In this issue of REToday, we have explored the messiness of religions and worldviews. What an oversight it would be not to explore the messiness of RE itself, a subject whose aims, purposes, methods and very existence are possibly debated and contested more than any other. So, we asked five teachers and leaders of RE involved in the Culham St Gabriel (CSTG) Leadership Programme to have the last word, in answer to the question: ‘What does RE mean to you?’
John Holroyd taught RE in schools in and around London for 30 years before lecturing at the London School of Philosophy and writing his book Judging Religion: A Dialogue for Our Time.
NASACRE’s Pearl Anniversary Conference, with more than 100 delegates from over 60 SACREs across the country, focused on some of the treasures of the past and looked forward to the golden nuggets of the future.
Alastair Ross is director of Pennine Learning and is RE adviser to several areas in the north of England. He was a secondary RE head of department.
Hazel Henson HMI was appointed as Acting Subject Lead for RE in March 2023. In this interview, she talks to Deborah Weston about the role, her career journey and her love of RE.
May I start by saying, ‘Welcome back.’ I hope that you all had a restful summer break with family and friends and are now ready for the start of the new school year. I love the beginning of the autumn term; there is something about the feeling of a fresh start and a new school year that inspires me.
How often do you get that magical, prickles-up-the-back-of-your-neck feeling when attending a training day? I have been to good training, useful training, so-so training, ‘I’m falling asleep’ training, irrelevant training and great training. But until this syllabus launch, I had never finished a training day with the breathless ‘this is just amazing’ feeling one gets when watching a talented colleague in a classroom working with their pupils and producing something wonderful.
In keeping with our theme of messy religions and worldviews, we sought contributions from people whose beliefs and ways of living do not fit neatly into the traditional categories we often refer to in RE. Here they share their ideas about this term’s theme for REtoday. You might use some of these questions with more senior students at your school as well.
"Earlier this year, I went to Professor Anthony Thiselton’s funeral. From 1978, he taught me about hermeneutics, philosophy and biblical study, and I was so fortunate to know a man of such genius in these disciplines, and also of generous teaching impulses. He seemed to enjoy the company and conversation of an ex-student like me, and wrote several times for REtoday to share his vision and insights with yourselves, readers all.
I learned from him all those decades ago that interpretation and claims to knowledge are always intertwined, and this enabled me to see a straight line, philosophically, from Cartesian doubt to the postmodern hermeneutics of suspicion. I think I am a rather natural embracer of uncertainty and a sceptic as well, so when it came to the naming of our school subject, I was glad that my RK (religious knowledge) lessons were renamed by the time I was 12 as RE (religious education). I have been playing around with the nature of knowledge"
The current discussions about the nature of ‘worldviews’ in relation to the RE curriculum will, I suspect, continue for a long time. Indeed, it is a very interesting and encouraging conversation, suggesting that we have moved from the experiences of the pupils highlighted by Linda Rudge (1998) in her memorable article ‘“I am nothing – does it matter?”’ Or have we? In the Spring 2023 edition of Professional REflection, Lynn Revell and Kate Christopher emphasised the need to start with ‘the real lives of people, allowing a potentially critical view to be explored through questions that are rooted in a variety of disciplines’ (p. 70). They underlined the need for teachers to recognise that ‘worldviews start with people and … that pupils must engage with the contested nature of knowledge themselves’ (ibid.). In the same issue, Luke Donnellan provided a critical overview of teaching humanism and non-religious worldviews, urging teachers to ‘move away from questions that are of particular concern to the religious and focus instead on the ways non-religious people make sense of themselves and the world and how they live their lives’ (p. 59). He emphasised the variety of humanist thinking and prompted questions about what constitutes a worldview. In this context, Sarah Bakewell’s exploration of seven centuries of humanist thought reviewed here could hardly be more relevant. She shows that the broad sweep of humanism touches all aspects of the curriculum and surely fulfils Ofsted’s definition of cultural capital, now considered to be an essential underpinning of the curriculum: ‘the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement’ (2019, para. 226).
Knowledge’, ‘research’ and ‘substantive’ are just three of the many ‘Tier 3’ words on the lips of those within the RE/religion and worldviews community currently. Here, two educators, both working in the primary phase, show how they have carried out research that has influenced their approaches towards promoting substantive knowledge at two different levels in school structures, both being important. One considers the effect of focusing on etymology in primary RE lessons, while the other concentrates on a school’s overall
curriculum; we could say that the first is at the ‘micro’ level and the second ‘macro’.
"Jo Fraser-Pearce is Associate Professor (Teaching) at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, University College London. Jo has ten years’ experience teaching RE in maintained secondary schools in and around London, and over a decade of experience in initial and continuing teacher education. This has contributed to her wide-ranging practical and theoretical understanding of RE. Jo’s doctoral research was in
spiritual education in Steiner schools."
"Alexis Stones is Subject Lead for the PGCE RE at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, and was an RE teacher before moving into teacher education. She co-convenes the Education & Religion, Curriculum Subject Specialism Research Group and Peace Education Special Interest Groups at UCL and also works in museum and gallery education."
As teachers and researchers, we have explored the development of a religion and worldviews approach in theory and in practice. Here we bring together our shared reflections on the idea of ‘personal knowledge’ and its application in the religion and worldviews classroom.
"Is RE really so terrible? A ‘tepid version of cultural studies where religion is transformed into a calendar of funny festivals, lighting candles and distinctive headgear … [taught by] teachers from other disciplines just helping out for the afternoon’ as Giles Fraser (2014) put it? Has RE become, in the words of Keith Sharpe (2021) ‘a subject in search of a purpose’? Is it, in short, time to move on from RE? If that was all there was to say on the matter, then the After Religious Education project (After RE1) could perfectly name an initiative to scrap RE altogether.
That is decidedly not the intention ordirection of After RE."
Welcome to the start of a new academic year and with it our second special issue of ProfessionalREflection, this time focusing on the topical issue of knowledge in RE. As before, this issue is special in having been edited by three people rather than two – joining the team this time as Guest Editor is RE Today Consultant Julia Diamond- Conway. Our theme has been chosen to reflect a good deal of thinking recently about knowledge, its nature and its purpose in RE, prompted by the Commission on RE Report in 2018 and the Ofsted Research Review 2021, as well as reviews of agreed syllabuses and the focus on knowledge in Ofsted inspections (2019). In particular, the discussion on different types of knowledge in the RE Research Review has sparked some very interesting responses.
Not entirely sure what to expect, it was with trepidation that I began this project, which we named ‘Let’s Talk about antisemitism’. I need not have worried: our collaborators have been nothing but supportive and guided me through the trials and tribulations of my first venture.
"Understanding your own interpretation of worldviews is an essential starting point. This can be done through reading. We have found the Culham St Gabriel’s Trust’s short courses a good starting point, both the Introduction to Religion and Worldviews and the Digging Deeper courses.¹ There are also some excellent blogs and podcasts available; we found the RE Podcast episode about worldviews very informative.²
Remember to also be aware of your own positionality when teaching, recognise your own biases and encourage pupils to do the same.
There are many differing ideas around a worldviews approach to the teaching of RE, disciplinary approaches, diversity within religions and worldviews, and lived religion and personal worldviews. For example:"
Lat Blaylock shares some ideas about kitsch RE, messy inter-religious artefacts and the flux and flow of beliefs in our contemporary world and RE classrooms.
‘Belief’, ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ – three words we use interchangeably as RE teachers to try and explain key ideas and concepts. But are they the same? Are we encouraging messy understanding?"
In the summer of 2022 I read The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (HarperOne 2020), which inspired me to re-vamp our unit on Genesis and the environment for our Year 7 spring term. I hoped that looking through the Jewish theological lens as well as the Christian lens would add richness.