Category Archives: RE

How can we teach religion in schools better?  

By Suzanne Newcombe  

The Religious Studies Department here at the Open University has just reached the conclusion of an 18-month collaborative project exploring the thoughts of stakeholders ‘outside the classroom’ on Religious Education in schools and the proposals for shifting the school paradigm to an approach called ‘Religion and Worldviews.’  

Proposed Religion and Worldviews national entitlement summary:

Pupils are entitled to be taught, by well qualified and resourced teachers, knowledge and understanding about:
· what religion is and worldviews are, and how they are studied;
· the impact of religion and worldviews on individuals, communities and societies;
· the diversity of religious and non-religious worldviews in society;
· the concepts, language and ways of knowing that help us organise and make sense of our knowledge and understanding of religion and worldviews; the human quest for meaning, so that they are prepared for life in a diverse world and have space to recognise, reflect on and take responsibility for the development of their own personal worldview.
(NATRE, CoRE, RE: Today, n.d.).

Over the last year, this research group has explored three key research questions with a series of focus groups and surveys. We asked for opinions and impressions on 1) the current State of Religious Education in schools, 2) the ‘Religion and Worldviews’ proposal and 3) What is needed to improve the quality and public perception of RE teaching. We explored these issues with:   

  • Religious and Non-Religious Community Interest Groups (31 focus group participants in 4 geographically distinct locations) 
  • Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACRE) Members (9 focus group participants and 144 survey responses)  
  • Parents (3 focus group participants and 45 survey responses) 
  • School Leadership, i.e. Multi-Academy Trust leadership, School Heads and other senior leaders (6 focus group participants) 
  • Academics and Policy Professionals (14 focus group participants) 

The general conclusions from this process were that there is a need and appetite for greater engagement between the different stakeholders (Harvey et al. 2022). Schools, SACREs, community groups and parents all expressed enthusiasm for working together. It was also suggested that support and best practice guidance on this would be appreciated. Academics were keen to host and/or facilitate networking meetings and provide content to inspire school-level pupils (e.g. see the OpenLearn courses Why not ‘World Religions’? and Census Stories).  

Greater community engagement could also contribute to greater positive perceptions of RE/RW education and hence to greater critical religious literacy in the long term. More interaction with academics could ensure that school and university-level teaching on religion can lead to better alignment between educational levels. The importance of better integrating school and university-level approaches to the study of religion was also a focus of a recent report by the Independent Schools Religious Studies Association. 

Another important conclusion from the project research is a need for more clarity and better messaging around ‘What is being taught and why?’ in Religious Education. While the British public has generally negative attitudes towards religion in general (Harvey et al. 2021b, p. 6), once the aims of religious education in schools are explained, i.e. the national entitlement summary above, opinions about the importance of RE in promoting social cohesion and ethical development are generally widely appreciated 

To start the process of improving the understanding and messaging around the contemporary religious education agenda to stakeholders outside the classroom, we have developed a new OpenLearn course entitled An Education in Religion and Worldviews 

The Religion and Worldviews proposal is a potentially effective container for bringing forward discussions which can aid community cohesion, teaching productive dialogue across different beliefs and backgrounds. This does not require complete agreement on definitions of ‘religion’ or ‘worldviews’ – or even the specific content of a local school’s curriculum.  

In fact, learning to work with contested concepts and dialogue with people’s deeply held sense of identity, is one of the most important aspects of high-quality Religious Education. It also teaches skills that are in high demand in our twenty-first century economy in which 80% of the workforce is in the service sector.  

 

Project Partners 

 

 

 

 

 

Funded by:  

 

 

 

Further resources:  

Cooling, T., Bowie, B. and Panjwani, F. (2020) ‘Worldviews in Religious Education’, Theos and Canterbury Christchurch University. Available at: https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/ research/ 2020/ 10/ 21/ worldviews-in-religious-education (Accessed: 14 April 2022). 

Culham St Gabriel’s (2021) ‘Public Perception’ report of commissioned research: https://www.cstg.org.uk/activities/campaigns/public-perception/  

Harvey, Sarah (2021a) ‘Baseline Report 1: Setting the Context’ 15 July. Inform website. Available at: https://inform.ac/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Baseline-Report-1-Setting-the-Context.pdf   

Harvey, Sarah with assistance from Ruby Forrester, Suzanne Newcombe, Farzeen Shahzad and Silke Steidinger (2021b) ‘Baseline Report 2: Public Perception: Student and Teacher Views’ 25 November. Inform website. Available at: https://inform.ac/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Baseline-Report-2-Public-Perception-Student-and-Teacher-Views1.pdf 

Harvey, Sarah with Carrie Alderton, Amy Ark, Phil Champain, Suzanne Newcombe and Anna Lockley-Scott. (2022) Promoting the Exploration of Religion and Worldviews in Schools: Insights Report. 4 April. Faith and Belief Forum Website. Available at: https://faithbeliefforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Insights-Report-Final.pdf  

NATRE, CoRE, RE: Today (n.d.) ‘A National Plan for RE in England Summary’. Available at: https://www.natre.org.uk/ uploads/ Free%20Resources/ A%20National%20Plan%20for%20RE%20-%20CoRE%20summary%20final%20with%20headers.pdf (Accessed: 14 April 2022). 

Ofsted (2021) ‘Research review series: religious education’, 21 May, HMSO. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/ government/ publications/ research-review-series-religious-education/ research-review-series-religious-education#contents (Accessed: 14 April 2022). 

Forget Worldviews: Manifesto for a Postmodern Religious Studies

The point of departure for this post is that the much-touted Worldviews paradigm (REC 2018) — in much the same fashion as the World Religion Paradigm — conceives of religions as substances and as containers to which can then be ascribed traits and qualities, into which can be poured particular collections of beliefs, practices, founders, texts and institutions. Such conceptions lead to stereotypes, clichés and essentialism, and hinder the cultivation of critical religious literacy.

An alternative is required and, as such, I propose conceiving religions broadly in terms of relations rather than as substances or containers, and specifically as assemblages (Deleuze and Guattari 2014). An assemblage is a multiplicity of interconnected things. What would this approach mean for the study of Christianity?

In 1999–2000 I conducted fieldwork around Mount Banahaw in the Philippines. I was interested in religious groups and churches that had emerged amidst (i) complex historical encounters between Catholic and Protestant missionary activity in the context of Empire and revolution; (ii) gendered Southeast Asian conceptions of power and healing; and (iii), more recent post-colonial, nationalist, urban and diasporic imaginaries and networks.

Asymmetric interactions in Banahaw generated a religion called Rizalism, which was characterised by vernacular Biblical interpretation fused with local ontology, improvised monumental architecture, the configuration of José Rizal — a 19th century Filipino doctor and novelist executed by the Spanish colonial regime in 1896 and later elevated to the status of national hero — into a messianic personage and, with regard to the largest of the Rizalist churches in Banahaw the Ciudad Mistica de Dios — the building of a “city” that challenged the urban imaginaries of the Spanish and American colonial projects and the Philippines’ own urban modernity. The Rizalism assemblage, then, drew and related together a number of previously distinct elements to constitute a new religious formation.

A further example from the Philippines concerns El Shaddai, which is neither Catholic nor Protestant and is both local and global. El Shaddai is a Catholic charismatic-Pentecostal group that, through mass rallies, radio and television programmes, digital media and a mega-church complex, links various locales across the archipelago with Manila and numerous Pinoy diasporas in Asia, Europe and the Americas. If traditional Catholic religiosity in the Philippines is centred on the defined space of the parish church and mediated through the priest, El Shaddai generates a mediatised transmission chain that links together domestic spaces, virtual spaces and numerous locales with rallies and worship in Manila, by broadcasting the latter live on various media platforms. The El Shaddai assemblage, then, also combines, relates and connects a host of previously distinct elements and gives them a new form.

An ethnographic perspective on El Shaddai and the Rizalists of Mount Banahaw opens out the lived and improvised, do-it-yourself dimensions of these assemblages. Both have been generated through everyday combinations of previously distinct elements. An astronomer’s perspective makes visible how each of these assemblages has coalesced as a result of a series of asymmetrical, historical “generative interactions” (Tremlett 2021) between missionaries, technologies, landscapes and more. Combining these perspectives reveals complex processes of combination-relation-articulation by which different things arrive in each other’s orbit to become an assemblage and processes of disintegration-separation wherein those orbits are disturbed and the elements pulled apart, perhaps to decompose altogether, or to fall into the orbit of something else.

A postmodern Religious Studies interested in Christianity would begin with such groups because they demonstrate the existence not of a distinct, single worldview called Christianity but rather a diversity of christianities assembled across multiple scales of the social (local, national and global). Critical religious literacy does not reside in being able to reproduce the ideologically policed borders of Christianity as a single tradition, but in being able to analyse its interactions and relations with the different scales and dimensions of the social, using multiple lenses (see Moore 2010).

This post was originally published on Socrel’s blog at Medium: https://socrel.medium.com/forget-worldviews-manifesto-for-a-postmodern-religious-studies-85fbcf061b74. Reposted with permission and gratitude.

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Promoting Better Public Understanding of Religion and Worldviews

By Suzanne Newcombe

Religion is an area of great contention. Media – both ‘social’ or traditional – seeks to gain attention by tantalising lines which inflame our passions and tug on our heartstrings. What better for the media to grab our attention, than by drawing attention some of the most deeply felt aspects of our identity and sense of connection with others. Yet identification with traditional, institutionalised religion is fading from public declarations of identity in Britain (see our new OpenLearn course Census Stories for more on this).

As we grapple with how we fit together as a society – what are our shared values and connective rituals? – beliefs continue to grab headlines, drive our behaviour and spark our anxieties.  On a global scale, religious identity continues to be an important element of facing shared global challenges of climate change, migration, and the growing inequalities in health and wealth.  The scale of these challenges means that accurate and sensitive discussions of religion – the beliefs and practices which shape our values and sense of identity – is as important and relevant as ever.

The vision for this project came from the realisation that there is a lot of excellent, but largely under-coordinated and under-resourced work seeking to improve the public discussions around a critical religious literacy. Improving public understanding about the nature of religion and belief, as well as ensuring information about these human practices is accurately conveyed in public discourse, needs a multi-pronged approach. Transforming public understandings requires greater coordination between school-level teachers of Religious Education, university-level educators in the Study of Religion, the media, civil servants and policy makers.

In the summer of 2020, the Open University’s Religious Studies Department and Inform held a virtual roundtable to solidify networks between the many passionate and committed actors trying to improve public understandings about religion and how it needs to be considered in communications for facing many social challenges involving health, security and education.  The Faith and Belief Form shared its specific expertise in promoting community cohesion and promoting strong, productive and positive relations between people of different faiths and no-faith. Also in attendance was the CEO of Culham St Gabriel’s charity; Culham was in the process of strengthening its strategic commitment to promoting the Religious Education Council’s report on Religion and Worldviews (2018). Together with Inform’s commitment to promoting accurate information about minority religions and agile social scientific research team, and the Open University’s commitment to educating wider publics through its unique nationwide, online platforms – the Religion and Worldviews project was collaboratively initiated.

We are almost half-way into this project now. The first output was a ‘Baseline Report’ which provides an overview of the existing reports relative to both Religious Education (RE) and to the perception of religion in public life more generally.  This report has raised a number of key questions about public perceptions of the Study of Religion as a subject. Meanwhile primary research by Inform on perceptions of religious education at British schools by current University Students as well as an independent general population survey commissioned by Culham’s in the summer of 2021, provides valuable evidence that many people find much of value in school-level Religious Education.

We are in the middle of the project and are currently seeking to better understand to what extent Religion and Worldviews proposal might be able to provide a coherent way forward for religious education at school level in England – and what the barriers are toward finding consensus around a more shared vision of the study of religion in schools. This autumn, led by the Faith and Belief Forum, the project is holding a number of focus groups with community groups, SACRES, educational leaders, parents and those who have influence on educational policy to try to determine the barriers to implementing a more vibrant and coherent approach to religious education that is fit for purpose in our contemporary world. The eventual outputs of the project will be a series of resources to help school leaders, civil servants, parents and others ‘outside the classroom’ better articulate a coherent vision of Religion and Worldviews as a way forward for best addressing the variety of competing needs around religious education at this time.  Our Resources Packs should be ready in the summer of 2022.

With the diverse competing interests of religious and secular beliefs and practices, it is hard to achieve consensus on a shared coherent vision for religious education. Yet the need is great. Religious and non-religious beliefs will continue to inform the frameworks of public debate as we move to face the shared global challenges of coping with inequalities of wealth and health as well as the effects of climate change.

It is hoped that this project will help coalesce a better consensus around Religion and Worldviews as being a container which can move largely shared agendas forward. Religious actors as well as university and school-level educators passionately believe in the importance of accurate and sensitive understandings of religious and secular worldviews being presented in public discourse. Alongside other partners, this project hopes to drive this broadly shared agenda forward.

Religious Studies and studying? Restraint and Celebration

Religious festivals involve a range of social practices. From having an annual drink with acquaintances before Christmas, office parties, spending money on gifts and eating a weeks’ worth of food in a day, and ideally fitting in all that study, juggling demands can be difficult. In this session, we think about what these religious festivals might add, and how restraint during Lent or Ramadan, followed by festivities, are different to things like dry January.

But what does this have to do with studying? Taking ideas of restraint and celebration and applying those to study, Graham Harvey and Paul-Francois Tremlett give you some space to think about potential gains vs time, acknowledging success, and when discipline can be useful in your studies.

From Student Hub Live

SEMINAR: Stephen Quilley, “Environmentalism on the Margins”

We are looking forward to welcoming Dr. Stephen Quilley of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, to the Open University on April 19th. He will be presenting a paper entitled “Environmentalism at the Margins: Exploring existing possibilities for an alternative modernity” in room MR05, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, from 14:00-16:00 (abstract below). Please join us if you can for what is sure to be a lively and stimulating talk – and if you can’t be there in person, we’ll be streaming the presentation on our Facebook page. More details here – http://ow.ly/221U308tKjr.

Abstract
 

Understood as a complex adaptive system and through the lens of Holling’s Panarchy heuristic, modern industrial capitalism is a ‘deep basin of attraction’. The global consumer society has proved itself to be a profoundly resilient system – resilient, but nevertheless biophysically limited.  As the metabolism of global civilization begins to breach significant thresholds and transgress ‘planetary boundaries’ humanity is approaching social-ecological ‘tipping points’.  Experiencing the concatenating effects of collapsing economies, degraded ecosystems, social crisis, political chaos, communal violence and war, failed and failing states are tracing the outlines of an undesirable basin of attraction defined by collapse. The challenge facing humanity amounts to a rather simple wicked dilemma: is it possible to reconcile technological and socio-political modernity (and all the requisite flows of materials, energy and information) with biosphere integrity and sustainable global life support systems. In this paper, we argue that the alternative modernity defined by this wicked problem should be envisaged as a ‘third basin of attraction’ i.e. the often-vaunted political economy of the ‘third way’ construed through the language of systems theory. In this paper, we explore the outlines of such an ‘attractor’ in terms of political economy, technological prerequisites and problems of culture/ontology. We explore some of the prefigurative possibilities evoked by various ‘environmentalisms at the margins’ i.e. counter-cultural lifestyles, intentional communities, disruptive technologies and practices, and alternative social commitments. These are building niches in diverse settings that could begin to contour space for a new kind of modernity, one that could enable socially and technologically complex human societies to thrive without compromising long-term ecological integrity.  Specifically, we investigate how community-based health systems, micro-fabrication and Maker culture, and new religious movements at the periphery of the environmental movement may contribute to a developing ‘third basin of attraction’ – an alternative to the primary basin of attraction of consumer capitalism and the all too near second basin of societal collapse.