Worldviews from a Primary perspective: self-detectives

We are delighted to be launching a new summer blog series called ‘Opening up conversations about religion and worldviews’. This blog series is being run in collaboration with the RE Policy Unit, a partnership between NATRE, the RE Council and RE Today. It will include contributions from a wide range of teachers, those working in initial teacher education and researchers in this field.

I recently attended an online event on ‘Religion and Worldviews’ and was struck by some of the concerns: Can worldviews be included at primary level? Is this not adding more to an already overburdened curriculum?

Yet, examining worldviews can be incredibly helpful. Many trainee teachers are concerned about teaching RE, particularly if they do not personally follow a religion. For some this contributes to the ‘otherness’, or exotic nature, of religion and they struggle to see where to begin with teaching about a religion. Examining personal worldviews can

  • Bridge the gap
  • Assist in identifying what new subject knowledge is key
  • Increase confidence
  • Help religion(s) seem less ‘exotic’


‘Personal worldviews’ are the assumptions and values individuals adhere to that are held consciously and subconsciously (Sire, 2004). Identifying personal worldviews faces challenges, not least in how to make the subconscious conscious. Various methods have been trialled to access these subconsciously held views yet each has flaws. Self-reflective writing is often employed but this may result in reflections that are ‘too big and too vague’ (Korthagen and Wubbels, 1995: 53), or produce over simplifications (Joram, 2007) that have often led to reinforcing bias rather than illuminating understanding. However, one research project employed photographs to elicit teacher-training students’ preconceived ideas (Stockall and Davis, 2011) which proved insightful. Therefore, I decided to employ photographs with my ITE students as part of worldview identification.

Further assistance in identifying personal worldviews is experiencing ‘disorientating dilemmas’ (Mezirow, 2000), a situation where individuals come up against contrast – different views, practices, cultures or norms. For example, a teacher told me how annoyed she was that a pupil she was telling off would not look at her but stared at the ground, which she saw as disrespectful. Yet the pupil was from a cultural background where you show respect by looking down and to make eye contact is disrespectful. Personal worldviews were illuminated, and clashed, in this contrast. These occurrences in life, sometimes lead to conflict, but can be replicated, sensitively, in the classroom by providing opportunities for experiencing difference – examining images, optical illusions, watching video clips, and discussing ethical dilemmas which all challenge assumptions.


As aspects of individuals’ personal worldviews appear then we can examine where these have come from; not to judge or dispute but to see the evolutionary process of those views. This can be in a fun and investigative way – as Self-detectives.

Where does my view come from? Tracing these back for self and then in dialogue with peers can assist this process.  The aim is not to attempt to decipher the entirety of someone’s worldview but to examine a few aspects to illustrate the existence of personal worldviews and trace the factors that have impacted them.

For example, with a discussion on the word ‘home’ – my husband calls his parents’ house ‘home’ even though he has not lived there for 30 years. For me home is wherever my family happen to be. Why this difference? This can be traced back to life experience. For my husband his parents still live in the house where he was born so he calls that home. My parents moved around during my childhood and, for me, my home is wherever my family are. This is a part of our worldviews of what home is and has evolved from our life experience.

Further practical ideas:

Alongside images, I have employed video clips to disorientate and prompt new reactions. One particularly effective clip was ‘Radi-aid’, a spoof charity video claiming to be raising money to buy radiators for children in Norway, as ‘the cold kills too’. The video written by the Norwegian Students’ & Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) forms part of their annual campaigns. Their goal is ‘to challenge the perceptions around issues of poverty and development, to change the way fundraising campaigns communicate and to break down dominating stereotypes’ (SAIH,nd).

Another example is from the US Television drama ‘The West Wing’. The light-hearted scene sees Cartographers for Social Justice discuss power and social injustice in the creation of maps of the world. HSBC also ran an advertising campaign concerning different cultural norms, which provides materials that could be used to aid discussions about worldviews.

Further useful tools include Question Cards on worldviews. A range of statements or questions can be written on cards and then discussed in pairs or larger groups. Questions, such as ‘Is it ever OK to lie?’, can assist in revealing differences between individuals, their accepted norms and what they hold as most important: truth, politeness etc.

I see worldviews, not as an add on but, as a starting point to provide a frame for pupils to develop a greater understanding of their personal worldviews and the worldviews of others, whether religious or not.


Joram, E. (2007) ‘Clashing epistemologies: Aspiring teachers’, practising teachers’ and professors’ beliefs about knowledge and research in education’. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23 (2), 123 -135.

Korthagen, F., & Wubbels, T. (1995). Characteristics of reflective practitioners: Towards an operationalization of the concept of reflection. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 1 (1), 51–72.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to think like an adult. In J. Mezirow and Associates (eds.) Learning as Transformation (pp.3-33). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sire, J. (2004). Naming the Elephant: worldview as a concept. Illinois: Intervarsity Press.

Stockall, N and Davis, S (2011) Uncovering pre-service teacher beliefs about young children: A photographic elicitation methodology. Issues in Educational Research, 21 (2), 192-209


The Radi-aid clip can be viewed at:

The West Wing clip on maps of the world with Cartographers for Social Justice:


Ruth Flanagan FHEA, Lecturer in Education, Subject Lead for Primary Humanities, University of Exeter

Opening up conversations about religion and worldviews

See all the blogs in the series so far