The Absolute Urgency of Religious Education


The [North American] Religious Education Association took for the theme of its 2013 Conference, “Coming Out Religiously”: Religion, the Public Sphere, and Religious Identity Formation. As a member, I received my invitation, but the cost of travel from Australia, both financial and physical, was too great. So I am grateful to read some of the papers from the Conference in the current issue of the Association’s journal.

There was evidently a rich exchange between Diane Moore and Charles Foster; Diane Moore from the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School is acutely conscious of the need for citizens to become religiously literate. She takes as an aspirational point the American Academy of Religion’s definition:

… a religiously literate person will possess 1) a basic understanding of the history, central texts (where applicable), beliefs,

Diane L Moore

practices and contemporary manifestations of several of the world’s religious traditions as they arose out of and continue to be shaped by particular social, historical and cultural contexts; and 2) the ability to discern and explore the religious dimensions of political, social and cultural expressions across time and place.

 

The more global citizens who can understand the cultural context of the world’s religions, she argues, the more violence – direct, structural and cultural – can be reduced.

  • Quoted in Diane L. Moore, ‘Overcoming Religious Illiteracy’, Religious Education, 109(4) July-September 2014, 380

Charles Foster was keen to add to Dr Moore’s analysis. Not only do we need to learn from religions, we also need to be changed by our encounter with the sacred. As participants in religious traditions, we can live at greater depth, and we can be informed by the wisdom of our own and others’ religious traditions.

 

The ability to identify and compare religious traditions in other words, is not the same thing as recognizing in depth – or being confronted by – the sacred dimension of the mystery embedded in their practices. …

 

Charles R Foster

Religious education in this instance emphasizes the learning integral “to becoming” practicing participants in a religion’s traditions. Others among us are engaged in what might be called a religious education to draw on the wisdom and practices of their own religious traditions to participate competently in the mutuality of dialogue and critique with those of another religious education tradition. Still others among us join Diane Moore in a religious education in the public square to cultivate in persons capacities for discerning and analysing the role and place of religion in society.

  • Charles R. Foster, ‘An Abbreviated Response to Diane Moore,’ Religious Education, 109(4) July- September 2014, 391 and 392.

Both Professor Foster and Dr Moore encourage me in my vocation as a religious educator. Just because I am technically retired does not give me a leave pass to stop teaching, or to cease writing. These issues are too important to leave alone.

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