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Religious Education between Modernization and Globalization: New Perspectives on the United States and Germany Paperback – February, 2003
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They identify many key challenges to the church: first, the church generally fails to interest and include the youth. Obviously communities that exclude or ignore the rising generations will find themselves with an empty generation before long. Second, due to various issues, the course of general public education and church education are increasingly separated and disjointed, which when coupled with the third challenge, the growing separation between family life and the church, can indicate real trouble. Many families in Germany and the United States increasingly see time that in previous generations would have been regarded as typical church times as times for family outtings, sporting events, travel, etc. But perhaps more than anything, the fourth challenge is that there is no strong identity or moral imperative for religious education any longer. Even when there are general principles, these often lack an institutional and practical expression.
The text is divided into three primary sections. The first section examines the promise and problems of contemporary religious education. The authors look at the social contexts in which Protestant religious education is located through an international, comparative critique. They then define the terms they use: modernism, globalisation, and postmodernism; they define the first two terms in a fairly standard fashion, but for postmodernism, they mean for it to be considered in a narrow context of globalisation (they make a distinct, a la David Lyon, between postmodernity and postmodernism). Habermas is a key dialogue partner here. Cultural and social transformations in the West give rise to many problems, but also some promise.
The second primary section deals with paradigmatic texts and figures in Protestant religious educaiton in the twentieth century. This is in some ways a literature survey drawn together with history and biography. They concentrate primarily on three particular periods: 1900-1930, 1930-1960, and 1960-1990. A chapter is devoted to each period, and each chapter looks at general histories of educational development (religious and otherwise), the leading texts (usually only a few) with interpretation and critical analysis, and a look at possibilities for adaptation to the current project of transformation.
The third and final section looks more closely at the challenges for the coming century. These challenges include loss of audience, loss of key status in the general society, the continuing challenge of relevance vis-a-vis modern culture and science, and operating within a pluralistic paradigm where Protestantism is 'one of many' rather than the dominant or a dominant force.
One of the strength of this kind of analysis is that it has strong ecumenical implications. One drawback of this particular study is that its focus is narrowly upon the Protestant tradition, leaving little consideration for Roman Catholic tradition and experience, much less Orthodox or non-Christian ones. Of course, any such study would have had to have been much larger in scope and size. A key observation with regard to ecumenism is made, however, in that the authors properly point out that ecumenical action often looks at the 'top' issues -- intercommunion of bishops and/or clergy, resolution of doctrinal differences, etc., while ignoring grass-roots and local religious practices, including religious education.
The text has extensive bibliographies for each section, and useful author and subject indexes. Richard Osmer is professor of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Friedrich Schweitzer is professor of practical theology at the University of Tubingen. There are limits to any kind of cross-cultural study, and there are significant differences between the United States and Germany without doubt. However, implications and conclusions drawn from this comparative study might have little bearing on cultural contexts with more pronounced differences, along racial, cultural, or base-level religious orientations. The authors are aware of this limitation and advice against unwarranted generalisations drawn from this text. This is an interesting text, but one unlikely to appeal beyond a narrow band of scholars.