PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

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Childhood Studies and Religion Unit
Theme: The Voice of a Child: Children as Catalysts for Communal Transformation
Jodi Eichler-Levine, Lehigh University, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire 402 (Fourth Level)

Although a number of religious traditions use the metaphor of "childhood" to describe their adherents' relationship to the divine, non-divine children are not always considered to be exceptionally religious, nor are they usually taken as religious exemplars or teachers. This session explores what changes when individuals and communities place children at the center of theology, ritual, and/or activism. Do the rituals change? Do adults respond differently? Does the world itself change? In papers that range from the fourteenth to the twenty-first century, we explore medieval and modern movements within and beyond Judaism and Christianity that focus on children and their religious or spiritual value as catalysts for larger societal transformation.

James D. Smith, Bethel Seminary, Richmont Graduate University
Imitating Christ, Valuing Children, Advocating Human Rights: Jean Gerson and Christian Childhood

In 1962, Philippe Aries’ Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life first appeared in English, arguing that childhood was not a recognized and valued phase of human existence until the 17th century, and that “in medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist.” Aries' discussion of Christian theologian Jean Gerson (1363-1429) styles him essentially as a Master whose terse “regulations are interesting for the moral ideal which they reveal” – influencing the 17th century’s “moralists and strict pedagogues.” Wholly ignored, however, is a Gerson work which belies Aries’ thesis: De trahendis ad Christum parvulis – On Bringing Children to Christ. In this essay, we will 1) summarize Gerson’s teaching on imitating Christ by valuing children, and 2) argue for connection between this and Gerson’s pioneering advocacy for natural human rights theory in De Vita Spirituali Anime.

Wendy Love Anderson, Washington University in St. Louis
The Fifth Child: Changing Jewish Perspectives on Children’s Religiosity

This paper argues for a pronounced shift in Jewish views of young children's capacity for religiosity and religious identification. While sources from the classical rabbinic and early medieval periods characterize the young child as irreligious and unreliable, the Jews of fourteenth-century Ashkenaz responded to a larger societal (and specifically Christian) interest in early childhood with a series of new texts and practices: rituals for children, songs and customs engaging children's participation in communal rituals, and narratives of exemplary and religiously motivated Jewish children. Many of these texts and practices have become mainstream in contemporary Ashkenazi Judaism (and often in other Jewish cultures), but they coexist uneasily alongside earlier texts and practices assuming children are absent or uninterested. As a result, contemporary Jewish discourse on children’s religiosity and ritual participation is still enmeshed in debate about children’s innate spirituality – or total lack thereof - and its implications for Jewish religious life.

Karin Rubenson, Uppsala University
"The Children Are the Future” or “I Do Not Want Your Hope”

In August 2018, when schools started after the summer holidays and a few weeks before the Swedish general elections, the 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat down outside the Swedish parliament buildingwith a hand written sign saying “School strike for the climate”. Greta Thunberg has since then made speeches at international meetings such as COP24 in Katowice and the World Economic Forum in Davos as well as inspired children and youth in several countries to protest against the continued emission of greenhouse gases and against the adult world not doing enough to prevent further climate change.

In this paper, I will use Greta Thunberg as an example to argue that the impact of children as activists is dependent on adult perceptions of children and childhood in relation to the future, understanding future as both chronological, linear future and eschatological, mythic future.

Sally Stamper, Capital University