Central to all we do at Culham St Gabriel’s is our vision for a broad-based, critical and reflective education in religion and worldviews that has the capacity to contribute to a well-informed, respectful and open society. As part of our current charitable objectives, we are engaging more explicitly with a range of researchers and thinkers who can help us to consider how the RE community can be central in advancing the kinds of knowledge that might contribute to more just, inclusive and equitable engagements with religious and non-religious worldviews across every arena of social life and public services provision.
This month’s research of the month is presented by Tamanda Walker at the University of Leeds Centre for Religion in Public Life and explores engagements with religious and non-religious worldviews within Mental Healthcare provision in the UK and beyond.
While the significance of all religious and non-religious worldviews are considered within mental healthcare provision, particular attention is given in this research project to indigenous African belief systems. These worldviews have often been negated, misrepresented, and/or inferiorised within Eurocentric systems of knowledge that have emphasised learning primarily around the world religions paradigm established under colonialism (Masuzawa 2005).
Emerging evidence shows that some African and Afro-Caribbean service users seeking treatment for both common and severe ‘mental disorders’ have at times felt pathologised as a result of a lack of racial, religious and cultural literacy amongst healthcare professionals. In this context, their normative belief systems have been ignored altogether, or occasionally received by clinicians as signs of ‘disturbance’ and ‘mental illness’, rather than being worked with sensitively and inclusively as part of treatment plans.
Given the stark health inequalities exposed by COVID-19, and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, there has arguably never been a better or more urgent moment for the RE community to reflect on what role it may play in advancing an understanding of all religious and non-religious worldviews within healthcare. Perhaps most especially, the RE community might have a role to play in advancing a more informed understanding of the belief systems of groups and individuals that have been historically marginalised on the basis of both race and faith and/or subject to unequal or exclusive treatment within healthcare. (Boydell et al., 2013; Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charitable Trust, 2018; Codgoe et al 2019; Kinouani in Watson 2019; Mind 2020; Creasy et al 2021; Rethink Mental Illness 2021.
We invite you to move from the experiences of those ‘at the margins’, to ‘those at the centre’ as you reflect on and explore how a more critical, decolonised and reflective education in religion and` worldviews might contribute more well informed, respectful and inclusive healthcare provision for all.
Discussion & Reflection Questions
- In terms of the substantive knowledge offered to students: How might you develop some of your existing teaching and lessons to support pupils to explore the connection between (their own or others’) worldviews and mental health and wellbeing?
- How might you use a case study such as the one offered in this video to help students understand the fluidity and complexity of worldviews? In particular, how might the stories of Nkamo and Phatsimo help illuminate how worldviews relate to each person’s social context, location and personal journey, including for example histories of colonialism and/or migration?
- What substantive knowledge might it be helpful for students to have of indigenous worldviews and beliefs which are frequently left out or engaged less within RE teaching and learning?
Worldview, Personal Knowledge & Disciplinary Knowledge
- My own worldview, positionality and approach to engaging with religion and worldviews and mental health in this case study might be described broadly as critical, decolonial and sociological. What can RE teachers and students learn from this approach to the subject at hand?
- What other disciplinary and methodological approaches could be taken to explore and reflect on religion and worldviews and mental health and the issues thrown up by this research? What might theological, philosophical, psychoanalytic and/or clinical approaches offer to advance our thinking in this area?
Critical Religious Education and Social Justice
- What role does RE have to play in increasing the public understanding of indigenous worldviews that are frequently negated, inferiorised or misrepresented within Eurocentric systems of knowledge? How might a better understanding of these worldviews contribute to a more equal and just mental health services provision?
- How might critical and decolonial approaches to the study of religion and worldviews – such as those advanced and developed by anti-racist and womanist educator, Alexandra Brown – contribute to a more just and equal society and service provision in general? How might you draw on the resources Alexandra has developed within your own teaching and learning?
- What expertise might RE professionals have to contribute to advancing the understanding of religion and worldviews as part of your school’s ethos around values, culture and inclusion?