Beyond Normativity: A Response from Europe

I wanted to share this response from Monique van Dijk-Groeneboer and Ina ter Avest to my blog post of this past November. …Kathy

In her blog Kathy Winings writes: “Unfortunately we have no models within the larger arena to guide us in moving beyond white normativity.” In our pre-REA meeting in Utrecht, March 7-9, we (Michal Opatrny Natascha Kienstra Ozlem Atay, Duncan Wielzen, Julia Ipgrave, Silke Leonhard, Peter Schreiner, Cok Bakker, Monique Van Dijk-Groeneboer, Ina ter Avest) discovered that – although there are no guidelines available – we could learn from each others’ failures to move beyond white normativity. Reframing our question (from: best practices, to: poor practices) moved us beyond powerlessness, since we learned from each other what definitely would NOT help us any further.

From the contribution of the Eastern European countries (Michal Opatrny) we learned the hindering power of prejudices based on past experiences. Suspicion based on experiences with the interaction of the suppressor (former Soviet Union) comes to  the fore in the encounter with new strangers (West-Europeans), who are in the first place seen as new suppressors. He mentions the fear for neo-colonisation by the West. Coming beyond the Russian normativity means first of all challenging existing prejudices regarding ‘the other’.

From Ozlem Atay’s contribution from Turkey we learned about the treasures that can be dug up from interdisciplinary collaborationon going beyond the restricted grounds of normativity in each and every single discipline. Her examples of interdisciplinary cooperation between Management and Theology – still in a premature stage – are promising. Also a closer cooperation of ‘Education’ and ‘Theology’/’Theologies’ is seen as facilitating the process of ‘beyond’. A special role is dedicated to the discipline of Psychology of Religion, in the sense of encouraging students’ sensitivity for the diversity in religious and spiritual experiences that will open students’ minds to go ‘beyond’ the normativity of their comfort zone regarding religion(s).

The Dutch participants emphasized the power of words, and accordingly the imaginative power (positive or negative) of concepts. The Netherlands is a very diverse country with many religions, cultures and ethnic backgrounds united (Monique van Dijk). In this Dutch context for example the concept of ‘white’ and ‘black’ schools is used, denoting schools with mainly native Dutch children and migrant children respectively. These concepts are subject to hot disputes these days in the Netherlands (Duncan Wielzen). The same holds for the concept of ‘white normativity’. Do these concepts fasten people down in a world of opposites and as such hinder them to move ‘beyond’? To move beyond a categorization with contrasting words, the concept of ‘diversity’ is coined (for instance by Cok Bakker).

Challenges in the process of going ‘beyond’ and the role of RE therein are noticed by the German participant Peter Schreiner:  secularisation, pluralisation of religiosities/spiritualities and accordingly moralities, relativism vs fundamentalism, and in the European context the marginalisation of the school subject of RE.

Preconditional seemed for all participants of this pre-REA encounter a conceptual analysis and ‘practical wisdom’ of the concept of dialogue, as a prerequisite for combined efforts in going ‘beyond’; dialogue in its verbal as well as non-verbal practices (e.g. music and theatre).

At the end of our three-days meeting we decided to submit a proposal for a collaborative session on the REA 2018 meeting. In several countries we will prepare other pre-REA meetings to combine the diverse ideas in filling “the” European perspective and learning from each other every step of this way. The aim is to present at REA examples of poor and of best practice of attempts to move beyond, and these are to be discussed with invited experts.

Please join through this blog with ideas and experiences, and we will keep you posted!

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