Editor’s Notes

Chapter 1: Adult Religious Education


Religious Maturity

How Religions Do Adult Education


Chapter 2: Religious Distance Education Goes Online

Organizational Web Sites

Facebook and Social Networking





Online Discussion Boards

Educational Institution Web Sites

Religious Organization Web Sites

Creating an Online Community


Chapter 3: Faith-Based Partnerships Promoting Health


Charitable Choice

Faith-Based Partnerships

Evidenced-Based Analysis of FBOs and Health Outcomes

Innovative Collaborative Strategies

Recommendations for Researchers in the African American Community


Chapter 4: Going Green and Renewing Life: Environmental Education in Faith Communities

Historical Antecedents

Environmental Education Examples

Getting Started

Research Opportunities


Chapter 5: Learning by Doing: Preparation of Bahá’í Nonformal Tutors

Overview of the Ruhi Institute for Adult Learners

Background of the Ruhi Institute

Development of the Materials


Concepts, Methods, and Techniques for Tutors

Culture and Ruhi

Service and the Group

Individual and Community

Adult Education and Ruhi


Chapter 6: Adult Jewish Education and Participation Among Reform Jewish Women

Jewish History


Adult Jewish Education Participation

Reform Jewish Women and Adult Jewish Education Participation


Chapter 7: Religious Institutions as Sites of Learning for Older Adults

Who Are “Older Adults”?

Third-Age Learning in a Lifelong Learning Framework

Older Adult Participation and Provision

The Church as a Site of Learning

The Church and Social Activism


Chapter 8: Expanding the Boundaries of Adult Religious Education

Expanding Boundaries


Strategies and Techniques

Challenges and Opportunities


Other Titles Available


Editor’s Notes

During the past few years, I have discovered the importance of religion and spirituality in the lives of many of my adult education colleagues. I can remember like it was yesterday when I attended my first Religious Education Association meeting, a conference of the Association of Professors, Practitioners, and Researchers in Religious Education, and saw Trenton Ferro walk into the room. I was shocked. Trenton had a long career in adult education and I met him early on when I first entered the professoriate. I had spoken to him on several occasions at adult education conferences, but I never knew of his interest in religious education. I subsequently learned that he was a Lutheran minister. Later I discovered other colleagues who were active in their churches, served as church leaders, or both. It delights my soul to see the interest in adult religious education and related topics.

Despite increased interest in religious education and spirituality among scholars, there has not been a comprehensive examination of adult religious education within various religious denominations and faiths in one place. This sourcebook proposes to address that issue. It widens the lens on religious institutions. It gives us a peek into the variety of learning opportunities religious institutions provide and the strategies they use to educate adults.

Before I go too far, it is important to first understand how the term “adult religious education” is used in this sourcebook. Most people are familiar with Sunday or Sabbath school and Bible study classes taught by religious institutions. Although these institutions incorporate a biblical foundation—in other words, scriptures are used as a basis for teaching—they offer more than “religious” courses. For purposes of this sourcebook, “adult religious education” is any educational activity sponsored or provided by a religious institution or faith. This definition reflects the plethora of adult educational activities within these institutions. The terms “religious institutions” and “faith-based organizations” are used interchangeably throughout the book.

Historically, religious institutions have served important social, cultural, political, and educational roles for people of all faiths. When it was unlawful for blacks to receive education, they obtained it from the invisible institution—the clandestine black church (Blassingame, 1972). Eventually, many black denominations opened schools and colleges in an effort to educate blacks. As they migrated to the United States, Jewish people relied heavily on their synagogues to aid them in their transition to their new homeland. Although they may no longer feel a need to assimilate into the American culture, their religious institutions still play a significant educational role in their lives. Today, education within religious institutions continues to expand beyond “basic courses” to include auto repair, sign language, and computer skills, just to name a few (Isaac, 2002). Along with this expansion, techniques are more diverse and the contexts used for adult learning have extended beyond the four walls.

Whether in a synagogue, temple, mosque, or church, adults have numerous opportunities to learn not only about their faith but other topics. Societal issues and trends often affect adult education within religious institutions (Isaac, 2002). To illustrate, many faith communities now subscribe to the use of technology by conducting distance education courses via the Internet. In the United States and abroad, many older adults are living longer. And, despite popular belief, many of them do participate in adult education, particularly within informal settings, such as religious institutions as opposed to more formal settings like a college or university. In general, adults’ motivations for participating in religious education can vary, depending on the learner (Ballard and Morris, 2005; Isaac, Guy, and Valentine, 2001). Regardless of the motivation, religious institutions have created some unique and exciting learning activities and opportunities for adult learners.

Learning opportunities can be the result of collaborations. For example, it takes a collaborative effort between religious institutions and health professionals and health organizations to provide health education to the hard-to-reach adults. Yet in many cities this is exactly what is happening. Faith-based organizations have also joined forces with one another to address, through education, other issues, such as poverty, economics, and the environment. This sourcebook provides insights to numerous adult religious educational activities.

John L. Elias has made significant contributions to adult religious education. During his forty-year career as a religious educator, author, and researcher, he has articulated the important role of religion in adult education and has brought to the forefront the merger of the two. Thus, a book of this sort would be incomplete without his contribution. As such, it is an honor to have him as a contributing author. John provides the historical context on adult religious education and how it has responded to societal and technological changes in the twenty-first century.

As he indicates in Chapter One, religious institutions use a variety of instructional techniques. Many religious institutions have jumped on the Internet bandwagon. Some are using blogs, Facebook, and Twitter in addition to Web sites to communicate with their members and to attract new ones. Religious institutions use distance education to further enhance Sunday school lessons, provide clarity on various topics, or ask or answer questions about messages from church leaders. In Chapter Two, Stephen B. Frye demonstrates how religious institutions use different forms of technology to help people grow in their spiritual and religious development.

The Obama administration, continuing the trend established by the Bush administration, supports collaboration among community organizations (White House, 2009). However, collaborations among and with religious institutions and other groups and organizations have existed for decades. Such mergers have led to educational opportunities for thousands of adult learners. Social services agencies, politicians, and health professionals as well as educational institutions have long realized the advantage of partnering with local religious institutions to educate adults on numerous topics. With a focus on health education collaboratives, in Chapter Three, Michael L. Rowland and Lolita Chappel-Aiken outline key strategies that can enhance the success of these joint ventures and provide unique educational opportunities not only for members but for the community at large.

“Going green” is the new catchphrase that many individuals, companies, and organizations use to indicate their concern for and interest in a sustainable world. Recycling is one of the most popular ways to manifest one’s green consciousness. Although many adults recycle cardboard, plastic, paper, and other items, environmental education in faith communities has evolved during the past few years to educate adults on other green topics. As such, religious leaders and members are learning ways their institutions can cut costs, save money, and become better stewards of the environment and their resources. In Chapter Four, Gregory E. Hitzhusen, provides other examples of faith-based partnerships and their efforts to reduce their carbon footprints.

Many Americans are familiar with mainline religious groups with large memberships, such as the Catholics, Baptists, and United Methodists. As a result, we often hear little about the adult educational activities of other faith groups. The Bahá’í International Community faith boasts over 5 million members worldwide. To promote its focus on human rights, the advancing equality of women and also of men, and moral, cultural and intellectual advancement, it uses an approach to adult religious education that incorporates a variety of books, courses, and cycles. In Chapter Five, Rosemary B. Closson and Sylvia Kaye discuss the process the Ruhi Institute uses to prepare tutors not only to learn themselves but to enhance learning opportunities among learners of different cultural backgrounds.

Since their arrival in the United States, Jewish people, like other religious groups, have been strong advocates of education. Many discussions on adult Jewish education are limited to formal contexts (that is, schools). Thus, there is much to learn about religious educational activities in synagogues and temples. Although volumes of literature exist regarding adults’ motivations and participation in general, we know very little about Jewish women as adult learners. In Chapter Six, Teresa L. Mareschal examines adult Jewish education and Jewish women’s participation.

Older adults learn in a multitude of settings, particularly in informal contexts—settings where learning is not accredited in formal means of assessment (Tusting, 2003). Their motivations for participating vary but include avoiding isolation and the enjoyment of learning. Amid the social institutions in which older adults learn, religious institutions stand out as a major mechanism for learning not only in the spiritual realm but also in other human spheres. In Chapter Seven, Brian Findsen reviews the roles that religious institutions play for seniors. Additionally, he explores the appropriateness of learning activities in these settings.

This sourcebook will have wide appeal among adult education practitioners and researchers alike. It provides basic knowledge for those interested in learning about different religious faiths. In addition, readers can explore various topics addressed within religious contexts. Program planners will find the volume useful as it provides information that can assist them in recruiting and attracting adults to their programs. It also serves as a useful guide for religious practitioners interested in improving their practice of adult religious education. In general, it is a great resource for information on adult learning. In addition, the sourcebook is an excellent resource for courses in adult education contexts. It is replete with research possibilities for researchers. Additional studies are needed to expand our knowledge relative to the important educational role of religious institutions and the adults who are recipients of the numerous educational programs provided by religious institutions and faith groups.

E. Paulette Isaac



Ballard, S. M., and Morris, M. L. “Factors Influencing Midlife and Older Adults’ Attendance in Family Life Education Programs.” Family Relations, 2005, 54(3), 461–472.

Blassingame, J. W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Isaac, E. P., Guy, T., and Valentine, T. “Understanding African American Adult Learners’ Motivations to Learn in Church-based Adult Education.” Adult Education Quarterly, 2001, 52(1), 23–38.

Isaac, P. “The Adult Education Phase of the African American Church Revisited.” Christian Education Journal, 2002, 6(1), 7–23.

Tusting, K. A Review of Theories of Informal Learning. Lancaster Literacy Research Centre Working Paper No 2. Lancaster, England: Lancaster University, 2003.

White House. “Obama Announces White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.” 2009. Retrieved from

E. PAULETTE ISAAC is an associate professor of adult education and chair of the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.