Summer Series: What Changed your Thinking? Part 2

We continue with our ‘summer series’ of recommendations for you. We asked Geoff Teece, Linda Whitworth and Kate Christopher to tell us about something that changed their thinking. In this edition: rewilding, religious pluralism, migration and belonging.

An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent by John Hick, 2004

John Hick’s An Interpretation of Religion was published in 1989. The book won the Grawemeyer Award in 1991 for new thinking in religion.

Hick involved himself in a variety of organisations committed to good relations between people of different faiths, spending time in mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras and mandirs. Indeed, it was in one of the gurdwaras that I first met him. He was wearing a Jewish yarmulke. Such experiences led Hick to develop his pluralist hypothesis, proposing that religious communities are expressions of how each community understands what is most valuable, most important, and most holy in life.

Hick starts with the proposition that the universe is hard to make clear sense of, and is subject to interpretation. This is extremely significant for Hick’s argument. Based on this premise, Hick presents religious experience as rationally defensible as any other, such as scientific knowledge. For Hick an unspoken scientific bias means religious knowledge has come to appear illegitimate. However Hick reminds us that all human knowledge involves interpretation and subjectivity.

Hick proposes that the religious traditions we see today are cultural systems that provide spiritual paths to the transformation of the self, directed towards the transcendent. This proposal has not developed out of a purely intellectual process, but out of personal encounter.
It is the book that has had the greatest influence on my own thinking about the nature of religion and possibilities for teaching about religion.

Geoff Teece

Geoff graduated in Theology and Education from the university of Birmingham from where he also received his MEd and PhD. He has taught RE across the phases from primary pupils to undergraduate students. He was Director of the Midlands RE Centre at Westhill College and worked with Michael Grimmitt training secondary RE teachers at the university of Birmingham. He was secretary of NASACRE for ten years and won the SHAP award for ‘an outstanding contribution to the teaching of World Religions’ in 2005. Latterly he has worked at the University of Exeter. More recently he was editor of Professional Reflection in RE Today

Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah, 2017
The Arrival Shaun Tan, 2006

Reading and then discussing Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy with Initial Teacher Education students helped change my worldview. It raises a lot of issues, both as a story and a teaching text, such as refugee experience, change and belonging. It resonated deeply with many of us and challenged assumptions. Some spoke about the challenges of moving to other cultural environments or the experiences of their parents and grandparents. It altered my view of my role in the classroom as an enabler, becoming more conscious of the conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion I could facilitate with my students.

I followed up by reading Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, a graphic novel with no words. This extraordinary book raises questions about belonging in even starker terms. Its sepia appearance provides both historical and mysterious dimensions, navigating the alien yet always returning to shared human experience. It helped me recognise how important it is to acknowledge different worldviews and discuss cultural and religious navigation so that real experience is considered and human connections are made.

Linda Whitworth

Linda is a retired ITE lecturer who specialises in Primary ITE in Religion and Worldviews. She is Chair of Trustees for Culham St Gabriel’s Trust and a visiting lecturer and consultant on primary education.

Wilding: the Return to Nature of a British Farm by Isabella Tree, 2018

Like many people I experience despair and fear when I think about human impact on the planet, the tipping points we have already reached and the injustice we seem indifferent to. I feel a profound grief about what we have lost and disbelief when I see government or corporate complacency and inaction in the face of catastrophe. I bought Wilding by Isabella Tree (2018) for my brother in law’s birthday, not knowing anything about rewilding. He is a literary critic, and it seemed to be creating a buzz. I glanced into it before I wrapped it, and eventually handed it to him well-over half read. I have since bought myself a copy and read it several times.

Wilding tells of Isabella and her husband Charlie Burrows’s West Sussex farm, Knepp. After decades of running at a loss, they finally realised the denuded, impoverished land was spent, so gave it over to nature. What follows is an astonishing account of just how ready myriad species are to spring into life, if they are only given the chance. With a few measures, such as introducing free-roaming herbivores to keep the natural woodland under control, the life that had not gone away, but was merely dormant, came flooding back. Layer upon layer of fungi, insects, wildflowers, bats, lizards, songbirds slipped into their niche in the burgeoning ecosystems, allowing other species to thrive. As Professor Sir John Lawton, chair of the 2010 ‘Making Space for Nature’ states: “Knepp Estate is one of the most exciting wildlife conservation projects in the UK, and indeed in Europe. If we can bring back nature at this scale and pace just 16 miles from Gatwick airport we can do it anywhere. I’ve seen it. It’s truly wonderful, and it fills me with hope.”

I have read this process described elsewhere as like a ‘pulse’, where nature only needs human interference to pause for a short time, for life to erupt in a landscape, any landscape. All over the world, in environments and climates nothing like Southern England, rewilding projects are emerging. For example, a huge ‘rewilding Arabia’ project has restored an Arabian leopard which acts as a keystone species, playing a similar role to the cows, ponies and pigs of Knepp. I have since read much more about rewilding, such as George Monbiot’s Feral¸ and it seems to be a story of hope. Nature knows what she is doing, we just have to let her. Ultimately humans have to rewild ourselves.

Kate Christopher

Kate teaches Secondary RE and is an independent RE consultant, focusing on curriculum