February 2008


As a parent – and a theologian – I’m always on the lookout for good children’s books, and good books about children … and good books in general. I’ve recently become aware of Graced Vulnerability: A Theology of Childhood by David H. Jensen. While I await my own copy to arrive, here’s a  review of the book that I read:

Taking seriously children qua children, Jensen issues a clarion call for Christians—theologians and others alike—to do the same. Tracing their place in the tradition, he notes the comparatively little attention afforded to children in theology and church. Cast as corrupt bearers of original sin, as those whose wills require breaking and reshaping, or as less than fully human entities on their way to personhood, children have been depicted and treated in ways that fall short of ancient Jewish and Jesus’ own norms and practices. A few voices have dissented, though at a comparative murmur and without providing adequate alternatives. Children remain largely devalued, even as church and society fail to counter their widespread abuse (local to global) amid war, poverty, disease, hunger, abusive sexual and labor practices, domestic violence, and crime. Jensen’s alternative “theology of childhood” draws on “the covenantal framework of children as full members in the household of God and the whisper of an ethic of care implicit in the gospel narratives of Jesus with children.” This theology calls Christians to become vulnerable with children as they attend to them, care for them in ways the tradition at its best has embraced, and enhance children’s lives as they are changed themselves to become like children. The means are the church’s distinct “practices of vulnerability”: peacemaking, baptism, sanctuary, and prayer. Crafting an original, rich, impassioned, keenly argued yet accessible book, Jensen has graced child and adult alike. His is constructive and practical theology at its best! – Allan Hugh Cole, Jr.

Sounds great. I’m looking forward to reading it. Gems will be shared. I’d be keen to hear comments from others who have already read, or are reading, this book.

Results from a recently published study suggest that chimpanzees rely on role models more than children do.

Professor Andrew Whiten and Dr Lydia Hopper of the University of St Andrews set out to determine whether a species emulates, imitates or displays a simpler form of observational learning. They found that chimpanzees are heavily dependent on fellow chimps as role models.

Dr Lydia Hopper from the Scottish Primate Research Group at the School of Psychology explained, “Numerous local traditions have been attributed to wild chimpanzees, but the social learning processes responsible remain unknown. We studied this in captive chimpanzees, comparing them with children.

“Some watched a companion operate a screen to gain food, others saw only ‘ghost’ scenarios in which the screen moved by itself, either with another individual present or not.

“This provided the first evidence that chimpanzees, like children, can learn from results of actions alone if the task is sufficiently simple.

“However unlike children, over time the chimpanzees conformed to what they saw only if it was repeated by a live group-mate.

“These results may have implications for the cultural transmission of behaviour patterns.”

Recently, there has been much debate amongst scientists about whether communities of chimpanzees copy behaviour from each other or work out how to carry out tasks themselves.

By analysing the responses of the chimpanzees and children, the paper suggests that whilst the apes can and will learn from the physical results of actions in simple scenarios, they are more heavily dependent upon fellow chimps to act as role models in more complex situations.

Dr Hopper studied 40 chimpanzees at the Department of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, USA, and 40 children aged between three and four at nursery schools within Fife.