From Morality Tales to Other Questions – Karen-Marie’s Invitation to Explore the 2023 Theme

Writing my dissertation on the emerging ecclesiology of a 19th century American religious movement, I stumbled across numerous ‘morality tales’ in the publications of that nascent denomination. They often featured wayward children, especially girls, who found their way to faith after the death of their mother or another existential crisis.

As a mother of three young children as well as a grad student, these narratives fascinated and horrified me. Why did 19th century Christians find them so compelling? What were they trying to say about children, parents, religiosity, and faith? I wrestled with these questions as a sidebar to my primary research and, when an unexpected invitation came to jump from systematic theology to religious education as my academic focus, I realized I could make questions like these my life’s work.

Much has changed in the lives of children since the 19th century and the 1990s, when my children were young. Globalization, digital culture, transgender rights, BLM, the #MeToo movement, the war in Ukraine. And much remains stubbornly the same. Bias and discrimination, forced (re)education, violence, suffering, and a concern for how these things affect children.

It is against these shifting and constant realities of children’s lives that the REA 2023 Annual Meeting program team invites you to explore the question of who bears responsibility for the religious formation of children and what that responsibility entails.

Those 19th century morality tales tended to place most of the responsibility on mothers and – once they reached a certain age – on children themselves. I’m more inclined to start with Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory and work out from there. I’m eager to hear what other ideas will emerge as we explore this question together.

Whether your research focuses directly on children or not, it likely has implications for the religious education of children. That’s because children and adults are so intertwined – and globalization has so knit together the world – that the work we do in one area affects people and systems that interact with children. (Bronfenbrenner again.) So I want to personally invite you to foreground for a season the question of what those effects might be and share your reflections with your REA colleagues next summer. We have much to learn from each other!

Also, I hope you’ll check this space again in a couple of weeks, when Ronelle will share why she’s excited about the main theme of REA’s next annual meeting.

The program co-chairs for the REA2023 annual meeting are Jos de Kock, Karen-Marie Yust, and Ronelle Sonnenberg.

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From Methods to Ideals – Jos’s Invitation to Explore the 2023 Theme

As a program team we are thrilled to prepare the next REA annual meeting, to be held online from 10-14 July 2023. In three short blogs the three of us want to share our personal passion with the main theme: Whose Children are They? Responsibilities for Religious Formation of a New Generation. What makes such a theme important for us?

Many students I meet in courses on religious education are interested in methods and tips and tricks: how to arrange an effective learning situation? How to meet the personal interests of each participant? Before discussing these kinds of (good!) questions, I always try to lead students to another question; a fundamental question: why at all to “bother” your participants with religious education? What is the very goal of your efforts? What are you aiming at? My experience is that addressing this fundamental question leads to a rich reflection on what moves us as religious educators. I hope the REA annual meeting will also be a place where this rich reflection can take place. What ideals of upbringing in general and religious upbringing in particular guide the behavior of teachers in schools, of parents, and of youth workers in faith communities?

The question of ideals is also a personal one for me when I think of my own family. For many years now, we are a foster family. As a parent, I am not only engaged in raising our ‘own’ children (By the way: in the light of the main theme of “whose children are they?” this easily labelling of your biological children as ‘own’ children can certainly be critically addressed…). I am also engaged with raising children who were brought to our family because the home situation for them is unfortunately not safe enough. Whose children are they? On a daily basis I remind myself that these foster children are not ‘ours’ and everything we do is directed towards developing and maintaining a good relationship between the children and their ‘own’ parents. How do they experience their (religious) formation in our family? Who are the determining factors in their development and what kind of belonging do they experience or not?

These experiences in my work and in my family make me passionate for some of the central themes in the annual meeting we prepare. And I can add one observation to that. This observation of a general development in my West European context where it is often said that religious education has to focus more and more on religious self-understanding of children. A challenging question that follows from that is: what does it exactly mean when the child is ultimately “of himself”? I am looking forward to rich discussions in this and other challenging questions in Saint Paul next year!

In a next blog, Karen-Marie will share her personal passion with the main theme of REA’s next annual meeting.

Jos de Kock.

The REA2023 annual meeting is prepared by a team of Jos de Kock, Karen-Marie Yust, and Ronelle Sonnenberg.

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Flyers available for REA2023

Please download and post this flyer with details about the REA Annual Meeting 2023, Whose Children are They? Feel free to send it to your colleagues or post on social media.

Color 8.5 x 11 inch flyer:

Black and White 8.5 x 11 inch flyer:

Color A4 flyer:

Black and white A4 flyer:

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Welcome to the REA Annual Meeting site

This website is being launched in time to share with members at REA2022. Please remember that everything here is still in draft form until the REA Board meets and approves the theme and call. Feel free to let us know of any issues you see with the site any time.

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