Christian education is the conversion of the imagination

From James K. A. Smith’s essay, “Keeping Time in the Social Sciences: An Experiment with Fixed-Hour Prayer and the Liturgical Calendar” (in Teaching and Christian Practices):

Christian education is not just about the transfer of information but also about a task of formation  – the formation of the kinds of persons that constitute a “peculiar people.” In short, Christian education is not just the communication and dissemination of Christian content but the formation of a people who are defined by a certain set of desires or passions which are themselves defined by a certain telos – namely, the shape of the coming kingdom.

More specifically, I’m convinced that at the heart of this task is the “conversion of the imagination” enacted through intentional practices that are tactile, bodily, repetitive, and “narratival.” We are narrative, liturgical, desiring animals whose actions and orientation to the world are driven much more by pre-cognitive imaginative construals of the world than by cognitive, intellectual perceptions of the world. Our dispositions function as automaticities that are operative, for the most part, without our thinking about them. So a central question for the task of Christian education is this: How can we form those pre-cognitive dispositions – those pre-theoretical, imaginative construals of the world? The shape of a Christian education, then, is not primarily (or not only) figuring out which content to disseminate, or from what “perspective” to consider such content, but determining how to enact practices that effect, as much as possible, the conversion of the imagination – the formation and training of an abiding desire for the kingdom.


One thought on “Christian education is the conversion of the imagination

  1. And a second question – once formed, how can those “dispositions” be maintained throughout life and manifest themselves in a faithful and persistent living out of scriptural truth?

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