Religious Education Movement

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A movement that emerged in the United States in the 1890s. As the Sunday School movement began to wane, Protestant educators attempted to reconfigure their educational efforts. The religious education association was formed with the ambitious intention of bringing religion and education into a dynamic, new relation.

The choice of the term religious education was a sign of the ecumenical intentions of the Protestant founders of the movement. Catholic and Jewish educators were invited to join the movement but only a small number did. The more conservative part of Protestantism was also wary of the movement and evangelical Protestants retained their own separate organizations. Very quickly, therefore, religious education became the equivalent of liberal Protestant education.

A separate religious education movement in the Catholic church had its beginnings in the 1930s. The focus of this movement was the life of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament. In Europe, a biblical and liturgical movement had been launched at the beginning of the century. The effects of this movement were not apparent in the United States until the 1950s. Dissatisfaction with the question-answer approach of the traditional catechism led to the "kerygmatic movement" with its emphasis on salvation history in the Old Testament and the announcement of the gospel in the New Testament. Textbooks for religion classes in Catholic schools showed this new emphasis in the early 1960s.

With the founding of graduate programs of religious education at Catholic universities and colleges before and after the Second Vatican Council, religious education became recognized as an area of academic study. At the catholic university of america, the graduate program of Religious Education, under the leadership of Gerard Sloyan, provided direction for this movement in the 1960s. Similar programs were started at Fordham University, Marquette University, Manhattan College, the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, and more than a dozen other Catholic colleges.

When the Catholic school system began to shrink in the late 1960s, a movement was begun to professionalize parish-based education. Parishes began to hire men and women who had earned degrees in religious education. For the first ten years, the role had various names. The 1975 publication of The DRE Book by Maria Harris helped to establish the name of the position as Director of Religious Education. This movement quickly became a significant part of the church's educational work.

As a result of these developments, religious education in the Catholic church came to be closely identified with parish education. Many parishes replaced the term Confraternity of Christian Doctrine with religious education. New efforts in adult education were also included under religious education. Somewhat illogically, the Catholic school and religious education were often seen to be alternatives that were in competition for financial support.

At the same time that religious education was coming into general use in the Catholic church it was declining in use among Protestant churches. The 1950 book The Clue to Christian Education by Randolph Crump Miller is often cited as signaling the end of the religious education movement. Henceforth, Protestant seminaries and congregations would call their educational work by the name of "Christian education," a title that has continued to the present.

In English-speaking countries outside the United States, religious education usually takes its meaning from a movement that began in England during the 1940s. Under the leadership of Archbishop William Temple, religious education was given a legal standing. Every county (state) school in England and Wales was to provide religious education. The Education Act of 1944 defined religious education as comprised of two parts: a daily exercise of collective worship and religious instruction according to an agreed syllabus. The requirement of prayer was controversial from the start and schools often downplayed its observance. One result has been that religious education became equivalent to the religious instruction element, and most commonly the term refers to the subject taught in the state schools.

In the United States the courts have almost never referred to religious education; courts usually refer to "religious instruction" as the sectarian activity that is forbidden by law. But it is usually assumed by editorial writers, politicians and textbook makers that religious education is unconstitutional. When the United States Supreme Court in the 1960s outlawed religious exercises in public schools, it encouraged the study of religion. However, the movement to include religion in public schools has always distanced itself from religious education, even though academic instruction in religion could be logically included in religious education.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the pattern of religious education shows no signs of coalescing into a single, logical meaning. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and other religious groups continue to refer to their educational activities with terms that are thought to be more specifically appropriate to the group. In the Catholic church, catechesis, initiation and formation have particular connotations that are related to sacramental life. Nevertheless, Catholics are the most frequent users of the term religious education both in referring to parish based programs and to the general field of study.

Protestant churches nearly always refer to Christian Education, except in settings where there is conversation with Catholics and Jews. There has been a great deal of conversation between Protestants and Catholics since 1965 and cooperation in publishing ventures. The Religious Education Press, founded by James Michael Lee, published the works of Protestant and Catholic scholars.

Thomas Groome's Christian Religious Education in both its title and its content provided a meeting place for discussion by Catholics and Protestants.

Jews occasionally use the term religious education, especially when in conversation with Christians. Jews in Israel use the term more often than do Jews in the United States. The only groups that use religious education as their usual way to refer to education are those outside the mainstream, either to the left or the right. Unitarian-Universalists have consistently used the term for over a century; more recently the Unification church speaks of religious education. The point of convergence of such disparate groups is their aim to transcend traditional differences among religions and achieve for the first time a universal religion.

Despite the limitations in its hundred-year history, religious education has often provided an umbrella term for interreligious dialogue. In the United States, Roman Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Orthodox Catholics, and recently some Buddhists and Muslims have been able to converse about religious education and at times engage in cooperative educational projects. The Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education has provided a forum for Catholic, Protestant and, in recent years, Jewish academics.

In England the ecumenical possibilities of religious education, which was the reason for Archbishop Temple's choice of the term in the 1940s, began to be realized in curriculum developments of the 1960s. John Hull at the University of Birmingham spearheaded the development of school curricula that include study of the major religions of the world. This ecumenical approach to religious education in schools is now present in parts of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland. It has also had some influence in Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Eastern Europe. An International Seminar on Religious Education, with members from 25 nations, has been meeting regularly since 1978.

Bibliography: t. groome, Christian Religious Education (San Francisco 1980). m. harris, The DRE Book (New York l975). j. hull, New Directions in Religious Education (London 1982). g. moran, Religious Education as a Second Language (Birmingham 1989). m. rosenak, Commandment and Concern: Jewish Religious Education in Secular Society (Philadelphia 1987). p. schreiner, ed., Religious Education in Europe (Munich 2000). i. v. cully and k. b. cully, Harper's Encyclopedia of Religious Education (San Francisco 1990).

[g. moran]

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Religious Education Movement

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