Environmental Crisis, Religious Education, and the Local Faith Community

I’ll be presenting a paper at the “Sacred Texts and Human Contexts” conference on May 23-25. This year, the conference topic is “Nature and Environment in World Religions,” and I’ll be presenting on “Environmental Crisis, Religious Education, and the Local Faith Community.”

Here’s where you come in:

Read over my proposal below, and let me know if you have any comments, ideas, or suggestions. I’d be particularly interested in hearing about recent books or papers on feminist theology that might pertain to this presentation — I’ll be using Rosemary Radford Reuther (of course), but would appreciate pointers to any other relevant works that have been published since Reuther’s Goddesses and the Divine Feminine (2005).

Now here’s the proposal that was accepted by the conference committee:

“When examining organized religion’s response to the contemporary environmental crisis, to what extent should we focus on sacred texts? Speaking as a religious educator based in a local faith community, I find that sacred texts may be less important in a given local faith community than other factors such as institutional traditions, the influence of the surrounding social milieu, economic forces, the material and social dimensions of religion, etc. This is particularly true when engaging in religious education with children.

“This paper provides a narrative account of one local faith community’s education of its 10-15 year olds. I examine the explicit curriculum of formal classes in ecojustice, sexuality education, peacemaking, and religious literacy; I also examine the implicit curriculum of adult behavior and adult role modeling; finally, I examine the “null curriculum,” those topics that are ignored and unexamined. The paper tells of “ah-ha” moments when children realize that their faith provides important messages about, and resources for addressing, the global environmental crisis. The paper also points out missed and botched opportunities, where the faith community has oversimplified or failed to confront certain aspects of the environmental crisis.

“The paper then turns to analyzing the narrative, from a religious education perspective. What a child learns in a local faith community will be influenced by foundational sacred texts, but also by the faith community’s educational philosophy and practice; by all the various community initiatives in which the faith community engages; by the economic situation of the faith community and its members; etc. In this specific local faith community, I find that religious attitudes towards the environmental crisis cannot be fully understood by neat examinations of sacred texts, but that they are messy, embodied, and constantly growing and changing; and I find that the perspectives of feminist theologies can provide a useful theoretical framework for fuller understanding.

“In closing, I draw on my narrative account to suggest how religious education might provide helpful insights for linking theoretical accounts of religion and the environment, with praxis or pragmatic engagement with the global environmental crisis.”

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