Religious Education and the Need for a Cross-border Theological Framework-Excerpt from “Religious Education” by Jay Glover available on Amazon
Theology can be defined as “faith that seeks understanding” as offered by Daniel Migliore in his book Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Theology is not limited to our reconsidering our attempted “understanding” of God. Migliore pulls from theologian Karl Barth who contends “theology has the task of reconsidering the faith and ‘practice’ of the community, testing and rethinking it in the light of its enduring foundation, object and content.” Theology, therefore, is an evolving undertaking of seeking understanding and revising practice, which causes the religious educator to reconsider the planning, aims and objectives of our past and current curricular activity. Antithetical to the individualistic salvific message of the historic prototype of religious education, this narrative embraces and emerges from a theology that perceives God’s interaction with humanity as personal and communal in purpose.
From a lens of connectivity to religious education, Maria Harris in her book Fashion Me a People: Curriculum in the Church, offers koinonia as the “curriculum of community.” Harris clearly articulates “community as the starting point in educational ministry.” Being rooted and grounded in love is the burden of the community according to Harris. Community not only speaks to a people gathered, sharing and living together in community, but community functions as a vehicle that produces learning. Within faith communities, the concept of koinonia, from a reductionist view, is generally perceived as relating to and limited to, a specific community of a specific body of believers in an exclusive manner. Subsequently, the resulting pedagogical methods address the values of the community within and fail to educate relative to those outside of the “community.” The focus of the curricular methodology, aims and expected outcomes as offered in this project, are driven by a theology that seeks to broaden communal engagement. The opening of communication, partnership and developing community relations amongst interreligious, cross-cultural, and non-religious constituents is the theological framework that serves as the impetus of curriculum development. “Love, thy neighbor” and “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” encapsulate a challenge to close the gap between theory and practice in religious education.
The all familiar prayer which petitions: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10 (NRSV), represents the missional function of the church and serves to shape the goals of religious education from a theological perspective. The church must be presently found to be standing firm in the faithful mindset of rebellion to evil and engaging the community from the priestly, prophetic and political postures. It is important to note that the people of God, who delight in the association and privilege of identifying themselves as “Christians” must then have an affinity for doing what Jesus has already done as he “entered our struggle.” Peter Heltzel offers in his book Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics, a quote from Dr. King: “The cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community.” Therefore, it is through the defined, demystified, and concretized mission of the “body” of Christ that God is introducing and establishing justice, righteousness, love, and peace in the continuation of the revolutionary tradition of the Jesus movement. The ministry of reconciliation whereby humanity is reconciled to God and each other is at the core of the mission of humanity. Therefore, beyond a theology that emphasizes the “personal salvific experience,” the missiology in praxis, guided by religious education, must stand in opposition to injustice, inequality, systematic racism, supremacist ideologies, (including religious) transgressions against the environment, hate, war, and the dehumanizing practices of political policies and strategies that fail to recognize the full humanity of others. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fully represents a sound theological framework that provides a model to be included in efforts towards cross-border religious education. King did not abandon his commitment to Jesus the Christ, yet he was able to dialogue, share lived experiences, and learn from other faith traditions. Educated relative to diverse religious texts and philosophical thinkers, “King had a fondness for comparing and drawing upon various cultures and traditions, even though the cultural norms and values differed. Despite the dissimilarities, he determined that ethical, theological, and epistemological world views are enhanced by teachings from other traditions.” King’s theology of the relation between God and justice transcended skin color, social class, or any other definable separator between humanity, justice, peace and the love of God. Therefore King was able to stand for all people who suffered at the color-blind hands of injustice.
King set the standard for cross-border religious education. Religious education efforts that are able to cross dividing lines of denomination, ethnicity, and social location will facilitate the realization of Dr. King’s vision. However the field of religious education has been overshadowed by ambiguity and a general failure of identifying structure and purpose.
Purposing to bring clarity to the field of religious education, Kieran Scott offers three traditions of religious education: the ecclesial enculturation tradition, (the inner border model); the revisionist tradition, (the dialectical border model); and the reconceptualist tradition (the border crossing model). Scott argues the inner border model and the dialectical border model partially represent religious education. The inner border model is primarily equated to catechesis and at its best, “offers rootedness in one’s own religious tradition.” Initiation, adaption, transmission, translation and church maintenance are terms Scott assigns to the religious educators within this model describing their function. The dialectical border model as Scott offers at its best “weds tradition and modernity, continuity and change, community and critique.” The reconceptualist tradition (a border crossing model) as articulated by Scott has a “vision that transcends the local ecclesial community. The aim of religious education, expressed from a reconceptualist axiology expressed by Kieran Scott is to “foster a greater appreciation of one’s own religious life and less misunderstanding of other peoples.” Although theology and doctrine are not embraced as the center of a reconceptualist approach to religious education, the goal of curricular activity is not to call for the abandonment of one’s faith tradition or conversion of the “other” but purposed towards a better understanding of self, the other, and effective communal relations. The reconceptualist approach to religious education is a disciplined exploration of inter-subjectivity. The exploration and embracing of the other, entering the profitable region of cross fertilization where we are educated by the shared theologies and lived experiences of others.
Tiffany Puett in her article, “On Transforming Our World Critical Pedagogy for Interfaith Education,” writes: “The crux of interfaith education honors the insight that we cannot know ourselves without knowing the other. The self is inherently relational by nature and consequently cannot truly know anything in isolation.” Therefore, we can better serve God and humanity as we engage the sacred lives referred to as “the other.”