Coexistence in Divided Societies

Pedagogies of the Sacred, of Difference, and of Hope

REA Annual Meeting 2019

1–3 November, Toronto, Ontario

REA2019 Call for Proposals

Call for Proposals (Closed)

Coexistence in Divided Societies:
Pedagogies of the Sacred, of Difference, and of Hope

The REA is comprised of a variety of different communities and identities. These include, but are not limited to, those associated with religion, race, ethnicity, culture, language, gender, sexuality, and ability, which are apparent to diverse members of the association in varying degrees at different times and places. The theme of this year’s REA conference addresses varieties of religious and spiritual education that promote dialogue across these deep and sometimes incommensurable divisions.

A growing chasm exists in democracies around the world today in which people of diverse religious and spiritual persuasions find it increasingly difficult to communicate across their differences in order to live together in a common civil society. Tensions between two trends in education for religious and spiritual affiliation, which are often conceived as more and less liberal, have contributed greatly to this chasm.

On the one side, open, pluralistic, liberal democracies aim to promote civil societies in which people who follow diverse religious, spiritual, and cultural paths can live together. This is often accomplished by the state protecting the right to choose a way of life–religious, spiritual, or otherwise—rather than promoting any particular life one may choose. Some democracies ensconce this doctrine in strong legal barriers between religion and state. Rather than teaching religion or spirituality in public or common schools, for example, these societies relegate religious or spiritual instruction to private, faith-based institutions, which embrace such democratic values as liberal toleration to varying degrees. Other societies permit the allocation of public funds to schools that initiate youngsters into various religious or spiritual affiliations, or that teach from or about such affiliations, provided that these schools adhere to basic democratic values.

On the other side, this very emphasis on individual choice has made it notoriously difficult for parents and educators to initiate youngsters into any particular way of life, since at the end of the day the decision concerning how to live lies with the learner. One reaction to this difficulty has been to cultivate rigid and literalist interpretations of one tradition or another in separatist schools that are perceived to, and may in fact, eschew democratic values and limit personal choice. Yet, to denigrate these interpretations, a position all too common among those espousing liberal toleration, is itself an act of intolerance that contributes to an ongoing and apparently inescapable circle of resentments.

The conference theme will consider educational approaches that reach across these tensions and differences. These include, but are not limited to, ‘pedagogies of the sacred’ that initiate youngsters into religious and spiritual traditions, from the inside, as it were, as well as ‘pedagogies of difference’ that teach from and about those traditions from the outside, so to say. Taken together they offer a pedagogy of hope that educates for peaceful coexistence across the chasm that currently plagues many democratic societies around the globe.

The conference will seek to model varieties of dialogical pedagogy in addition to theorizing about them, with special attention to the sorts of human dynamics and interpersonal relationships that may undermine or foster coexistence.

In preparing your papers and session proposals you may want to consider the following questions:

What are some of the ways that religious education in all of its variety can foster dialogue across deep difference in today’s divided societies?

How is it possible to educate in a particular faith tradition or worldview and yet remain open to dialogue with other traditions or worldviews?

What sorts of schools, curricula, or pedagogies might promote what Terence McLaughlin once called openness with roots, i.e. education in a particular faith while remaining open to engaging alternatives?

What concrete curriculum themes, teaching strategies, or pedagogic practices might be employed to foster dialogue across deep religious, political, and other difference, in common and faith-based educational settings, both formal and informal, sponsored by the state or by independent religious or spiritual communities, in full-time schooling or in supplemental after-school, weekend, or summer programs?

If the right to choose a particular religious or spiritual affiliation rests with the individual, can parents be justified in initiating their children into the faith of their ancestors without falling prey to morally repugnant forms of indoctrination?

Can liberal democracies offer a genuinely neutral ground from which people can choose to subscribe to a particular body of belief or unbelief?

In what ways might such notions as multiculturalism or cosmopolitanism address social conflicts based on religious, spiritual, and other differences, and in what ways might they sustain or even exacerbate those conflicts?

To what extent, if at all, is it possible for open, pluralist, liberal democracies to tolerate traditions of thought or practice that appear to profess intolerance of views in conflict with their own?

Intolerance of difference is often associated with literalist, fundamentalist, or ultra-Orthodox faith traditions. Can a parallel form of intolerance be identified in more liberal or pluralistic perspectives? If so, what sorts of pedagogies might foster the possibility of dialogue between the two?

Religions and spiritual worldviews are viewed by many as a divisive force today, both nationally and internationally. This is so, in part, because the embrace of religious and spiritual doctrines and practices across the traditions, from liberal to conservative, is often based on particular customs and traditions rather than on one or another universal or commonly accepted account of reason. In what ways, if any, might education in, from, or about religion and spirituality become an antidote to this trend, by serving as a bridge across, rather than a way to entrench, religious and spiritual differences.

Conflicts based on religion and spirituality are often associated with other social divisions, such as those grounded in political ideology, culture, nationality, ethnicity, language, race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, which may interact with one another in a variety of ways. How, if at all, can education in, from, or about religion or spirituality foster dialogue across these divides?

A major theme of conflict in the school curriculum around the world today relates to tensions between science and religion, and in particular, between the theory of evolution, on the one hand, and the creation narratives of various religious traditions, on the other. In what ways, if any, can education in, from, or about religion and spirituality foster conversation among students and teachers concerning scientific and religious accounts of the origins of the universe and of humankind?

References to keep in mind

H. A. Alexander, Reclaiming Goodness: Education and the Spiritual Quest. Notre Dame, ID: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.

H. A. Alexander, Reimagining Liberal Education: Affiliation and Inquiry in Democratic Schooling. London: Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2015.

I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

T. H. McLaughlin, J. O’Keef, & B. O’Keef (eds.), The Contemporary Catholic School: Context, Identity, and Diversity. London: Taylor and Francis, 1997.

D. C. Carr, M, J. Halstead, and R. Pring (eds.). Liberalism, Education, and Schooling: Essays by T. H. McLaughlin. St. Andrews: St. Andrews Studies in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 2008.    

J. Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, 2nd edition, London: Continuum, 2003.

Y. Waghid, Conceptions of Islamic Education: Pedagogical Framings. New York: Peter Lang, 2011.


Please contact Program Chair Hanan Alexander, University of Haifa, with any questions.

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