Connecting, Disrupting, Transforming

Imagination's Power as the Heart of Religious Education

REA Annual Meeting 2015

6-8 November, Atlanta, Georgia

REA2015 Call for Proposals

Deadline for submission 1 May 2015. Please review submission guidelines.

“Symbolic imagery is the first language of the soul. When we hear the Word of God, we hear it first and foremost at the level of imagination.” – Richard Cote, Lazarus! Come Out!: Why Faith Needs Imagination (8 and 10, emphasis as in original)

“Imagination is as central to humanity’s sense of its own worth as the ability to eat and drink and sleep under a roof.” – Shashi Tharoor, “Globalization and the Human Imagination” (90)

“The nurturing of imagination..exists as a primary goal of religious education.” – Theodore Brelsford, “Politicized Knowledge and Imaginative Faith in Religious Education” (71)

“The heart of teaching is imagination.” – Maria Harris, Teaching and Religious Imagination (3)

Imagination enables us to go beyond what is perceived through the senses to form new images that can deepen and enrich our lives. We construct a sense of self identity by imaginatively connecting our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors over the course of time. Similarly, social imagining enables us to envision how social structures connect with and, hence, shape human life. Imagination also has a disruptive and sometimes even prophetic dimension in that it can enable us “to look at things as if they could be otherwise” (Greene, Releasing the Imagination, 19). The disruptive/prophetic dimension of imagination is especially sensitive to power relations, and to re-imaging oppressive power relations in more life giving ways. Imagination can also have a receptive and transformative quality. When we attune ourselves to the play of imagination, we can come to recognize that imagination can be sparked by experiences of beauty, the sacred, and the divine, or by witnessing acts of care, courage, or compassion. In such cases, the images that fuel our imagination are revealed from beyond us.

The heart of education and teaching/learning, it can be argued, is imagination. Parents, pastors, school teachers, employers and others who teach must find imaginative ways to connect with their students before they can lead them to new understanding. At the same time, if people are to see for themselves what new learning can mean for their lives and, from a religious educational perspective, make faith their own, educational processes must go beyond training and the transmission of established knowledge to spark creative, imaginative energies (see Groome, Sharing Faith, 324-325). Moreover, the nurturing of the creative imagination has become more important than ever as people strive to discern how best to respond to our fast paced, ever changing, religiously diverse, global world. Religious educators are also challenged today to imagine and then help to shape the ways new information technologies are changing the dynamics of teaching/learning.

Religious imagination can hold together in creative tension the connective, disruptive, and receptive capacities of imagination. Human beings can be formed by and express a religious identity through beliefs and practices that connect them to specific religious traditions. Religious traditions and commitments can then provide a structure for relating or connecting with others, both within and beyond our religious communities, and with God. Additionally, religious convictions and practices can direct our imagination to the deeper, spiritual meaning of life, and can enable us to recognize the limitations in the established orders of life. As such, they can disrupt our lives, lead us to recognize the unrealized possibilities for human flourishing within given modes of life, and direct us to being open and receptive to discerning how God is requiring and enabling us to forge new, more life-giving ways of life and faith.

In preparing for the 2015 Religious Education Association Annual Meeting, the association welcomes proposals for research papers, colloquia, and workshops that discuss the imagination in relation to education and religious education. Proposals might explore such questions as:

  • How might we address imaginatively the spiritual hungers and longings of today’s young people?
  • How might we educate imaginatively for interreligious understanding today?
  • How might we imagine religious education as an integrated and holistic network of educational forms? That is, how might we envision family and home, civic and faith community, work, and leisure as well as school religion classes and parish/congregational religious education programs, as all providing contexts (forms) for religious education and as promoting lifelong and life wide religious learning?
  • How might we address the contemporary environmental crisis, and the persistence of racism, sexism, and classism, as challenges of the religious educational imagination?
  • How might we imagine the field of religious education as a group of diverse educators with a vast array of interests, specializations, and backgrounds who are, yet, united by common commitments to…. (I leave it to you to imagine ways to complete the question)?
  • How might we shape the field of religious education imaginatively today by drawing insight from research on mind, brain, and education science and other frontiers in educational research?
  • How might we shape the field of religious education imaginatively today by drawing insight from current research in biblical studies, practical theology, moral theology and social ethics, and other theological disciplines?

Once you feel ready to submit your proposal in response to this call, please visit our submission guidelines for instructions.

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