REA: Last day of the 2014 conference

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(em>Above: Yes, there were arts and crafts at the Religious Education Association 2014 conference. In keeping with the more interactive approach at the 2014 conference, there were several opportunities for conferees to participate in interactive projects around the topic of unmaking violence. Here, conferees decorate a “peace pole.”

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Above: REA president-elect Mai-an Tranh, professor at Eden Theological Seminary, speaking at the final plenary session: wrapping up this year’s conference, and tying this year’s conference topic to next year’s topic. Tranh used Henry A Giroux’s “disimagination machine” as a central theme in her talk.

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Above: In the final plenary, Evelyn L. Parker of Perkins School of Theology led conferees in an interactive theatre exercise. She invited ten conferees to imagine with their bodies what the “disimagination machine” might look and feel like. Then she invited the rest of us “spec-actors” to disassemble the machine. In the photo above, a conferee is gently removing a piece of the machine.

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Above: The close of the conference, just before the business meeting.

REA: Interrupting violence on the ground

The second plenary sessions at the Religious Education Association 2014 conference was devoted to field trips to various locations in Chicago that are working for nonviolence. One field trip was to the a href=”http://www.swopchicago.org/home.aspx”>Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP); a second trip went to the John Marshall Law School Restorative Justice Project. I chose to go to Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago.

At PRMR, we met with Father David Kelly, a Catholic priest affiliated with the Precious Blood missionaries, and three young men who participated in PBMR programs. Father Kelly said that he had been involved with various prison and inner city ministries before helping to organize PBMR. In his experience, he had found that the criminal justice system is primarily adversarial in nature, and that it does not provide any real support to either perpetrators nor victims. And at times he found himself in situations where he had a relationship with both the victim and the perpetrator of a crime — how could he minister effectively to both?

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REA: Teaching about Islam using a worldview framework approach

In the final breakout session at the Religious Education Association 2014 conference, I attended a presentation by Mualla Sel├žuk of Ankara University and John Valk of the University of New Brunswick titled “Journeying into Peaceful Islam” A Worldview Framework Approach.”

Valk and Selcuk reported on a pedagogical model they used to engage Muslims and non-Muslims in learning about “a comprehensive Islam.” The problem they are addressing with their pedagogical model is pervasive stereotyping regarding Islam. In particular, Islam is stereotyped as violent; as authoritarian, patriarchal, and rigid; as a religion that persecutes other religions; etc.

Sometimes the stereotyping of Islam is subtle, particularly in media coverage of Islam in the west. Media coverage of Islam “often confuses correlation with causation”; if an individual Muslim engages in, say, an act of violence, the act of violence will be attributed to the individual’s religion. Sometimes the stereotyping is not as subtle, as when anti-religious and anti-Islamic discourse cherry-picks elements of Islam (or religion more generally) to “prove” that religion/Islam is bad.

Religious education can be complicit in stereotyping if it uses a passive passive pedagogical model. It’s not enough to give students information about religion, e.g., disconnected facts (e.g., Muslims pray using certain prescribed body motions), or prescribed answers (e.g., Islam as a whole believes X).

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