Toward a "Conversational Pedagogy"
Today's Christian communities find themselves situated within a dynamic framework of "otherness" in relationship to society in general, as well as in ecumenical and interreligious contexts. In addition to this complex ad-extra environment, there are also intra-ecclesial tensions within the Catholic community that arise from its own pluralistic reality, hindering the church from being the kind of community it is called to be. Chapter One acknowledges these concerns, and suggests that against such a pluralistic backdrop, the human need for connection and relationality cannot be overvalued. Toward this end, conversation as a means toward building mutuality cannot be overlooked. Indeed, "dialogue" has become a buzzword in religious, business, social and political circles, as people recognize the value of having spaces of meaningful relationship with those "other" than themselves. Yet, a sense of true connection--one that might be more adequately expressed by "conversation" and that supports a mutual movement toward understandings of difference in a spirit of reverence--continues to elude. The impoverished condition of conversation within the church raises questions: why isn't life-giving, intra-ecclesial conversation happening? Why aren't we having meaningful interactions that lead to an expanded sense of honoring the other, and a desire to come together in understanding, reciprocity and mutual support, in view of the church's ministry? Chapter Two suggests that one way to begin addressing the issue of creating space for more effective conversation within a pluralistic church broadly considered, is to look to small faith communities within the church as "communities of practice" in which adult learning can occur. These small faith communities of practice, such as parish councils, faith-sharing groups, ministerial teams, etc., are not merely task-oriented groups, focused on management strategies, business tactics or the mere exercise of democracy in their ways of being together. In an ecclesial context, they are communities intent on being and becoming groups that learn together and create conditions that support a lived adult faith. Because conversation factors largely in adult learning, attending to and valuing conversation in these small faith communities can lead to a "habitus of conversation" that might serve the wider ecclesial community as a whole. To realize such a "habitus of conversation", small faith communities must be supported by inner convictions and shored up by a theological perspective that points toward this stance, a perspective that is capable of upholding a life of koinonia/communio and sustaining it over the long haul required by the hard work of meaningful conversation. The theological lens that grounds such a "habitus of conversation" is a living Trinitarian faith. Exploring the dialogic dynamism of Godself reveals the consequent relationality of the human person made in Imago Dei. The dialogic nature of Godself thus provides a rich theological warrant for the anthropological stance that can support conversation as a theological posture and an educational project. This is the topic of Chapter Three. Chapter Four looks to established dialogical teaching methods as a resource for religious education. Within small faith communities, fostering such a "habitus of conversation" toward the teleos of koinonia/communio is a unique contribution that adult faith formation can offer, providing a concrete locus for enacting a conversational pedagogy that might suggest a model for venues beyond religious education itself, at the service of the broader Catholic Christian community as a whole. With this in mind, Chapter Five concludes the dissertation by addressing pedagogical practices that religious educators can resource as a framework for placing conversation at the center of educating in faith.