As Sociologists of Religion whose research has focused on university students’ experiences of religion and worldview diversity, we asked ourselves this: How does the experience of school-based RE prepare young people for the religious diversity of university life?
We had the opportunity to explore this question as part of our 2020-2023 project, Building Positive Relationships among University Students across Religion and Worldview Diversity. In Autumn 2022 we surveyed 4618 UK university students (3986 of whom attended secondary school in the UK) about their experiences of religious diversity at university. We included questions about their religious literacy and established the extent to which students had engaged in worldviews-style religious education prior to enrolling at university. This enabled us to identify the relationship between students’ learning about worldviews in the classroom and their interfaith learning and development at university.
Two Key Findings
- Students’ experiences of worldview-style engagement in the RE classroom favour learning over self-expression. We asked students if they had engaged with worldviews in the RE classroom. More agreed with statements that had to do with learning outcomes (e.g. ‘I learnt that worldviews can be religious or non-religious’), than with statements concerning the place of their own worldview within the RE classroom (e.g. ‘I talked about my personal religious or non-religious worldview’). Less than two thirds of respondents felt their worldviews were respected in the RE classroom; further research will need to explore what is going on here in greater detail.
- Different aspects of worldviews-style engagement relate to distinct measures of ‘interfaith readiness’ students demonstrate upon entering university. Looking at 912 first-year students who enrolled at university in October 2022, we found that:
a. Students who talked about personal religious or non-religious worldviews in the RE classroom enter university with a greater reflexive ability to negotiate their own worldview commitments in light of those who are different from themselves;
b. Students who studied alongside RE classmates who held a range of religious and non-religious worldviews, and those who learnt to recognise diversity within religious and non-religious traditions in RE lessons, enter university with a greater desire to proactively engage across religion and worldview differences in society;
c. Students who learnt that religious and non-religious worldviews are shaped not just by tradition but by the choices people make, enter university with higher levels of appreciation towards atheists, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs than those who did not.
These findings, as well as others, are presented this downloadable briefing paper, Worldviews, religious literacy and interfaith readiness: Bridging the gap between school and university.