My last blog focused on the word ‘worldviews’. In this blog I want to consider why the word ‘religion’ is also crucial in navigating a way forward for religious education.
In conversations about the Commission on RE report (201) with teachers, some have asked why the word ‘religion’ is there…. Why not just have ‘worldviews’?
At the recent NATRE Strictly RE Conference, Professor Grace Davie spoke about religion as being central in issues of the 21st Century world. She reminded us that 80% of people globally have a religious identity and that this is growing. She spoke about the importance of knowledge about, but also sensitivity to, the religious dimension in human experience. Davie placed an emphasis on lived religion and the power of religious practices to shape ways of life, but she also acknowledged the power of religious ideas to motivate, and religious communities to mobile and bring social change. Understanding the nature of religion itself is therefore an essential element of religious education. How do people within religions understand the term ‘religion’? How is the term used by people outside a religious worldview? Do we all mean the same thing when we talk about religion?
I recall an Agreed Syllabus Conference meeting in about 2011. We were debating whether to move from the phrase ‘learning about and learning from religion’ to ‘learning about and learning from religion and belief’. I remember the Bahai representative saying that she preferred the latter as she did not think her faith was a religion. The Buddhist representative then said that he agreed, he was not religious, he followed a philosophy for life. The Hindu representative then said that dharma could not be translated as religion. Lastly, one of the Christian representatives said that he did not feel religion described his faith, he felt that religion was something that people had to attain to, and for him his faith was based on the grace of God. In this brief, yet stimulating discussion, we can see questions of language, of reductionism, of the issue of categorisation, of internal and external perspectives in relation to how religion is understood. These are the conversations our children and young people need to be having.
Grappling with the nature of religion itself is at the heart of religious education. Some of the questions we are proposing in the development of a new curriculum through the key stages in the Eastern region are:
Where is religion around us?
How does religion contribute to society and culture?
What do we mean by religion?
What makes a religion a religion?
Is religion an outdated western category or a useful way of thinking about different ways of living?
To what extent are religions reflections or reactions to society?
To what extent does the lived reality of (name of religion) reflect an authoritative understanding?
It’s time to have a conversation about religion.
Dr Kathryn Wright
Independent RE Consultant, a co-opted member of the NATRE Executive and sits on the board of the RE Council of England and Wales