The Bloomsbury Reader in Religion and Childhood

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Editor(s): 
Anna Strhan, Stephen G. Parker, Susan Ridgely
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , January
     2017.
     408 pages.
     $39.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781474251099.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Bloomsbury Reader in Religion and Childhood is a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature on children and religious literature. While the place of children and their agency in our society has been widely and deeply discussed in sociology, anthropology, and education, religions and theologies have unhurriedly picked up on these ever-relevant themes. This book brings to light forty-five refreshing essays on childhood and theoretical and theological perspectives.Therefore it offers quick readings in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

As the title suggests, the scope of this collection is religious. While it seems that the work does not consider children from non-religious communities, there are articles on the understanding of children in politics, education, international law, and the media. These themes give an interdisciplinary outlook to the collection. The readings, based Christian theologies, are found almost twice as frequently as they are in similar readings in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Even as the articles are drawn from various religions the scholarship and the selection of essays are almost entirely from the West. And editors Anna Strhan, Stephen G. Parker, and Susan Ridgely are aware of this.

The themes of these write-ups cover wide ranging methodological issues such as the imposing role of religion in the production of the meanings and contexts of childhood, the restricted idea of childhood, how different contexts have varying understandings of the place and significance of children, and significantly, how children’s agency and capacity bring a refreshing understanding of their potential to influence religious thoughts. The ethical influence of religion on the construction of childhood through the media and education gets fine attention here. There are works that discuss how children from predominantly Asian religions come to grips with understanding their parental beliefs in Western contexts when their religion is either a minority religion, or surrounded by a strong secular fervor.

The above themes are discussed under five broad sections. The first section discusses the dominant nature of religions in shaping and circulating the meaning of a child, and especially on how these meanings, confined to religious myths, rituals, scriptures, and practices go unquestioned for ages. This section also discusses how some New Age spiritualties are garbs to the conventional suppressing role of religions, despite the fact that religions project positive images of children. However, these positive images do not come to light when the religious interpreters are adults who control religious activities and their interpretations.

The second section offers readings on the tension between the religious and the secular space of the family, how the role of the family is influenced by religious beliefs, and how the families, in turn, impress upon the children the religious ideas that come from outside the family spaces. Therefore the families are not just social spaces but also the spaces that shape the minds of the children religiously. Therefore, families and religious institutions collude to define what childhood is.

The intersections of rights, religion, and education form the discursive space in section 3. Modern educational systems have been strong critics of religion, and religions have the dubious distinction of suppressing the capacity and agency of children which principles of modernity have been propagating. Ironically, when the principles of modernity claim the autonomy of children—it is an argument that opens up the autonomy of children’s religious beliefs too. This is can be strongly felt in the readings in this section.

Media and the Materialities of Childhood Religions is the theme of section 4. The readings in this section grapple with differing challenges between literature, radio, television broadcasts, toys, and the role of religion in interpreting childhood. The readings question the body-mind dichotomy of children in understanding religion, and that even after questioning the dichotomy, the world of childhood is religiously mediated through adult-perspectives.

The fifth section is an exciting debate on the agency of children as viewed from the perspectives of child-rights violations. While the agency of children intends to uphold and promote the capacity of children to contribute to their society and bring about changes, this sections deals largely with the moral degradation that contributes to the suppression of children’s agency and dignity. Therefore this section discusses the spaces where the agency of children is lost or missing, yet a write-up which strongly proposes the positive notion of the agency of children is largely found wanting.

As I conclude this review, I am aware that a couple of recent children-related theologies Holistic Child Development, Theologies of Childhood, and more theological disciplines along these lines are focusing on the rights of the child, and children’s holistic development in multi-religious contexts. This Reader fittingly complements these discussions with its interreligious readings. There are religious studies in non-western religious discourses that positively discuss the agency of children alongside their subdued identity and inclusion of such articles would have further excited the readers. As it is, this Reader has a wide-reachability through its select readings on media, materialism, education, citizenship, freedom, religions, and childhood. Therefore, it is an excellent go-to work for teachers, students, and readers who are interested in the field of religions and childhood.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rohan P. Gideon is assistant professor of Christian theology at Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, Arasaradi, Madurai, India.

Date of Review: 
July 25, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anna Strhan is lecturer in religious studies at the University of Kent, UK. Her research explores the interrelations between space, religion, ethics, and values. She is the author of Aliens and Strangers? The Struggle for Coherence in the Everyday Lives of Evangelicals (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Stephen Parker is professor of the history of religion and education at the University of Worcester, UK.

Susan Ridgely is associate professor of religious studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

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