Brain Matters

neuroscience, creativity, and diversity

REA Annual Meeting 2011

4-6 November, Toronto, Ontario

Breakout Sessions

There will be three breakout sessions at the meeting this year: Friday, Saturday Morning, and Saturday Afternoon. Please register for one Colloquium, RIG, or Workshop during each session. Note that each RIG requires that you read two papers ahead of the meeting. The Colloquia are a chance for informal discussion about emerging topics. The Workshops provide an opportunity for hands-on development.

Paper Proceedings for RIG presentations are now available

Friday Breakout Sessions

RIG 1.1

Research Interest Group

Doug Blomberg

The heart has reasons that reason cannot know

Neuroscience might appear a threat to educators whose focus is on religion. However, there is significant discussion within the field of “Mind, Brain, and Education” that argues for a multi-aspectual, holistic view of the person and recognises that scientific and educational interests need to be understood as complementary. I present a philosophical model that has been fruitful in bringing a multi-aspectual perspective to bear in geography, information technology, etc. I then explore the role the affective realm plays in cognition and consider the relationship between this and concepts such as desire, in the context of Smith’s argument that Christian colleges focus on intellectual understanding as the main engine of religious formation when they should instead attend to the formative power of the (secular and sacred) liturgies in which students engage.

William Miller

Empathy and Moral Formation: Practicing Virtue in an Age of Neuroscience

This literature-based paper acknowledges the significant impact practices has made in the field of Religious Education. This work has removed itself from its moral framework. The essay briefly explains virtue as a basic premise of practices. The current literature has ignored a key aspects of practice, standards of excellence. Key insights from ethics, cognitive and social neuroscience suggest that empathy needs to be established within Christian standards of excellence. Those insights affirm the power of practice for moral formation.

RIG 1.2

Luz Ibarra

Neuro-Linguistic Programming in Religious Education

This paper describes Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and its application to the field of Religious Education. NLP was developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler in the 1970-80’s, at the University of California, Santa Cruz (CA). From the NLP perspective, there are three different channels through which people’s brains learn: seeing, hearing, and touching. Visual people learn better seeing things written down, watching videos, looking at diagrams on a flip chart; auditory people learn better through listening to lectures and group discussions; and kinesthetic people learn better by experience.

Brad Rothrock

Competing Anthropologies: A Critical Look at Neuroscience for the Religious Educator

The last several decades have seen a rise in attempts to use neuroscientific research as a means for illuminating the promises and problems of educational theory and practice. For religious educators, however, larger questions about the relation between scientific and religious worldviews complicate any straightforward use of neuroscientific research. Describing the anthropology underlying scientific naturalism as dismissive of human transcendence, this article maintains that any scientifically naturalist based interpretation of brain-research is incompatible with religious education.

RIG 1.3

Melissa Lynch

Symbiotic Truth, Diabolic Deception: The course of tension through the cataphatic and apophatic communion and its application in education

Our historical literature reveals the story and condition of our mind, in its wholeness and brokenness.  These words of symbiosis and diabolism tend to work for an end of consistency, stability, truth and revelation.  The body, mind and spirit of the human person must be known and touched in education for students to experience each aspect within them, and nurture their complete development for symbiosis.  The educational theory and research of John Dewey, Kurt Fischer and Maria Montessori interweaves the traditional Judaic-Christian aspects of humanity together, and attempts to resolve truth and symbiosis over deception and diabolism.

John P Falcone

A Performative Aesthetics for RE: Theater of the Oppressed and Neuroscience

This paper explores the potential for a critical and performative practice of Religious Education grounded in the empirical science of performance studies. In Theater of the Oppressed (TO), participants use their bodies to re-present, interrogate and transform social realities. TO demonstrates how aesthetic distancing can be a tool of critical conscientization that turns spectators into spect-actors. I use recent proposals in the neuroscience of performance – “conceptual blending;” “visuomotor perception;” “mirror neurons;” and embodied empathy – to support the embodied epistemology of TO.

RIG 1.4

G.D. Bertram-Troost

The positioning of Protestant primary schools in the secular age. Results of an empirical research project in the Netherlands

Since the end of the so-called ‘School struggle’ (‘Schoolstrijd’) in 1920 both Dutch state and denominational schools are equally financed by the government. This outcome formed the basis for the Dutch pillarized educational system, with separate schools (Protestant, Roman Catholic and State schools) following religious dividing lines. However, the way schools give shape to their (religious) identity, has changed over time. As a result of changes in society and individualization of religiosity, the formal identity of schools in the (post)pillarised educational system is neither fully represented

Matthew Geiger

Introducing reflective practices in schools: what I’ve learned from the practice of “notebooking”

I have introduced students, in my classes at a mainline high school, to reflective practices and given them written theological feedback in their notebooks. Through this “notebooking” practice, I have realized that schools can do the following: 1) take the inner lives of youth seriously; 2) cultivate a relationship of personal appropriation between the student and RE content; 3) introduce students to the increasingly lost arts of theological reflection and spiritual direction; 4) help students to experientially inhabit a religious worldview and a religious language; 5) assist ecological RE.

RIG 1.5

Michael Bickford

An Evaluation of the Contribution of John H. Westerhoff III to Religious Education

This paper is based on a PhD dissertation from Fordham University in 2011. It examines the career and work of John H. Westerhoff III as both a religious educator and a practical theologian. It identifies the influences on his theoretical framework, examines his critique of the traditional, schooling model of religious education, the development of his Community of Faith Enculturation Paradigm for education, places his work in practical theology in context, and illustrates his continued influence on the field.

Lisa Kimball

Being Godparent: From Honored Tradition to Transformative Practice

Godparenthood is a tenacious, valued role despite a complex history and extensive uncertainty surrounding its meaning.It has never been uniformly understood by scholars, religious leaders, or the actors. Godparents craft role meaning despite limitations of formal structures of support. It is a unique form of life-long mentoring that challenges prevailing paradigms. This paper uses themes from interviews with active godparents in an interdisciplinary qualitative study, and ex of godparents in diverse cultural contexts, to demonstrate the potential godparenthood has for catechesis & community.

RIG 1.6

Lorna Bowman

Are Women Person’s?: The Case of Canada’s Famous Five

Are Women Persons? : The Case of Canada’s Famous Five The British North America (BNA) Act of 1867, created the Dominion colony of Canada. The recognition of women as persons is directly to the Social Gospel movement in Canada. In 1916, Emily Murphy, the first female police magistrate in the British Empire, was told on her first day in court by a defense lawyer that she was not a person according to the BNA act and that, therefore, could not be a judge. In 1927, five women signed a petition to the Supreme Court of Canada asking for a reinterpretation of Section 24.

Tamar Wasoian

Care and Guilt: Armenian Women’s Communal Experience

This paper will be addressing Armenian women’s characteristics of internalized excessive care and guilt in relation to Armenian genocide, by using A. Damasio’s framework of conscious mind and self process. Communal reading of the framework helps clarify dynamics of collective identity and individual self. D. Hogue’s notion of soul and F. Keshgegian ‘remembering to re-member’ approach will connect communal self to the experience of God within the context of Armenian women’s spirituality. Finally, narrative framework of religious education would be presented.

RIG 1.7

Mary Hess (Research Interest Group)

Mirror neurons, the development of empathy and digital storytelling

The last few years has seen an avalanche of publication seeking to answer questions about the ways in which digital media – and social media in particular – might be affecting human relationality. Recent discovery of at least one mechanism deeply implicated in the development of empathy – mirror neurons – suggests that religious educators could be turning our attention to the ways in which we support the development of such neurons through emotionally intelligent learning practices. Digital storytelling in the service of faith formation is one such mechanism.

Mi’raj Ahmad Riccio (Colloquia)

The Abrahamic Mind: Narrative Cognition and Islamic Education

Recent studies by cognitive scientists present the human mind as a literary faculty that processes sensory experience into narrative. Similarly, Muslim scholars have described the mind as a faculty designed to receive revelation from God in narrative form and to process the temporality of religious experience. But, authors of Islamic textbooks in the West have largely overlooked the cognitive function of narrative and the traditional role of story in Islamic education. I propose a narrative based curriculum that employs the stories of the Prophets to teach Islamic doctrine, ritual and ethics.



Carmichael Crutchfield

Deepening Pedagogy to Adolescents

Abstract How is pedagogy informed by the study of neuroscience? What affect does neuroscience have on the educational and formation practices directed toward African American youth? Specifically, how does the study of neuroscience affect the educational methods or presentation of material to adolescents in general and African American youth specifically? In this research I will explore some of the findings about the brain related to learning and investigate how these findings might influence pedagogical practices related to the education and formation of adolescents.

Eileen Daily

The Potential for Mobile Technology to Facilitate Playful Religious Engagement with the World

Mobile technology is here for good (and for ill). Religion can ignore it, bemoan it, or embrace its potential. This colloquium is a step toward a paper about a dance, a quadrille wherein mobile technologies, play, religion, and the world sashay, allemande, swing, and circle each other. The potential is for a non-linear, self-directed, joyous, attractive, festival-based, celebration of God’s goodness as manifest in the world. As neuroscience and evolutionary biology disclose the value of play, mobile technology makes playfully taking religion to the streets, an exciting adult learning option.

Harold (Bud) Horell, Mercedes Iannone, and Carl Procario-Foley

Abuse & Education and Formation (or Malformation) in Faith

If pastoral ministers and congregations do not have an understanding of the potentially paralyzing and damaging effects of domestic violence and sexual abuse, they can end up misinforming, mal-forming, and further harming victims of such abuse. In this colloquium presentation and discussion participants will investigate the realities of domestic violence and sexual abuse and explore how religious educators, drawing insight from current social, psychological and neurobiological research as well as the resources of faith, can prepare ministers and congregations to provide competent assistance to deal with the effects of such violence and abuse. The colloquium builds upon the conviction that moral living is a constitutive dimension of Christian faith, and that Christians should be educated about and prepared to address the moral challenges of life from a perspective of faith.

Saturday Morning Breakout Sessions

RIG 2.1

Dori Baker

Inside the Teenage Girls’ Brain: Practices toward Resilient, Adaptive Spirituality

This paper explored how what we are learning about the adolescent female brain can assist practitioners involved in the religious formation of girls. The first half of the paper will look at the ways current brain research supports and problematizes the use of a particular narrative method of religious formation for girls. The second half of this paper will suggest select practices whose robust engagement in community with girls is supported by current brain research. Catherine of Sienna, whose hagiography tells of her precocious spirituality as a pre-teen, provides an historical referent.

Tanya Eustace

Pneumatology and Neuroscience: Understanding Children as Meaning Makers

Children are meaning makers. This understanding is revealed in pneumatology, neuroscience, attachment theory and religious education. These disciplines help us to uncover how persons recognize, claim, and respond to God’s relational presence. The brain matters as it provides insight into how children engage in this process. In my paper, I will build on Dorothy Jean Furnish’s understanding of children as meaning makers, drawing on current neuroscience research in conversation with attachment theory, unpacking how children experience, claim, and respond to God’s active presence in their lives.

RIG 2.2

Eric Kyle

Spiritualizing Mind: A Brain-based Approach to Formation

This paper focuses on how neuroscience can help to inform spiritual formation programs. Beginning with an introduction to brain anatomy, this paper will lay the groundwork for understanding the three meta-regions of the brain: the brainstem and cerebellum; the limbic system; and the neo-cortex. With this framework in place, we will then explore five general kinds of approaches that are found in spiritual formation and how these can form the three meta-regions. Overall, this paper will provide religious educators with a neuroscience foundation that can inform and guide their work.

Ina ter Avest

Youngsters Need the Brain to Challenge Worldview Formation; a provocative pedagogy

In our presentation we present recent developments in the field of neurosciences,focusing on the development of the brain, as this is described by the Dutch neuropsychologist Crone (2008). Crone elaborates on the impossibility of youngsters during puberty and adolescence to assess situations in a realistic way when facing challenges – in particular with regard to their physical skills. We take youngsters’ ‘risky behaviour’ vis-á-vis physical challenges as our starting point to elaborate on the attitude of youngsters regarding the exploration of world views during puberty and adolescence. According to James Marcia’s theory on identity development exploration is a core concept in youngsters’ development. This explorative behaviour, according to Marcia, is necessary to arrive at an authentic worldview. Teachers in Religious Education should take advantage of the ‘risky behaviour’ of youngsters. A provocative pedagogy is elaborated upon, caring and challenging at the same time youngsters’ religious identity development.

RIG 2.3

Donna Eschenauer, Ph.D

Memory and Imagination: The Easter Triduum Teaching How to Live and How to Die

Memory and imagination, complex activities of the brain, act as the cornerstone for ritual prayer. These brain functions undoubtedly ground us in hope and aid in our discovery of what it means to be fully human at a deep level. This paper explores the ritual of the Easter Triduum, the Roman Catholic Church’s highest expression of the mystery of faith. It interprets the three-day celebration as a ritual pilgrimage of memory and hope that reveal a cycle of deep human activity and religious imagination. Drawing insight particularly from the work of Gabriel Moran, the research maintains that the Triduum discloses a profound rhythm of life, namely, showing participants how to live and how to die. Contextually, the topic is set in a historical, theological, and liturgical frame of reference and analysis. However, the distinct approach of the research is that it views the Triduum from the perspective of a form and practice of religious educational activity.

Graham McDonough

Catholic Schools and the Ecclesial Construction of the Laity: Consequences for the Future Church.

The concluding lines in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education articulate a hope that the students of Catholic education in will be able to “promote the internal renewal of the Church” (1996, §12).  Surprisingly, in spite of the significant changes that Vatican II brought to ecclesiology and understanding the role of lay persons, this statement is made with no references to the post-conciliar theological norms and updated Catholic context.   Three questions thus emerge:  (1) What is meant by “internal renewal”; (2) What role might education have within this renewal; and (3) What is an educated lay person?  This paper examines documents from the council and post-conciliar period to consider where and how this “internal renewal” is important, and what role the Catholic schools has in enabling lay students to “think ecclesially” and “with the Church” in fulfilling the renewal(s) that might obtain.

RIG 2.4

Kathleen Turner

An Artistic Review of Religious Education

This paper presents the historical analysis of two faith traditions that utilized the arts, specifically song, word, and dance in religious education and faith formation. These traditions are the teaching of Christianity to Negro slaves through the “invisible church,” and the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, otherwise known as the Shakers. For both traditions the arts were extremely valuable in the teaching and comprehension of faith as well as being effective in formulating religious identity. Howard Gardner’s study of multiple intelligences provides a foundation on the many ways religious education can be taught. This paper will analyze the value song, word, and dance had upon each religious tradition and the correlation these artistic expressions used in the teaching of religious education.

Nam Soon Song

Sunday School Revisited: An alternative to Christian Education of the Church today?

What called the Sunday School movement in England in the 18th century? What was Sunday school for? In searching for the spirit of Sunday school from its origin, the Sunday school movement in England, the paper poses the questions, “Is Sunday school still an alternative to Christian Education of the Church today, which is situated in the era of “super-high-tech” and globalization, specifically within a society defined by the transnational migrant world in pursuit of a better opportunity? If the Sunday school is the answer of the church to the transnational migrant world today, then what models of Sunday school could be suggested? Who would be necessary learners in this society?” The article tries to answer these questions particularly in Canadian setting.


Jos de Kock

What is the added value of neuroscience for catechesis practices?

In catechesis practices of the last decades a development can be observed from behavioural models of catechesis towards developmental and apprenticeship models. This development in catechesis practices reflect a development from behaviorist and cognitivist learning theories towards motivational, constructivist and developmental learning theories as leading theories in religious education. Core question in this paper is what value biological learning theories springing from neuropsychological findings in brain research add to both the understanding and the development of catechesis practices.

Holly Inglis

Hearers and Doers: implications of brain-based learning on faith formation and religious behavior

Information on learning and memory from the field of education and neuroscience clearly indicates the positive impact of brain-based education on students when educators understand how to create memorable learning environments and experiences. What are the implications of this information for faith communities? This workshop will present research on the impact of a whole-brain model for memorable learning on the faith formation of adults in the context of a faith community and suggest possibilities and challenges of such models for enhancing and developing religious behavior in adults.

Kathy Winings

Neuroscientific Insights on the Nature of Sin, Conversion, and Religious Transformation in Communities of Faith

This session will focus on how neuroscience contributes to and reframes our understanding of effectively addressing genuine spiritual transformation. Drawing on the work of Eric Jensen, David Sousa, Sarah Blakemore and others along with unique insights from Judaism and Islam,the session will address:(a)methodologies based on neuroeducation essential to this topic,(b)getting past our historical emphasis on right content and knowledge in conversion,(c)looking afresh at Judaism and Islamic religious education theories,and(e)recommendations for our field.


Johanna Selles

Educating for Empathy: The Science of Caring

Professional caring requires the ability to make an empathic connection with clients that does not result in enmeshment, overload or depletion of the caring impulse. Empathy is the ability to imagine oneself ‘in the shoes of the other’-an ability that derives from ‘having a good heart.’ Recent brain research suggests that brains may be hard-wired for empathy. New findings in brain science can have important implications for the education and training of caring professionals for empathy.

Miriam Martin

A New Dreaming: Creativity, Ecology and Religious Education

A New Dreaming: Creativity, Ecology and Religious Education It has been made clear that the ecological crisis is indeed a religious crisis. It is therefore incumbent on religious educators with their expertise to facilitate a profound engagement in a faith filled ecological response to that crisis. Examining current literature in religious education indicates that there has not been a significant response by the discipline to this situation. Complicating this matter is the fact that Christian religious traditions have often held imagination and creativity as suspect. Furthermore, even as we recognize how profoundly human beings respond with awe and wonder to the natural world, there are strong fears expressed concerning pantheism and the spiritual engagement with Earth. It is apparent that fresh solutions require innovative thinking about ecology, theology and religious education. This requires a new dreaming, a creative approach to the learning/teaching dynamic while engaging issues of faith, religious education and eco-theology. This colloquium will explore these issues and present current research in order to encourage discussion where creativity, eco-theology and the work of religious education meet.

Vicki Wiltse

Midlife Women’s Journeys to and through Theological School Master’s Degree Programs

I will share the findings of my qualitative research with 20 midlife women (ages 35 to 61) who were enrolled in master’s degree programs at Claremont School of Theology during the Spring 2010 semester. Included will be the themes I found in participants’ stories of why they came to CST and commonalities in their experiences as students. Discussion may cover the implications of my research for theological education and ministry in religious communities. We can also discuss the midlife brain and what that means for learning and teaching.


Ryan Gardner

Improving Teacher Reflection in the Religious Education Classroom

In an age where the context in which religious educators carry out their work changes with increasing rapidity, the ability to think about what one does, how one does it, and why one does it is of ever-increasing importance. Teachers will be more effective when their classroom teaching is a clear and consistent extension of their personal values, identity, and sense of mission. This workshop will help teachers explore and understand definitions of professional reflection in a religious education context. Participants in this workshop will also be introduced to a model of teacher reflection.


David Csinos

Northern Reflections: Religious Education in Canada’s Multicultural Matrix

Canada’s diversity and official multicultural policies makes it a unique context in the global arena. Yet many Canadian congregations and religious traditions rely on resources produced abroad and Canadian approaches to religious education are outnumbered by American counterparts. This workshop uses discourses of Canadian multiculturalism to explore religious education in Canada. After viewing “Between: Living in the Hyphen,” a Canadian documentary about diversity, participants will engage in discussion in order to gain greater understanding about religious education that is uniquely Canadian.

Saturday Afternoon Breakout Sessions


Barbara Javore

Brain Science and Creativity in the Context of Religious Education

Creativity has the potential to offer the human the experience of the divine. Creativity in the practice of religious education fosters the process of sacred imagining, facilitating the experience of the awe and wonder of the divine presence in our midst. The task of religions education in the post-modern era demands the incorporation of a more complete understanding of the mind-brain’s operation in the creative learning experience. This workshop provides a framework for understanding creativity and the mind-brain through an exploration of the role of emotion in the development of consciousness. It emphasizes the integration of cognitive, emotional and somatic aspects of learning, imperative to the development of a context for the creative process to flourish. A method is delineated for the religious educator to establish a holistic environment that fosters the creativity of the children and youth.


Thomas Korcok

Toward an Effective Use of Audience Response Systems in Religious Studies Courses

Research shows that Audience Response Systems or “clickers” create an invitational, interactive, engaging learning environment that allows students to participate in class discussions anonymously. In the context religious studies courses at a university level, students are often reluctant to participate in classroom discussion for fear of revealing their beliefs and values. Clickers allow students to respond without being judged by their peers or instructors. The workshop will present my research on how an Audience Response System can be effectively integrated into religious studies courses to facilitate discussion of religious topics and spiritual values.


Alan Weissenbacher and Mary Cheng

Practical Neuroscience for the Pews

Recent discoveries in the neurosciences reveal that Paul’s statement in the Christian scriptures, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” (Romans 12:2) can be taken literally. A life lived in faith can “rewire” the neurology of the brain. Fundamental concepts of brain plasticity, such as “use it or lose it,” or “neurons that fire together wire together,” can enrich how one thinks about and approaches various spiritual topics as well as bring greater clarity to a number of spiritual questions.


Taskforce Groups

There will be several taskforce group meetings during the Saturday afternoon sessions. Task force will cover topics from Peace and Justice to Science and Technology. More details available soon.


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