Listening in religious education: The gift of self in the face of uncertainty

Kevin John Sandberg, Fordham University


This study is concerned with the neglect of listening and the role that religious education plays in its restoration. It argues that listening is an exercise in responsibility, and as such, that listening is best described as the gift of self in the face of uncertainty. Solomon asked for a listening heart, Jesus enjoined whoever has ears to hear, and St. Benedict summoned the novice in religious life to listen carefully. Yet it is a curious aspect of education—religious or otherwise—that listening, while the most utilized communication skill, is the least taught. This inverted curriculum persists because we assume that we listen much better than in point of fact we do. Listening is also subject to a negative correlation—the more teachers talk, the less students listen—that worsens as students progress in their schooling. Religious educators have said relatively little about listening. The study addresses this lacuna from a curricular point of view. Its literature-based, content analysis aims to discover and recover what scholars in the fields of communication, philosophy, religion, and religious education have understood about listening relative to its content, aims, pedagogies, and contexts. The study contends that a culturally regnant logic undervalues the complexity of listening in human relations, and undermines the centrality of listening to the understanding of inner and spiritual lives. To redress this situation, the study retrieves from religious traditions three listening pedagogies—dialogue, obedience, and contemplation. It demonstrates that listening is apophatic, linguistic, and responsorial in nature. It argues that listening is a means by which we unknow, become, and value. It proposes "the gift of self" and "resonance" as guiding metaphors by which to enjoin the human community to exercise its capacity to hear and respond to the divine call, and to ensure that efforts at religious education do not remain structurally undermined for lack of listening.

Subject Area

Religious education

Recommended Citation

Sandberg, Kevin John, "Listening in religious education: The gift of self in the face of uncertainty" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3630495.