Kevin O’Grady, Lead Consultant for Research, Culham St Gabriel’s
Welcome to the first edition of the CStG Research Bulletin. We hope that this will be an annual feature, including articles based on the work taking place within our master’s and doctoral community of practice. The community of practice is a new venture for CStG. We are aiming to make better use of the potential within an important part of our grantee community, namely, those receiving support to study for higher degrees. The idea has been to bring these colleagues together into a community of practice for mutual support, and, also, to turn outwards to the wider RE / R&W subject community and share the ideas that they have developed together. Readers of this editorial introduction may have attended our July 13 Summer Showcase event, the five presentations at which were our first way to share the group’s work with the wider subject community. A recording of the Summer Showcase can be accessed at https://www.reonline.org.uk/research/resources-from-rexchange-and-partner-conferences/rexchange-summer-showcase/ . The three articles in this Research Bulletin relate closely to Summer Showcase presentations, usually by exploring the same themes in more detail.
The 2020-2021 community of practice had 28 members: 24 master’s students, 4 PhD students, 23 of whom are also full-time teachers in schools (3 primary, 20 secondary). The story of the group’s joint work is as follows. We met together for the first time in September 2020. All our meetings have been virtual. The first meeting was a chance for each member to introduce him or herself, but from the little each person had time to say, rich content and the potential for strong interconnections and conversations could already be sensed.
We set up the second meeting (December 2020) and third meeting (March 2021) with the aim of exploring the same content and potential. Five groups were formed around shared broad interests, headed: controversy and policy; curriculum and assessment; curriculum and pedagogy (two groups); and meeting different pupils’ needs. During the December 2020 meeting, the group members worked together on identifying more specific issues to investigate, within the broad themes. During the March 2021 meeting, each group having identified their issue, they began to investigate it, by sharing experiences and reading and discussing views, agreements, disagreements, and areas of overlap. After the March 2021 meeting, some members of each group developed Summer Showcase presentations, others the parallel articles for this Research Bulletin. The issues are a cross-section of RE / R&W curriculum, pedagogy, and policy, not in a representative way, but in a way which illustrates practice deliberations for a group of committed professional specialists. How and why should the curriculum address contemporary religious expression in the arts? What can RE / R&W teachers in schools with and without religious characters learn through dialogue with one another? How should discussions of decolonisation affect the subject? These are questions stretching across community of practice members’ individual research or interests, and the articles bear witness to a collaborative process.
Sukaina Manji offers a summary account of five colleagues’ deliberations on the place in RE / R&W of contemporary religious expression through the arts. This reflects her own developing doctoral research as well as that of Sahra Uçar, where the metaphor of tapestry is used to unsettle ideas about what it means to know, affecting the model of religious literacy and indeed the portrayal of religions. Angles are added on how teachers’ own identities shape these processes and what the assessment-related issues are. How teaching resources are to be created is left open, but the article concludes with an invitation having set out the terms; the resultant teaching and learning would be innovative and different, not only in content but also the promise of reflexive awareness for teachers and pupils.
We turn next to Elaine Arundell and Thomas Breakwell, who present ideas about dialogue between RE / R&W teachers in schools with and without religious characters, grounded in autobiographical reflections. This gives context to what they see as an underdeveloped discussion. Both writers try to identify their own assumptions; gaps in practice; strengths and weaknesses in their own approaches, and – finally – what can be learned mutually. As possible ways forward, they suggest that further teacher reflection could lead to greater multi-faith engagement in religious character schools; and more awareness of the experiences of religiously identifying pupils in schools without a religious character.
Writing with Sian Brockway and Almaz Messenger, Simon Cardy builds on the need for dialogue and hermeneutical understanding, in this case through an engagement with decolonisation. The group employ the concepts of reading from nowhere, reading from here and reading from elsewhere to emphasise the need to listen to unheard voices. RE / R&W inevitably explores identity, including one’s own position. There are illustrations of how critical engagement with religious imagery helps with this process, indeed, is necessary to it since what pupils see in the classroom matters.
There are emphases in all the articles below on teacher self-awareness; on the needs to incorporate diverse positions into teaching and learning and, more widely, to see the whole matter of RE / R&W from the same diversity of viewpoints; and to keep searching for ways for the theory and practice of the subject to inform each other. A model of research engagement? Read and decide.
Why and how should a Key stage 3 module on contemporary religious expression in art be created? Sukaina Manji, [lead writer] & other contributors: Laura Miller, Sahra Uçar, Samuel Yates
Looking at Religion and Worldviews teaching across schools with and without a religious character: possibilities for dialogue and co-operation Elaine Arundell and Thomas Breakwell
How does decolonisation within schools’ impact on the teaching of RE? Simon Cardy with Sian Brockway and Almaz Messenger