Resource for Discussion of APRRE-REA Joint Reorganization Proposal
The proposal is intended to serve two purposes. First, the proposal sketches a possible future in order to assess the wisdom of moving in that direction. Second, the proposal offers a starting point in determining a wise way to embody that future if chosen.
In September, the joint reorganization proposal was distributed to the members of the REA and APRRE with a request for comment. Committee members had direct conversations with several former presidents and noted leaders in both organizations. Feedback via email came from both REA and APRRE members and included long standing and new members, past and present Board and Executive Committee members, past presidents of both organizations, and two former editors of Religious Education.
The following are selected comments offered to stimulate critical reflection on the substantial issues in the proposal. Recommendations are shared in abbreviated form—supporting rationale and suggested rephrasing are omitted. Should the reorganization process continue, a revision of the proposal will be informed by the unabridged compilation of comments plus comments from the annual meeting. The unabridged compilation of comments is available upon request.
All feedback was affirming although several comments expressed legitimate concerns. Constructive correctives accompanied the concerns raised. No comments that argued against the proposal were received.
Supportive comments asked why this did not happen sooner, recognized the challenges ahead in implementation, anticipated the time of discussion at the annual meeting, and affirmed the process of conversations in the adoption process.
One REA member responded…”I do seek for my own vocational practice and teaching in spiritual formation to be as well informed and grounded in solid research as possible. This joint reorganization would appear, at least on the surface, to assist me as an REA member in that endeavor.“
An APRRE member shared, "As for the REA/APRRE proposal - I thought it was quite impressive, overall. Obviously, a lot of thought and care went into it, and the results showed. I was pleased with the budget outlines, and the related proposals concerning membership, etc., - cautious yet seemingly realistic."
Three persons interviewed by phone all felt that the two organizations have something quite valuable to give to each other. One was particularly vocal in asserting that the challenge before us as religious educators today is to bring together the voices of the professors and those in faith communities and public education—"The challenge is central to our calling."
The issue of supporting the distinct needs of members from each association was raised several times. From an REA perspective, one person stated “…I would not want to lose the ‘flavor’ of what REA was in light of the proposed reorganization. I would not want it to become so overwhelmingly academic that real educational and pastoral needs will be subsumed… Recognition and respect for the different constituencies that will now be amalgamated will have to be highlighted if this great new (ad)venture is to be successful.”
Academic concerns were also voiced. Comments from two interviewees pointed to the issue that religious education is still struggling to become a discipline and there continues to be a need to maintain an “academic aura” around the field. In addition, young scholars need a professional gathering in their quest for tenure. Thus, they don't want to loose the unique features that APRRE provides. Another person commented, “I think the joint reorganization would be a good thing provided there is plenty of opportunity for the professors and researchers to have their own grouping/s (the forum, I guess) and for this to not be seen as an ‘elitist’ endeavor but simply as an academic necessity. This is our professional society and that aspect needs to be preserved. Likewise, in the religious tradition groups, a time just for faculty members would still be desirable…”
Several persons raised a concern regarding the name of the final organization. The name involves such issues as potential loss of identity for either or both associations and limitations of the term “education” in contemporary setting. One person observed that since the REA has such a long history, one thought would be to keep the Religious Education Association as the main title and to add a subtitle, e.g.: "Devoted to the Study and Practice of Education in Diverse Faith Communities." [The committee intentionally avoided proposing a name so that (1) attention would be given the proposal itself and (2) an option would emerge from conversations.]
REGARDING RATIONALE AND MISSION
…most concerned about the mission and purposes that will hold the new Association in one body with many parts and one clear, shared vision. We need to be careful that the new complexity does not: diffuse the purpose and identity of the combined organization; force people into three new categorical divisions (the three Fora); and multiply the leaders’ organizational and planning time, while depleting energies that could enhance the Association’s focus and creativity.
(2.2) The proposal is more adequate in describing the history and purpose of the REA than of APRRE.
(3.1) The rationale for the merger needs to be more convincing. Of greatest concern is the first argument for “a vital new identity.” The possibility is equally great that the identity will be diffuse and draining. One suggestion is to sharpen the description of this vital new identity, especially as regards the interplay among “scholarship, practices of research . . .” more clearly. One possibility would be a simpler initial statement with a phrase adding elaboration, such as: “[Providing a vital new identity for both organizations, which] fosters the interplay of scholarly reflection and reflective practice in religious education, with attention to religious education research, practices of religious education in diverse contexts, interdisciplinary analysis, and theoretical construction.”
(5.2) Possibly the AAR/SBL pattern would be more fair. Their dues are based on salary level and make distinctions for retired and student members.
REGARDING FORUMS AND PROGRAM
(5.3) More clarity about the way the three forums function is needed. Are members expected to identify a primary center of relationship as they do in AAR and SBL? Are the distinctions purely programmatic? If so, how are the three Forum chairs appointed, elected, selected? And how are the Forum sessions planned in relation to the focus of larger events involving all three perspectives.
How religiously inclusive is our "interfaith collegiality" (cf. 2.2 and 3.2 bullet #3) - e.g. in 5.3.1 and 5.3.2, I am assuming we include all faith traditions. Does that come across clearly?
(5.3.3) [Forum on] Religious Education, Public Life and the Global Community: I applaud the addition of "global community" to the original draft on forums. Does "inter-religious education" here refer to "education of or with faith traditions other than our own"? If so, I was wondering whether a term like "multifaith" might not be closer to naming our reality even in North America (see Diana Eck's latest work).
It would seem that one of the most important functions of any event sponsored by the new organization would have to do with creating the spaces for the concerns of these three forums to intersect/engage each other without losing the interest or commitment of those who have most allegiance to one or the other.
(6) An explicit and direct link between the development of the forums to the four ways in which the association will accomplish its mission is needed. Also, the role of the annual meeting in relation to these goals needs to be made explicit.
(6.1) The Program organization has multiple layers, which may be complicated for organizing and planning each year.
(6.2) The William Rainey Harper Project and Committee section needs clarification regarding: the purpose, the “project’s” fit with other programmatic pieces, the modus operandi, and the relationship among the values named in that section (an award, program, research, networking, and diversity).
(6.3.1) The planning for annual meetings, and for plenaries in particular, seems bulky to coordinate and needlessly restrictive. For example, to predetermine that each Forum will have a plenary limits the design of annual meetings. The plan could be more open-ended, simply by having the Forum Chairs on the planning committee.
(6.3.2) Mixing research and resourcing interest groups threatens the possibilities of both. Recommend three categories: Research Interest Groups, Resourcing Workshops, and Colloquia.
(7.5) Governing Board: Consider having the office of President be separate from Programming. That it be a five-year term and not a position that follows one's tenure as the President -Elect. I would suggest that the President position, in addition to being the public representative and the one who presides at the meetings is also the chief fund raiser and strategic planner. The distinction between the President and "President-Elect" would be as that between President and Dean in a lot of our schools.
(7.5.3) How are the forum chairs to be selected? What kind of working group/committee will they have to share the responsibly?
(7.5). Nothing exists in the proposal that would guarantee that the organization would not become the arm of any one of its constituency groups.
Has there been much discussion as to the terminology used? For instance, "diverse cultural identities", "interfaith collegiality": do these need a briefly explanation as to the kind of cultural identities we have in mind, etc, or is it intentionally broad?
1. In what ways might a joint reorganization of APRRE and the REA strengthen or weaken the existing mission of each organization?
a. Would the cause/field of religious education be advanced?
b. Would members of each association be better served?
c. Would we be better stewards of resources?
What reasons do you
have to support your answers to these questions?
If a joint reorganization of APRRE and the REA is worth
pursuing, is the proposal on the right track for structuring the
reorganization? What aspects of the proposal are strong? What areas need to be
rethought and how?
What do you recommend as to the name of the new association?
4. How would you assess the process of discernment on this proposal to this point? What, if anything, should be adjusted?