2nd International Conference on Children's Spirituality

Spirituality and Ethics in Education

University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel, 30 July-2 August 2001

Conference report

Kevin S. Reimer
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

A few hours before I was to depart for Israel, my 8 year-old daughter Naomi handed me a secret message. I was instructed not to open it until I was along on my flight, but was assured with a smile that its contents were quite amicable (despite her tears the previous evening at my leaving). Later, as the boredom began to set in on the long overnight flight, I opened the message. It was a page of coloured clocks, an hourglass, and arrowed vectors that looked something like the lines of wind currents on a meteorological map. At the top was a seemingly simple message-"more time, less moments." At this I was puzzled. Then I recalled a conversation we'd had earlier in the week. I had mentioned offhandedly to Naomi that I was looking forward to the time in Israel to catch up on some reading, and hopefully to complete a manuscript I'd been working on. She had been thoughtful for a moment, and then clearly and purposefully reminded me that time was important for reasons of being together, as she and I were that minute sharing a special outing together. In her wisdom, Naomi was aware that the occasion of more time, while seemingly a boon to the resolution of the many projects we busy ourselves with, also carries with it a temptation to overlook the moments of relationship that mark our human existence and give it meaning.

And so it came to pass. The Second International Conference on Children's Spirituality was an event of less time and more moments of relational connection, sharing, and intellectual challenge in the interest of the child. The extraordinary hospitality extended by Rabbi Dr Hanan Alexander and his staff at the Center for Jewish Education on the University of Haifa campus created a context by which spiritual issues could be considered around variegated levels of philosophical and practical discourse. From the 29th and 30th floors of the university's landmark Eshkol building atop Mount Carmel came presentation and response over issues of reconciliation, human rights, philosophy, educational praxis, and psychology. It was the Haifa context that to my mind made the conference most significant, affording the participant a fascinating and at times uneasy vantage point from which to consider the weight of spiritual experiences as they come grounded in differing language communities and traditions.

Keynote addresses from leading scholars and practitioners in the field served to underscore the precariousness of the child in all cultures, including the tension-filled Middle East. Dr Mary Elizabeth Moore effectively placed reconciliation on the front line, illustrating the salience of a spiritual exchange that is commensurable between traditions. Dr Daniel Gordis took hold of social capital as a metaphor for reclaimed communalism within the faith community. In a brave affirmation of spirituality as a culturally integrative human experience, Dr Hanan Alexander created a three-way presentation between Father Elias Chacour (a Christian Palestinian), Salem Jubran (a Jewish peace activist), and Quadi Adnan Adawi (a Muslim Israeli judge). Finally, in a flourish of superior scholarship, Dr Nick Burbules and Dr Terence McLaughlin dealt with the role of Jesus as teacher, addressing moral education and character in pedagogy.

Together, the plenaries served to illustrate just how many diverse issues of human experience are concerned with spirituality, and the manifold difficulties associated with finding common ground of shared meaning. It is then perhaps no surprise that the collegiate presentations were notable by breadth of thematic scope-from children's literature to psychology to educational praxis to philosophy and the family. Human rights, theological reasoning, relational consciousness, violence, compassion, plurality, and conscience were among the topics treated in educational relief, suggesting that the field continues to make steady progress through expanded contexts of being and understanding in the child. Practitioners found a variety of workshops for child spiritual education including the labyrinth, music, imagination, narrative, and philosophy in pedagogy. The needs of developmentally disabled children were affirmed as well, reflecting the overall spiritual ethos of inclusivity evident at all levels of conference discussion, challenge, and reflection.

As expected, between session conversation was rich, with many opportunities to reflect critically on presented work and personal projects dealing with spiritual themes in development. In the last parallel session, I was particularly struck with Clive Erricker's reflection on the significance and weight of our commitment to the topic of child spirituality, namely, that the ideas of spirituality generated here may in fifteen years be authoritatively cited in educational texts and curricula. Clive's comment served as an admonition not for the construction of new paradigms or overarching theories, but rather an awareness of the biases and presuppositions that colour our approaches to research and philosophical simulacrum. His willingness to climb atop the wreckage of foundationalism on behalf of children's interests was both encouragement and warning that we presently live between worlds, contexts, and experiences. The success of the second conference in the midst of social fragmentation and upheaval to my thinking belongs first to the participants themselves, who continually chose to move beyond their own local interests to engage each other at vital levels of conversation. Less time, more moments.

This conference report is also published in the International Journal of Children's Spirituality, Volume 6, Number 3.