In discussing “secular experience” in a conference devoted to “religious experience,” we risk reconfirming old dichotomies not suited to a pluralistic context if we don’t seek to understand the substantive content of “secular experience.” While we can single out experiences (plural) that people view as disturbing, puzzling, or out of the ordinary, this leaves out the everyday experience of nonreligious people. If we want to broaden our scope to include lived nonreligious experience, we are back to the definitional issues that plague scholars of religion and presumably religious educators as well. To expand our approach, we not only have to ask what we mean by religion, but also how we can express what we mean in generic terms that will allow us to consider the analogues for those who view themselves as secular, nonreligious, and/or nonspiritual. A meaning systems framework allows us to explore experience and experiences in relation to both religious and nonreligious worldviews and ways of life. Applied to “religious education” in pluralistic contexts, it has the potential to help both religious and nonreligious students to articulate, discuss, reflect, critique, compare, and develop their worldview and at the same time, reflect on how what it is like to live life as they do as well as the meaning they have found in particular experiences.
Believing minds: Steps to an ecology of religious ideas
Religion as a cultural phenomenon manifests itself in two different versions: erudite and popular religion. The first is the work of scholars of religion, particularly prominent in literate cultures, and it gives rise to cognitively costly and elaborate intellectual constructs. The second, by contrast, is a quasi human universal, it appears in all human societies and, even though it is not innate, its assimilation does not seem to require any particularly laborious process of cultural instruction. Whereas erudite religion can be seen as a form of propositional knowledge, as a theory or set of theories about the world and about human beings, popular religion is a form of engagement with the world, a form of relating with the world and with the beings that inhabit that world. Starting off from this contrast between those two forms of religiosity, the purpose of this keynote presentation is to explore the cognitive, cultural and experiential factors that explain the origins and development of belief in popular religiosity.
The central hypothesis of the paper is that the notion of ‘religious experience’ needs to be differentiated into different dimensions and ‘levels’ in order to provide for a more fruitful discussion. This applies to the field of religious education as well as to the field of popular media culture. With reference to empirical research it will be argued that in their media worlds youths make experiences that have ambivalent effects on their understanding and appreciation of religion. In religious education media experiences can be productively used as ‘bridges’ to religious experiences, but their ambivalences should also be critically discussed.
As soon as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) were developed, they were considered a powerful tool for education and they changed rapidly the teaching environment. ICT could offer multiple audio-visual representations of the learning material in the Religion course, that would be better imprint in the students’ memory and create authentic life experiences equal with those with physical presence. One of the aims of Religious Education is the modification of the students’ attitude (cognition, affect, lifestyle). An ICT teaching environment facilitates a holistic experience and helps the students assimilate a Christian way of life. In such an environment the students learn to live in a Christian behavior rather than merely talk about it. ICTs can contribute effectively to the teaching of Religions(s) by offering new ways for the presentation of the learning material and renewal of the teaching methods as well as create proper conditions for cooperation and human-computer interaction. From 2011 to 2015 the Greek Ministry of Education has realized the project “Digital School”. One of the actions of the Digital School was the enrichment of the students’ e-books for Religion with digital components. The digital activities developed for the course of Religion include both variety and interactivity and contain: (a) introductory presentations (b) interactive applets (c) maps (d) photo galleries (e) videos (g) links to Wikipedia and on line dictionary (h) exercises for practice. A major aim of the Digital School was to provide the teachers with the possibility to have immediate access to a great variety of teaching material which to integrate into their teaching. Thus, was created the need for digital material that would be easily reusable and would not require increased technological knowledge by the teachers. Thus were created the digital learning objects (LOs) which can be used in multiple educational contexts and contents. The solution was the development of a Learning Objet Repository, where the teachers of all courses -including Religious Education- could choose the digital material (learning objects) appropriate for their lesson. It is expected that this kind of digital material will create favorable conditions for the teaching of Religion and it will be an initiative for renewal of its teaching strategies.