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Resurrecting Religious Education through the study of worldviews

Resurrecting Religious Education through the study of worldviews

Placing the notion of “worldviews” at the heart of Religious Education will ensure the subject remains relevant for an increasingly non–religious generation of students, argues new Theos report, Worldviews in Religious Education.

Previous polling has shown that only 12% of the 4000 surveyed pupils were prepared to admit to enjoying RE a lot. In secondary schools there is a decline in the number of pupils entering for public examinations in Religious Studies, and an increase in the number of schools not offering the subject. It seems that RE as a subject is under threat with more schools ignoring or marginalizing it and pupils increasingly not enjoying it. 

In 2018, the Commission on RE suggested a way of reinvigorating the subject by reframing it with a focus on “worldviews”. This proposed paradigm shift generated considerable debate and has not yet been adopted by the government.

Worldviews in Religious Education offers a distinctive contribution to the debate in support of the Commission’s recommendations, interpreting and developing the idea of “worldviews” and exploring its implications for the classroom. Lead author Trevor Cooling and co–authors Bob Bowie and Farid Panjwani argue that the previous “world religions” approach to Religious Education is no longer fit for purpose, and respond to various criticisms that have been made of the paradigm shift. For example, they argue that changing the focus would not dilute the proper attention that should be given to religions but that it is rather a different way of framing how that content is introduced to the students.

They argue that the exploration of both “organised” worldviews, such as Christianity, Islam and Humanism, and also “personal” worldviews, the beliefs and hidden assumptions which shape how each individual sees the world, should be at the heart of the subject going forward. RE should focus on pupils’ understanding their own worldview through their study of the worldviews of others. 

Theos Head of Research Madeleine Pennington says “Religious education in schools is a key ingredient in any cohesive society, especially as the UK becomes increasingly religiously diverse. Re–framing the subject around the study of ‘Religion and Worldviews’ promises to enliven RE for another generation.”

[Ends]

[Notes to editors]

1. Theos’ new report, Worldviews in Religious Education, will be published on 21 October 2020. An advanced copy of this report and executive summary is attached under embargo.   

2. For more information, or to arrange an interview with the authors, please contact Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos, on 07875343554 elizabeth.oldfield@theosthinktank.co.uk or Trevor Cooling.

3. Professor Trevor Cooling is Professor Emeritus of Christian Education at Canterbury Christ Church University UK, and Chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC). Previously, Trevor worked as a secondary school teacher in biology and religious education, a university theology lecturer, a diocesan adviser and CEO of a Christian Education charity.

4. Professor Bob Bowie is Director of the National Institute of Christian Education at Canterbury Christ Church University, Executive Chair of the Association of University Lecturers in Religion and Education, an executive officer of the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values and regional editor for the International Journal of Christianity and Education.

5. Dr Farid Panjwani is Professor and Dean of the Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University, Pakistan.

6. Theos is the UK’s leading religion and society think tank. It has a broad Christian basis, and exists to enrich the debate about faith and society. 


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 Image: Juriah Mosin/shutterstock.com

Trevor Cooling

Trevor Cooling

Professor Trevor Cooling is Professor Emeritus of Christian Education at Canterbury Christ Church University UK, and Chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC). Previously, Trevor worked as a secondary school teacher in biology and religious education, a university theology lecturer, a diocesan adviser and CEO of a Christian Education charity.


Professor Bob Bowie is Director of the National Institute of Christian Education at Canterbury Christ Church University, Executive Chair of the Association of University Lecturers in Religion and Education, an executive officer of the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values and regional editor for the International Journal of Christianity and Education.


Farid Panjwani is Professor and Dean of the Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University, Pakistan.

Posted 21 October 2020

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