“Diversity and Neuroscience” was the title of the fifth plenary session of the annual conference of the Religious Education Association (REA). Moderator Harold Horell introduced the panel discussion with two questions:
— What are the implications of neuroscience for the field of religious education? — and
— How did the presentations and conversations address the racially and ethnically diverse constituencies of the Religious Education Association?
Claire Smith of Saint Paul School of Theology was the first panelist to speak. “I found in this conference an awareness of the issues of diversity,” she said, “and a concern to include all.” She gave several specific examples, e.g., the recognition of native peoples in the opening ritual.
While there was a general awareness of diversity issues within the REA, Smith offered two cautions.
First, much of the brain research we have is provisional, and “we should not treat it as gospel.” In spite of this caution, Smith said that there is much that comes out of this research that are important for our work as religious educators. Continue reading “REA Conference, part six”
During the Saturday afternoon breakout session of the Religious Education Association annual conference, I attended a workshop titled “Practical Neuroscience for the Pews”; it was led by Mary Cheng and Alan Weissenbacher, both doctoral candidates at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
Of the six people who participated in this workshop, three were full-time practitioners working in local congregations: a catechist serving a Roman Catholic parish outside Toronto, a pastor serving a Uniting Church congregation near Brisbane, Australia, and me, a minister of religious education from California. Another participant was associated with Fordham, but she also served in a local congregation, and I believe at least one other participant also served a Catholic parish. The workshop leaders encouraged full participation from the rest of us and allowed the conversation to range widely; as a result, this report may seem a little disjointed. However, the workshop seemed anything but disjointed: at the end, several of us agreed that it was by far the best presentation yet.
Goals and ends
Weissenbacher and Cheng began by asking us to consider what our goals are as religious educators, and to consider how brain science gets us to our goals. Then Weissenbacher asked a provocative question: If we use brain science to reach our religious education goals, how are we different from those who use brain science to practice mind control? Does what we are doing lay the foundation for more intrusive mind control techniques? He said that key difference is that religious educators (ethical ones, anyway) respect the agency of the people they are educating; furthermore, religious educators will be quite open about the techniques they are using. Continue reading “REA conference, part five”
The fourth plenary session of the annual Religious Education Association conference was devoted to “lightning talks,” five-minute presentations by scholars on their work in progress. I’ll give brief overviews of three of the lightning talks that I found of particular interest; and I’ll add one more quick overview of current research at the end.
Mark Hayse of MidAmerica Nazarene University spoke about his current research in theology and technology, and in particular about his study of video games from a theological perspective. He said that there is a tension in video games between narrative or story, and procedures and rules. He also said that video games provide an interesting bridge between religious education and technological studies. In his research, he draws on the work of Dwayne Hubner and others regarding the synthesis of the spiritual and the aesthetic.
Hayse said his research has raised some challenging questions, including the following: Continue reading “REA conference, part four”
For the Saturday morning breakout sessions at the Religious Education Association annual conference, I went to Ryan Gardner’s presentation titled “Improving Teacher Reflection in the Religious Education Classroom.” Gardner is doing his Ph.D. research on how paid religious education teachers at the Latter Day Saints Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (S&I).
Gardner introduced his work on teacher reflection with a quote from Joseph Smith, who once wrote about “serious reflection and great uneasiness.” Gardner suggested that often serious reflection by religious education teachers can often lead to great uneasiness. Certainly, this has been my experience supervising volunteer teachers, and I found it very interesting to talk about how serious reflection may often lead to greater uneasiness for teachers, at least in the short term.
His doctoral dissertation aims to come up with a practical, useable model for teacher reflection. He has recently concluded a research phase, where he did intensive qualitative field research of six S&I teachers, trying to determine what kinds of reflection they engaged in as teachers. He led us through his theoretical approach, and wound up presenting us with an instrument for teacher reflection. Continue reading “REA conference, part three”
During the Friday afternoon breakout sessions of the annual Religious Education Association conference, I went to a colloquium that included three different presentations, on quite different subjects.
The first presentation was titled “Deepening Pedagogy to Adolescents,” and was presented by Carmichael Crutchfield of Memphis Theological Seminary, whose research area is African American adolescents.
Crutchfield began by quoting A Winter’s Tale where Shakespeare has a shepherd say that the most troublesome time in a person’s life is between the ages of 10 and 23:
I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting… [Act III, scene iii]
This is just the time that neuroscientists now tell us that our brains are going through some major developments. He then read a passage which described how young people no longer treat their elders with respect — and then revealed that this very contemporary-sounding passage was actually written 2,500 years ago by Plato. So adolescence has long been a challenging time of life. “We are called, as practical theologians,” said Crutchfield, to “better understand adolescents.” Continue reading “REA conference, part two”
David Hogue spoke on the topic “Practicing Religion, Forming the Faithful” in the first plenary session of the Religious Education Association (REA) Annual Meeting for 2011. Hogue is a professor at Garrick Evangelical in Evanston, Illinois, and has research interests in ritual, liturgy, pastoral care, and brain science. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA.
Hogue gave a brief orientation to the physiology of the brain from the point of view of a practical theologian. He also pointed out that neuroscience is investigating questions that religions have been pondering for a long time. He believes both science and religion can contribute productively to an ongoing investigation of these questions.
Hogue said he is convinced that experiences of spirituality are grounded in experiences of everyday living, and in particular he’s interested in storytelling, memory, and human relationships. These three areas are also topics of interest to neuroscience. Rather than discuss “spirituality” per se, he chose to focus on these three specific areas to engage religious education with neuroscience. Continue reading “REA conference, part one”
I’m in Toronto for the annual Religious Education Association annual meeting. This year’s topic is neuroscience and cognitive science as applied to religious education.
I say I’m in Toronto, except that the conference is in an airport hotel, which looks like every other airport hotel I’ve ever been in. The only way I know that I’m really in Toronto, and not in San Francisco, is that the airport had bilingual French and English signs.
It’s the best of times — so have a doggone good birthday.
Oops, I saved this as a draft instead of posting it yesterday. Sorry, Abs.
Tomorrow, clergy can participate in the “General Strike and Day of Action in Support of Occupy Oakland” which is planned for tomorrow. Below is the relevant information, which I’m passing along from Rev. Jeremy Nickels, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Fremont, California. Here’s Jeremy’s note, slightly edited:
1. There will be a tent called the “Sacred Space Tent” that will be the clearinghouse and meeting place for clergy-related information and events. The tent will be interfaith, and non-faith welcoming. It will have a very high flag or other identifying markings. It will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. by a clergyperson of some faith tradition. If you are interested in helping staff this group, show up early to sign up for a time slot.
2. All clergy should gather at the “Sacred Space Tent” a half hour before the three march times (9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5 PM) so that we can all march together and multiply the effect of our presence. Those meet-up times at the tent are: 8:30 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.; 4:30 p.m. These are very important meet-up times and should be spread as widely as possible through all of your networks.
3. There will be trainings going on all day Tuesday, November 1, for anyone (clergyperson, layperson, etc.) who wishes to learn more about non-violence and how to embody the principles of Gandhi and King in the actions that we will be participating in on Wednesday.
4. Finally, we ask that you not only come on Wednesday, November 2, but that you bring as many people with you as you can, spread this information through all your networks and contacts!