though I wonder if there isn’t some overlap with #4 and #3 in terms of both topics dealing with the dynamics between our field and the wider public. I am concerned about our doctoral and master level graduates and their future. But I am also concerned with how our field is viewed in non-theological campuses and in the public mind. Even my own students, when they first take classes, struggle with seeing our field as being about Sunday Schools, CCD classes, adult Bible Study classes, etc. Fortunately, by the middle of the term, little light bulbs start to go on when they finally go beyond their limited perspectives of the field.

    I also see so many schools cutting out the MRE or MCE degree programs or, as Bob noted, placing the field under Practical Theology. I wonder if there can be a happy medium here. It might be interesting to have a substantive dialogue between those who self-identify as practical theologians and those who self-identify as religious educators.

    In terms of Bob’s comment, I agree that there is a rich history still around the field. How can that history be captured and placed in dialogue with more current scholars in the field? An intergenerational view, so to speak. As you can see, I am someone who always looks for the third paradigm. Instead of either/or, I believe in and/together as a paradigm.

    In all of this, is there a different kind of language we can use? Is there a different perspective we should try out for awhile to help us change our thinking and to move beyond our boxes? What is possible?

    In one sense, I think our field is just on the cusp of something new and exciting. A renewal of energy and thought but with additional dialogue partners. So when I think about what is possible, I see almost endless possibilities and opportunities here.

  4. I concur with some of Kathy’s interests, particularly the place of the field of religious education within the academy – I also often deal with students who understand religious education in a very limited sense as concerned with what we do to them, with the them mostly being children and youth. As someone committed to adult religious education, I focus on highlighting the importance of understanding religious education theory and practice for anyone engaged in pastoral ministry – the person involved in the religious education of children and youth or in liturgy/worship or in community building or in social justice or in campus ministry are all going to be engaged in adult religious education in some way. How we address that is, i think, as important as whether or not we offer an MA in religious education.

    Secondarily – and not unrelated – is an interest I have in maintaining a sense of the history of religious education in terms of both the work of early Christian writers and teachers and the contribution of those working in the past 100 years or so. What role can the senior task force plan in keeping that history in focus?

  5. Ronnie Prevost

    Given the nature of this group being comprised of we who are “chronologically enhanced” #6, as Bob states, may be the task for which we are most suited immediately — or, at least, as a first step. Some of the other issues could be addressed within that context. Even that which Jane mentions: of keeping a certain sense of REA’s history. There is the website on “Christian Educators of the 20th Century,” but we need to augment that somehow with attention to the history of REA as an organization. I gave that some attention in my “A History of Christian Education”, but that was both brief and over 20 years ago. Also, the organization has changed in more ways than “just” the merger with APRRE. If we do not articulate REA’s history, identity and dream to younger colleagues– and invite them to join and form that dream with us — those outside our guild will.

  6. Bob, thanks so much for all of your work in getting the “think tank” going. I appreciate the options that are being discussed. I want to raise a question about the “contexts” that carry religious education. We all have had extensive discussions of the purposes of religious education. I think we are pretty well agreed that there are two: forming people in faith and teaching people how to communicate with others in the public square. We are also pretty well agreed that the work involves the ongoing development of the theological tradition and practices of education and formation. Yet, the major changes I think I have seen in the last forty years are about the “carriers” of religious education. I suggest we need some attention there. Frankly many of these carriers are very weak and that is what I think affects our field. How can we participate in the public discussion if we have little knowledge of the content, processes and practices of our faiths? How can we speak about formation when so little seems to taught? At one time we had a host of agencies and settings carrying religious education — schools (released time education and parochial schools), congregations (connected to rich webs of denominational publishing), public discussion, and media (television programs for example teaching Jewish or Catholic identity). For example, as a college student, MOTIVE magazine published by the United Methodist Church looked at public issues from the perspectives of faith. It profoundly affected how I engaged the faith tradition and its impact on public life. Another example, a major expansion in the 1970s were Catholic programs in religious education to teach congregational and school leaders. Without robust carriers of religious education, we can talk forever if it is about theology or education and make no difference. I’d suggest we have some concrete conversation about settings and contexts for religious education and what we can do to heighten their energy and focus. We still have many but not enough focused attention on strengthening this educational ecology.

  7. Margaret Ann Crain

    I am interested in a clarification of religious education as a field and how it relates to practical theology. I think that would help our students to decide whether REA is the academic organization for them. Perhaps a fresh look back would help to recover our identity but I suspect that looking forward will be more fruitful. The Christian churches and indeed most religious groups are changing at a fast pace. How does our field change to respond to the future?

  8. Dear Bob

    Thanks for continuing to organize us.

    I’m happy to go with all or any of the topics below and I think our long term agenda will probably emerge after a few more conversations.

    I suppose my own passion/concern is how to develop religious education as a field of solid scholarship that yet ever empowers and sustains the education-in-faith work of religious communities, and does so in ways that promote the common good of all peoples – as “good” religion should. We are still a long way from realizing this goal but ’tis a worthy vision. Indeed, the peaceable future of humankind may depend on it.

    Anything our group of “oldies” can do to hand on this vision would be very worthwhile.

    Again, many thanks

    Tom Groome

  9. Bob, Thank you for your efforts in getting our conversation going.

    Thanks also to all who have contributed to the conversation.

    I would be most interested in further conversation about the embodied identity of religious education, the history and present identity of the field of religious education, and the connection of religious education to the pastoral life of the church and the mission of the church in the world.

    It also seems to me that further conversation could be fruitful if we adopted a two-fold focus: 1) exploring a central issue, and 2) then commenting on that issue in the light of the specific concerns as religious educators. So, for example, I can imagine us each contributing a paragraph or so on the issue of the history and present identity of the field of religious education and then adding a paragraph or so in which we explored this particular issue in the light of specific concerns about the relationship between religious education and pastoral theology, or the central importance of adult religious education, or the connection between religious education and the pastoral life of the church and the carriers of religious identity.

    I look forward to further conversation, and perhaps we can encourage other colleagues to join in.

  10. Judith Johnson-Siebold

    Jack’s interest in the contexts that carry religious education seems to me to be the most pregnant with possibilities.

    Judith Johnson-Siebold

  11. The responses so far raise several key themes for this group. In general, I believe we should be careful to address issues that reflect the unique perspective of those who have been leaders in the discipline for so many years. In other words, what issues have been neglected by the Assoc. at our meetings over the past few years that we might bring back to the surface with our unique set of voices.

    Several have already mentioned attention to history matters: both REA itself and the field as a whole. I have seen precious little representation of these issues recently.

    It may also be helpful to address the nature of the discipline again as well. We seem to have become so diverse in themes that it is not clear what makes us US anymore.

    Just a few thoughts. Thanks, Bob!

  12. I am interested in a discussion about the commitment to religious education by denominations in light of the reduction in religious education faculty at some seminaries. I have observed that religious education professors are not being replaced on faculties during these difficult economic times.

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