Lesser asked questions for Religion and Worldviews (and their relationship with curriculum)

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.

Some questions don’t seem to get asked in religious education as much as others. Here are three examples designed to pose questions about the relationship between questions and curriculum and what we think an education in religion and worldviews might be for.

Question One

Explain how a common response to poverty can be reached from people who hold different religious and non-religious worldviews.

In your answer show:

  • how a point of consensus can be reached from different theological and or philosophical principles, and
  • refer to hypothetical or actual case studies.

Two observations about question one: We tend to prefer questions that are about difference leading to disagreement, rather than difference leading to overlapping consensus. Should RE consider having structured questions designed to test out the possible range of areas where difference might still lead to cooperation or consensus?  We don’t explicitly ask for case studies (although students can use them in their reasoning). As case studies are interesting way of thinking about communities in context, might this be a useful tool for RE?

Question Two (designed to follow from a longer sacred text extract)

Read the extract from a sacred text. Identify and explain different ways this text is engaged within religious traditions. In your answer refer to each of:

  • communal ritual or private prayer/meditation/reflection
  • scholarly debate or public moral discussion
  • communities / individuals living in contrasting contexts (poverty and wealth or peace and war)

This question is designed to show diverse ways of ‘knowing’ and ‘engaging’ in religions and worldviews. It is also about the importance of context in textual interpretation and in the way religious life develops. This goes further in explicitly acknowledging different kinds of dialogue that the subject should entertain: scholarly and public.

Question Three

Should voluntary assisted dying be permitted?

Explore this question and two different settings in which it might be answered. First consider a political debate in the media. Second consider a hospital chaplain asked to counsel a family faced with a request from a terminally ill relative. Identify any differences or similarities in the way the question might be engaged. 

This question illuminates the kind of classroom experience we want to have happening and the sort of argumentation there might be. Should RE help students win arguments? Should it help them be good listeners and pastoral helpers of others in times of personal crisis?

A few things might jump out from these questions. First, the question structure will ‘beg’ for different kinds of content shaped in different kinds of ways in any curriculum that prepares the students for this question. Second, distinct social aims are apparent. Question one requires the idea of consensus being reached from different starting points to be structured into the exploration of the content. Question two requires blocks of texts to have been explored through multiple types of engagement and multiple contexts (it is multidimensional and contextual in character). Question three requires an explicit treatment of different settings for discussion: one that speaks to a pastoral context, the other that speaks to a more traditional debating context. I think all of these are interesting, and all of them should have space in a religion and worldviews classroom.

Now it is possible that my suggestions are not the ‘right questions to ask’. Indeed, some of these might not work very well in practice – they could surely be improved. However, they do reveal the relationship between question and curriculum, the way knowledge is organised, and the kinds of skills developed in association with that content. They reveal something of the possible character of learning in religion and worldviews classrooms and they focus on the ‘how’ of the subject, as well as the ‘what’, something highlighted by the Commission for RE (2018) report.


Professor Bob Bowie, Canterbury Christ Church University

@bobbowie, bob.bowie@canterbury.ac.uk, www.bobbowie.com,


This blog is linked to a piece of work written by me in a book currently in press. ‘The implicit knowledge structure preferred by questions in English Religious Studies public exams’. The book, edited by Gert Biesta and Pat Hannam is Religion and education: The forgotten dimensions of religious education? Leiden: Brill | Sense. It also links to the Texts and Teachers research project (www.nicer.org.uk).