EFTRE Conference 2019: the story of Reconciling Realities in Religious Education

During the last days of August, the EFTRE family came together in Dublin, Ireland, to hold its triannual conference. Old friends, brothers and sisters reunited in joy and welcomed new members into their midst. And while the last Irish summer days were still warm and sunny, the EFTRE family began to wonder whether soon enough it would have to gather around a cosy fire place – because the first keynote speaker Dr Anne Looney asked: ‘Is winter coming for RE? “

With this compelling allegory linked to the bestselling novels and mega hit TV series “Game of Thrones” Anne Looney set the tone for the following days: innovative reflections about RE in Europe combined with humour, vivid illustrative examples and opportunities for deep thinking. Around 60 delegates from 22 countries had come together to think about “Reconciling Realities in Religious Education”. It turned out that the island of Ireland was the perfect setting for this mission.

Speakers from the island – North and South – examined the topic from various angles on the first day. Philip McKinley, the Dublin City University (DCU) chaplain, took the audience on a journey of “island hopping” exploring the special characteristics of islands and of divided ones in particular. Padraig Ó Tuama, theologian, poet and member of the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland, drew attention to the fact how much words and storytelling affect our perception of realities and what needs to be done in those terms to reconcile realities especially regarding Northern Ireland. Anne Looney, Executive Dean of the Institute of Education of the DCU positioned Religious Education in relation to the emerging field of Education future studies – an approach that might help reconcile realities in RE with current social changes and challenges. She concluded that winter may actually not be coming just yet!

The programme for the following two and a half days was characterised by a well-balanced mix of further keynotes, practical workshops, visits in the city of Dublin and opportunities for socialising. The workshops covered a wide range of approaches from how to use technology in RE to addressing controversial issues, using drama techniques or the use of sacred texts in the RE classroom. The contributions from 12 nations to these workshops demonstrated in a very inspiring way the richness of RE across Europe.

Another highlight of the programme was the conference dinner, which took place in the Music Room of Christchurch Cathedral. Archbishop Michael Jackson of the Church of Ireland warmly welcomed all participants at this very special place and spent the evening with the group. EFTRE was also delighted to welcome the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ireland Diarmuid Martin to the keynote address given by Muslim educator Dr Abdullah Trevathan.

The conference ended with huge applause for the organising team particularly Sandra Cullen, Ireland’s representative on the EFTRE Board and the wonderful staff in Dublin City University, and the Chair of EFTRE, Lesley Prior. Thanks to the warm and welcoming atmosphere, the participants are already looking forward to the next EFTRE family gathering in Rome in 2022! The invitation from the Italian representatives was welcomed with enthusiasm!

Please note: If you want to know more about the conference, please visit the EFTRE website. There, you will find reports, pictures as well as presentations and materials from all keynotes and workshops available shortly.

Written by Bianca Kappelhoff

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