Spotlight on the Field

A Look Back at 5 Years of the REC (Part 1)

This fall we have been celebrating five years of the Religion & Education Collaborative. Even as I sent out surveys asking for member reflections and looked back at the records of past presentations and events, I’m amazed at what this group has done and how it has grown over this time. I wanted to share a little bit about the origins and development of the REC as we also look ahead to what comes next. I’ll break this up into a couple of installments over the coming weeks. 


The idea for this group came out of a long Sunday morning conversation at AERA in 2016. A small group of people had all attended an early roundtable session on “Religious Diversity in Higher Education,” and we stayed at the table talking long after the official time had finished. It was one of those rare times when everyone in the conversation was already convinced of the importance of studying religion and education, and we could relate to the challenges of trying to navigate this particular intersection of disciplines and questions.

Handwritten heading in notebook: Religious Diversity in Higher Education, Sunday 8:15
Yes, I still have my notebooks going back to 2016.

At the time, I was finishing the second year in my doctoral program in Curriculum and Instruction and feeling somewhat isolated and disconnected. Without any classmates or faculty in my department with similar research interests, it was hard to gain momentum and build a network. As many can relate to, graduate school can be lonely and discouraging at times and having very few opportunities to connect to students or mentors with similar interests can make it even more challenging.

These types of meetings at conferences were great and always reignited my interest in these topics, but it seemed like we should be to be able to have these conversations more than once or twice a year. After AERA and a long brainstorming talk with Nate Walker, we decided to try an experiment and see if we could gather a group of scholars who might be interested in having these conversations more often. What if we met online on a regular basis to share our work, get feedback, and support each other?

So, we put together a list of a couple dozen people we knew in the field and sent around an email to see if anyone else might be interested in some virtual meetings (long before Zoom was a ubiquitous feature of everyday life and all meetings were virtual).

April 25, 2016

Dear Friend,

You are invited to join the inaugural virtual meeting of the Religion & Education Working Group. This group is comprised of graduate students and early career scholars who are doing work related to religion and education. From a series of conversations at recent conferences, we have noted the need for a stronger network of people working and studying in this field.

What: The initial meeting will be a video conference which will give us a chance to get acquainted as a group,  hear about each other’s work, and discuss the needs and next steps for this network. The vision is to be able to have regularly scheduled video conference meetings as well as create an online discussion space to share resources, ideas, etc.

When: Three proposed dates for the initial meeting are below. Please follow the link to indicate which dates would work best for you. If the group’s availability is split, we may host two initial meetings. If none of these times work, but you are still interested in being involved please let us know that as well.


Who: We have invited about two dozen graduate students and early career scholars from around the country and beyond to participate in this initial conversation. If you know of other people who are also doing work in this field, please invite them to join.

We look forward to starting this conversation!
Kate Soules & Nate Walker

We got lots of positive responses:

  • This looks fantastic! Can’t wait! 
  • *SO* jazzed. 🙂
  • This looks like it will be wonderful! 
  • Thank you very much for extending this invitation to me. This is a great idea! 


It turned out that we weren’t the only ones looking for community and more opportunities to talk about religion and education. Following two exploratory meetings that May, we settled on the “Religion & Education Collaborative” as a name for the group (we briefly considered calling it the R&E Support Group) and scheduled the first two “official” meetings for July 2016. The next post in this series will look at some of the many projects and topics that have been shared in REC presentations over the years. 

Looking back through my notes and old emails from the earliest days of the REC has shown me how far we have come and how much that original idea and desire for connection still resonates. I’ve found some of the very first emails exchanged with people I now consider good friends and colleagues—and sometimes even evidence of our first meetings with names and email addresses written in the margins of my notebooks in other people’s handwriting. If you are one of those people, thank you for signing on to this experiment and helping to build this community. And whether you were at one of those very first meetings or just found us recently,  I am eager to see how our community will evolve and what we will accomplish together in the next five years.