From Morality Tales to Other Questions – Karen-Marie’s Invitation to Explore the 2023 Theme

Writing my dissertation on the emerging ecclesiology of a 19th century American religious movement, I stumbled across numerous ‘morality tales’ in the publications of that nascent denomination. They often featured wayward children, especially girls, who found their way to faith after the death of their mother or another existential crisis.

As a mother of three young children as well as a grad student, these narratives fascinated and horrified me. Why did 19th century Christians find them so compelling? What were they trying to say about children, parents, religiosity, and faith? I wrestled with these questions as a sidebar to my primary research and, when an unexpected invitation came to jump from systematic theology to religious education as my academic focus, I realized I could make questions like these my life’s work.

Much has changed in the lives of children since the 19th century and the 1990s, when my children were young. Globalization, digital culture, transgender rights, BLM, the #MeToo movement, the war in Ukraine. And much remains stubbornly the same. Bias and discrimination, forced (re)education, violence, suffering, and a concern for how these things affect children.

It is against these shifting and constant realities of children’s lives that the REA 2023 Annual Meeting program team invites you to explore the question of who bears responsibility for the religious formation of children and what that responsibility entails.

Those 19th century morality tales tended to place most of the responsibility on mothers and – once they reached a certain age – on children themselves. I’m more inclined to start with Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory and work out from there. I’m eager to hear what other ideas will emerge as we explore this question together.

Whether your research focuses directly on children or not, it likely has implications for the religious education of children. That’s because children and adults are so intertwined – and globalization has so knit together the world – that the work we do in one area affects people and systems that interact with children. (Bronfenbrenner again.) So I want to personally invite you to foreground for a season the question of what those effects might be and share your reflections with your REA colleagues next summer. We have much to learn from each other!

Also, I hope you’ll check this space again in a couple of weeks, when Ronelle will share why she’s excited about the main theme of REA’s next annual meeting.

The program co-chairs for the REA2023 annual meeting are Jos de Kock, Karen-Marie Yust, and Ronelle Sonnenberg.

Scroll to Top