Fuentes makes clear, integral to being human.
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And, being human often involves remaking the world as master niche-constructors according to our most deeply held beliefs whatever they may be. Christian belief in an eschatological transformation of the world through our cooperation with God has the potential to embolden those who are in love with this idea to hope for the wholeness of creation, avoid the temptation to imagine what this wholeness is too narrowly, and yet also take responsibility for bringing this wholeness about.
Norman D. Smith New York: Seabury, 8. Like Liked by 4 people. In this blogpost I first briefly discuss two features of human niche construction. Second, I reflect on the implications of niche construction for education, and for theology.
For me, two features of this perspective stand out. First, niche construction theory implies the notion of an ecological inheritance. In short, this means that an environment, physically changed by a generation of organisms, is transmitted to the next generation, and so on. Second, for humans, as Fuentes points out, the transmitted environment is as much — perhaps even more so — a cultural environment as it is a natural environment. This evolutionary view on the development of cultural traditions becomes all the more fascinating, when we bear in mind what, according to Fuentes, is the most defining aspect of the human niche: creativity.
In his book The Creative Spark , Fuentes shows how teaching was instrumental in ratcheting up human creativity. I think educational practices in the classroom can illustrate what niche construction means for humans. In a very concrete way, the material arrangements in a classroom form a little cultural niche. Of course, a teacher has an important role to play. How she interacts with her students, the rules she sets for interactions in the group, the cultural content she presents in her classes, etc. But there is more.
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The way desks are placed in the room, the content of didactic posters on the walls, the amount of light and fresh air in the room, the color scheme of the walls, etc. Students entering a classroom on the first day of a new school year inherit, one could say, a cultural environment, created by the teacher, that will influence their development. Gibson, as a way to express how the environment offers information to observers, and how, at the same time, observers partake in that environment.
The goal, rather, is to enable a critical stance towards the given context, to enable discontinuity. In order for new generations to acquire the capacity to engage the cultural niche in which they live, to see affordances, and to consciously choose between affordances, education needs to support creativity. There has to be a dialogue between the current context and the transmitted cultural inheritance. In other words, there is a constant need for a creative spark in education.
Education, from a niche construction perspective, is truly a creative dance of continuity and discontinuity.
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All religions have been changing since their inceptions and still are. Anyone who cannot accept that and asserts that their version of a given religion, exactly as it stands, is both unchanged and the one true human religion is wrong. In human niche construction, he explains, imagination is a key aspect of the way in which humans find responses to the challenges of life. And religion is one of the ways in which human imagination unfolds. Fuentes adds to this that his approach allows room for both a scientific and a theological understanding of the emergence and nature of religion.
This, I believe, is indeed the case. An example is the theological anthropology developed by Lutheran theologian Philip Hefner, synthesized in his book The Human Factor. For Hefner, religious traditions contain past experiences of the human species. First, the resemblance. Both the scientist and the theologian stress the need for continuous renewal and change in religion.
For Hefner as well, it is a crucial feature of the human species to be able to imagine the future, and to discern which kind of future is most wholesome. But the reason why both scholars make this suggestion differs. As noted above, for Fuentes, change in religion is what happens because of the human way of being in the world. Hefner suggests that we need to consciously retrieve and revitalize religious myths and rituals — that is, to read them anew in an age of science, acknowledging what we now know about the world, but also recognizing the symbolic meaning of these myths and rituals.
Religious traditions, in this view, incorporate what our species experienced throughout its evolutionary history.
And, according to Hefner, if we are to imagine futures that are wholesome for all life on our planet, we need to revisit these experiences. This, of course, raises the question, of whether it is possible to do so? This, I believe, is where religious education can play an important role. Education in general is a dialogue between the current context and the cultural inheritance, as I argued above. It follows that the same can be said for religious education. I agree with Fuentes that it is important for people of faith to recognize this, and to avoid any tendency to claim their religion is exempt from change.
Religious education, when seen as part of human niche construction, should set out to integrate change and renewal of the tradition it teaches. If we regard the religious narratives — myths, rituals, praxis — as part of the ecological inheritance that is transmitted from one generation to the next in human niche construction, this implies that next generations act creatively on this inheritance, altering it by living in it.
I think it is important to stress that accepting change as an inherent feature of a religious tradition and, thus, of religious education, is not a matter of abiding to scientific rules. This is not what Fuentes has set out to argue religion should do, nor do I want to suggest this. Instead of teaching to keep to the text, teachers should teach their students how to listen to a story, how to experience a ritual, and how to think about its meaning.
Paradoxically, only by accepting change and renewal, I believe, will they — teachers as well as students — be able to remain faithful to the meaning of their cultural inheritance, thus, to the ongoing dialogue between God and humanity. And it is this dialogue that enables the faithful to imagine new, wholesome futures. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. See e. Jonathan R. Mayer, Georges M. For Gibson: James J. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, Superb lecture and comment on it. Stout then went on to talk about the role of institutions including churches and persons in effecting and inspiring change.
He mentioned that they ought not be the objects of worship even if they are worthy of admiration.
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Stout moved on to talk about various figures of virtue worthy of emulation. He then importantly moved on to talk about how ideals become embodied in various persons through their engaged activities with other persons rallied around various causes. It was to offer yourself as an example to others. Emerson bequeathed to them a democratic vocabulary for discussing ideals, powers, oppression, conformity, transformation, slavishness, self-reliance, exemplarity, virtue, and religion. Professor David Fergusson will now provide a brief reflection to further facilitate conversation.
Drawing upon an array of historical examples, some of which are unfamiliar to us, he challenges the standard account of the growing dissociation of faith and politics in western societies from the seventeenth century onwards. His retelling of this story will require us to revise earlier assumptions about the ways in which religion continues to impact political thought and action. There is much here to ponder. This has afforded the unusual experience of following the Giffords from another shore.
Though I regret missing in person the lectures, I can attest that these are being closely followed by colleagues and students in Princeton University, even to the extent that a Gifford party has been proposed! Once his material appears in print, our discussions will surely continue even farther afield.
Emerson has often appeared to me as a quintessentially American thinker with his greater moral optimism, can-do mentality, and confidence in the prospects of social transformation. I was quite unaware of this. Servility and excessive deference may take different forms in British society, but the need for criticism is no less pressing, as is the importance of self-reliance and the overcoming of a herd mentality for the combating of egregious injustices.
In my experience, our Edinburgh students take to Emerson very quickly. I have two questions which relate to the transposition of this criticism into terms that apply today. The first concerns what lies on the other side.
If self-reliance, criticism and greater independence of judgement can be viewed as an Aristotelian mean that escapes the excesses of servility and deference, then what are the vices that incline in the other direction? To put this rather differently, might there be a cynicism, contempt and indifference towards social processes that today are just as problematic as a surfeit of servility? This leads to a second type of query about what conditions are required for the facilitating of Emersonian virtues in our universities and faith communities today? And I look forward to the final lecture tomorrow.
Like Liked by 2 people. Several assumptions I have carried with me have been taken out for thorough re-examination. I want to spend some time reflecting on some of the broad themes that have been generative for me as I gratefully watch from afar. My thanks also to Andrew Johnson for asking me to take part and all he has done to make this conversation possible. I have recently become interested in what appears to have been a brief and one sided, it seems connection between them.
It seems intentionally modelled off of The Fire Next Time. This is a particularly poignant exchange on the difference between false and true religion at a particular point of crisis.