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RE is under threat. This report interprets and develops the idea of “worldview” and explores its implications for the classroom. (2020)
Religious Education in schools is a vital means of ensuring religious literacy in any society – but in the UK, it is under threat. In a YouGov survey of the general public early in 2018, RE was in the bottom four subjects in ranking of considered importance. In another YouGov survey later in 2018, this time of school pupils, only 12% of the 4000 surveyed pupils spread across the 6–15 age range were prepared to admit to enjoying RE a lot; only Citizenship polled lower than RE on this measure. At the same time, in secondary schools there is a decline in the number of pupils entering for public examinations in Religious Studies. Many schools do not offer it at all. The stark reality is that some radical rethinking is necessary if the subject is to survive at all.
It was with this in mind that the Commission on RE (CoRE) made its landmark recommendations in 2018, in a report entitled Religion and Worldviews: The Way Forward. The Commission recommended that the focus of the subject should be reframed around the concept of “worldviews”, and although these recommendations were well received by much of the RE community itself, some groups were critical of its proposals and they have not yet been taken forward by government.
In this latest Theos report, Trevor Cooling, Bob Bowie and Farid Panjwani respond to these criticisms, interpreting and developing the idea of “worldview” and exploring its implications for the classroom.
The report argues that there have been several significant shifts, or paradigm changes, in the perceived purpose of Religious Education, each responding to the changing social context in which schools exist. A move towards “Religion and Worldviews” would be another significant (and much–needed) paradigm change in thinking about the subject.
Responding to some common objections to the move to “worldviews”, and expanding on how this shift might impact on classrooms in practice, the report further argues:
That the worldview proposal should not be seen as a focus on the content to be taught, but as a way of framing how that content is introduced to the students.
That in order to understand the worldviews being taught, the focus should not be so much on the institutional version as on the lived experience of adherents.
That the notion of personal worldview, with its emphasis on the heart as well as the head, needs to be central to this new approach to RE.
That RE should not only help pupils acquire information, but teach them how to become interpreters of that information – and a focus on worldviews helpfully enables this approach.
That since everyone has a worldview, the risk that certain views will be allowed irresponsibly to influence education is a risk for everyone – not just those with a religious affiliation – and we therefore need to ask what responsible influence looks like in education, rather than trying to exclude the influence of worldviews altogether.
In sum, this report elucidates and expands on a new approach to RE which has the potential to invigorate the subject in a changing world. It brings a much–needed reflection not only on the future of Religious Education in the UK, but on religious literacy more generally, as we seek to navigate an increasingly religiously plural society.
This new animated film by Emily Downe, created in partnership with Culham St Gabriel’s Trust and Canterbury Christ Church University, unpacks the idea of worldviews.
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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.
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.