Whose Children Are They?

Responsibilities for religious formation of a new generation

REA Annual Meeting 2023

10-14 July, Online

Call for Proposals

The religious formation of a new generation takes place in various places:

  • in families,
  • in schools,
  • in religious education,
  • in faith communities,
  • in the public domain,
  • in the media,
  • and on the World Wide Web.

The ways in which religious formation is given shape are diverse and related to a variety of dimensions:

  • Sensory
  • Cognitive
  • Affective
  • Experiential
  • Social/Relational

The view that religious education means initiation into a private faith tradition has made way for a multitude of additional approaches, such as

  • the objective of arriving at a better self understanding,
  • learning to practice a life of meaning and purpose, or
  • developing the ability to engage in interfaith dialogue.

Educators, too, have different and sometimes contradictory aims for children’s religious education, starting from a sense of responsibility for leading the child on its religious pathway. This raises a fundamental and challenging series of questions:

  • Who has responsibility for children’s religious education?
  • Whose children are they?
  • Who has the authority to say how the religious development of a new generation could or should unfold?

These are both descriptive and normative questions.

  • From a descriptive perspective, we might ask: Who or what is determining the religious path a child or young person takes?
  • From a normative perspective, we might ask: Who or what should determine the religious path a new generation takes?

They require us to explore and advance interconnected practices of scholarship, research, teaching, and leadership in faith communities, academic institutions, and the wider world community. And they demand our urgent attention because our (and children’s) current experience of the world as pluralistic, fragmented and often polarized necessitates careful attention to questions of authority and responsibility in pedagogical relationships from both practitioners and scholars.


REA seeks proposals that address the urgent question of “whose children are they?” with an eye on further exploring and advancing the interconnected practices of RE scholarship, research, teaching, and leadership in faith communities, academic institutions, and the wider world community. The conference committee encourages proposals in three categories:

  1. Experiences of children and youth. How do they experience their religious formation? Who and what are determining factors in their development? What kinds of belonging do they experience (or not)?
  2. Current approaches of educators. What conceptions of the new generation, of the child, of the young person, do contemporary educators hold? What ideals of religious upbringing guide the behavior of teachers, parents, and youth workers in faith communities? To whom do educators think the child belongs? Who, ultimately, provides the most guidance in how a child develops ‘religiously’?
  3. Normative perspectives. Who should decide what for whom in religious upbringing? If a private religious tradition is no longer the goal or foundation of religious education, what should be the role of pastors in faith communities in relation to the religious education of young people? What should be the role of parents and how should schools and religious educators understand their position? Where should the child’s focus be: on arriving at a better self-understanding, learning to practice a life of meaning and purpose, developing an ability to engage in interfaith dialogue, or some other goal? What does this focus mean for our shared understanding of religious education?

In each of the three categories, we welcome proposals based on scholarly work and proposals based on practitioner perspectives. Furthermore, we encourage engagement with a wide range of disciplines: pedagogy, theology and philosophy, (developmental) psychology, sociology, ethnography, ministerial arts, religious studies. (In the discipline of religious studies, we have in mind particularly the concern for interfaith dialogue and the issue of state-school-religion relationships in different contexts.)

Furthermore, the main question (Whose children are they?) can be addressed on micro, meso and/or macro levels.

We hope to facilitate a broad, multi-perspective conversation in relation to all three categories. We also want to create opportunities to have in-depth conversations within particular areas of interest. We therefore request that you indicate in your proposal the topical area – if any – within which your proposal may fit:

  1. Religious education in schools
  2. Religious education of children and youth in faith communities
  3. Faith formation in families
  4. Religious formation from a societal perspective

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