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:
— In what ways might video game technologies simultaneously amplify and distort religious meaning?
— How can we understand both embodiment and disembodiment in video games?
— How might video games sponsor ethical reflection?
— Since video games are commodified products, in what sense do they trivialize or marginalize religion?
Finally, he noted that younger people “are really into this medium” — yet it is a hard thing to bridge the gap between video games and religion.
Alan Smith of Florida Southern College spoke about his work in the arts and religion. He is currently working on a book titled Engaging Faith: Toward a Practical Theology of the Arts, and he aims to develop a practical theology of the arts. He said that the “arts are uniquely gifted at helping us hear one another into speech.” His research involves looking at actual communities that are using the arts to engage in practical theology.
Chuck Chesnavage of Fordham University has a research interest in interreligious prayer. “If prayer teaches as a form of religious education,” he said, “interreligious prayer teaches as a form of interreligious education.”
More specifically, he has been looking at interreligious families. He pointed out that there are an increasing number of interreligious families in North America, that is, families in which the two spouses come from different religious traditions (e.g., Christian and Jewish, Christian and Muslim, etc.). Furthermore, most religious communities don’t offer much support for interreligious marriages, and indeed may even say that such marriages oughtn’t be allowed. He wants to look at how interreligious prayer might help such families succeed.
To that end, Chesnavage has identified four ways that interreligious marriages can fail: through annexation (where one spouse annexes the other’s religion); through yielding (where one spouse lets the other spouse’s religion take over); through ignoring (where spouses ignore the real differences between the religions, which can lead to problems when a major family crisis arises; and through negotiating (where spouse continually make promises to one another, but where one spouse seeks to gain the upper hand at the negotiating table).
Chesnavage said that his work suggests that in an interreligious marriage, each spouse has to keep learning more, not just about their spouse’s religious tradition, but about their own religious tradition. Having a supportive community can help couples address these challenges, turning challenges into opportunities for growth.
Although it wasn’t a lightning talk, at lunch time I wound up getting to talk to Dean Blevins of Nazarene Theological Seminary about the book he’s currently working on.
Blevins is doing a book about children in churches. While it’s aimed at his own faith community, he’s addressing a subject that is widely discussed in other faith communities: how children are integrated into the life of a church, especially the worship life of a church. He is drawing a distinction between children engaging in “mischief,” which can be a good thing, and engaging in “mayhem,” which is a bad thing. He argues that the community’s response to children can make the difference between mischief and mayhem. More broadly, he’s interested how children can be more than mere passive recipients of what adults have to give to them, how they can become accepted as contributing members of a church community.
Children were originally pulled out of worship services and moved into separate “age-appropriate programs” based on the insights of developmental psychology. But as he pointed out to me, developmental psychology was originally used to help adults to meet children where they were; it was not used to try to make children seem less than human.