REA 2013 conference: teaching religion and good citizenship

“We need to cross borders and join forces for a more humane world,” said Seibren Miedema in his President’s Address during the final plenary session of the 2013 Religious Education Association (REA) annual conference. Miedema is professor emeritus at Vrije Universiteit (Free University), Amersterdam, Netherlands, and president of the REA.

“Learning to work, to live, to play together should be possible,” he said, “and should start in early childhood.”

When Miedema was goring up in the Netherlands in the 1950s, the society was “pillarized”; that is, everyone living in a given Dutch town tended to belong to the same church. I happened to sit next to him during the pre-conference session, and he said then that he didn’t really encounter anyone from a different denomination (let alone a completely different faith tradition) until he was in his teens. In his President’s Address, he said that pillarization began to break down in the 1960s, as society changed rapidly and people of different faiths began engaging in, e.g., social justice work together.

Coming from that Dutch background, Miedema now believes that state-sponsored schools can and should play a crucial role in fostering inter-religious dialogue. He spoke about “the impact of the schools’ contribution, in terms of the selected subject matter and of the arrangement of pedagogical relations and situations by the professionals, on the personal identity formation of students.”

Miedema said he agrees with the position that the “binding role” of religion in society is of “utmost importance” and “should not be neglected.” This position is opposed to the official position in, e.g., France. Miedema reminded us that John Dewey, one of the intellectual founders of the REA, believed that schools should cultivate the religious side of children. Continue reading “REA 2013 conference: teaching religion and good citizenship”