Beyond White Normativity

Creating Brave Spaces

REA Annual Meeting 2018

2-4 November, Washington, DC

REA2018 Call for Proposals

We, as men and women of faith, are living in a time of profound conflict and crisis, not unlike other eras that we have had to face. Recent events such as white supremacist rallies in the United States, the push for a wall between Mexico and the United States, calls to close national borders to economic and political refugees, and the rise of nationalist candidates in European elections point to the fact that at the heart of this conflict is the intractable problem of white normativity, white privilege, and intolerance of “the other”.

This issue is not new to us as religious educators, though. Our field has long been engaged in this struggle through scholarship, publications, ministries and courses that address whiteness, white normativity and discrimination. But the entrenched systemic racism, intolerance and xenophobia that we are experiencing require that we continually reflect on how are we engaging our students in these issues. Are we teaching them to recognize how white privilege divides people, perpetuates inequalities, distorts one’s worldviews and prevents them from relating to one another authentically? Have we opened discussions as to how some of us have benefited from white privilege and how others have been denied such privileges? Are we encouraging our students to ask how religious educators and practitioners can work together to deconstruct white normativity, privilege and supremacy? More positively, are we creating an environment in classrooms and other learning spaces that challenges and encourages people to be authentically human, and so live in the presence of all others?

We might conceive of whiteness and white normativity as a ball of thread and a system that has been formed over time by the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and religion that needs to be disentangled and ultimately dismantled (Wekker, 2016). This system has been built through action and inaction that is thoroughly structured to privilege whiteness and to make normative those characteristics which signal and accrue to white supremacy. Another dimension of this complex web of whiteness is what Robin DiAngelo has called “white fragility” or the range of defensive moves by those trying to reinstate or hold on to white racial equilibrium and privilege (DiAngelo, 2011).

While we may have deep concerns for our future we must also remain hopeful. As religious educators and practitioners, many of us are about challenging others in “living creatively into the future [that] involves our devotion to the compelling vision of God’s realm of shalom” (Meeks, 2016). We strive to create environments in our classrooms and other learning environments that powerfully address racism and discrimination because, as noted by Howard Thurman, “Meaningful and creative experiences between peoples can be more compelling than all the ideas, concepts, faiths, fears, ideologies, and prejudices that divide them” (Thurman, 1979).

Call for Proposals

The 2018 REA conference will encourage participants to confront the challenges of oppressive racialization from many perspectives with the goal of highlighting counter narratives actively disentangling and dismantling the multiple threads that contribute to white normativity through the richness of religious educational theory and practice. With the dramatic background of Washington, DC where American policy and laws are discussed and passed, a place that has served as a dramatic lightening rod for the debate on white privilege and anti-immigrant rhetoric, the conference will highlight how brave spaces that inspires imagination, deep analysis, reflection and powerful encouragement can be created that can help us live authentically in the presence of others. We invite you to consider such issues and questions as:

  • How can religious education effectively address white normativity in its many forms?
  • How can religious education give voice to a sense of authentic humanity that will take us beyond the limitations of whiteness?
  • How can religious education go beyond pain management in order to bring out a healthy discomfort necessary to get to the heart of whiteness?
  • How would religious education need to change to address white fragility effectively?
  • What are the different strands that have gone into giving power to white normativity?
  • How can the scholarship of religious education contribute to giving shape and strength to the brave spaces needed to dismantle white privilege?
  • How can we encourage personal and corporate theological reflection to recognize the many forms in which we ourselves contribute to white normativity?
  • How can religious educators learn from those who have been marginalized and whose voices are not usually heard because of the hegemony of whiteness?

Please pay special attention to our guidelines for submission, as this is an online process.


  • Barndt, Joseph. Becoming an Anti-Racist Church: Journeying toward Wholeness. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.
  • DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility.” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol. 3 (3), 2011, pp. 54-70.
  • Meeks, Catherine, Ed. Living into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America. New York: Morehouse, 2016.
  • Religious Education. Vol. 112, No. 1, January-February 2017: This volume is dedicated to the issue of racism, whiteness and religious education.
  • Thurman, Howard. With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1979.
  • Wekker, Gloria. White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.


Please follow the blog throughout the year and share your experiences in teaching to form such brave spaces. Also contribute to the “resources list” that is available on the REA 2018 annual meeting page – including books, articles, blogs, associations and web-based resources.


Contact Kathy Winings, REA Annual Meeting 2018 Program Chair, k [dot] winings [at] uts [dot] edu.

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