Islam as a worldview

July 2021 research of the month features Dr Kate Christopher and Professor Lynn Revell.

Islam as a Worldview

What does a worldviews approach look like in practice? Dr Kate Christopher and Professor Lynn Revell.

What does a worldviews approach look like in practice? This project aims to make sense of and explore worldviews thinking through practical resources for the classroom, focusing on the teaching of Islam.

‘Worldviews’ is a loosely- defined term, not dissimilar to words like ‘religion’ and ‘culture’. However instead of focusing too strictly on the various definitions of ‘worldviews’ in the work of various political and social theorists, we have considered its meaning in in usage. At the moment, in the RE/ Religion and Worldviews community, the word is being used to describe a shared vision of a critical, contextual curriculum, embracing messiness and diversity. In Religion and Worldviews education the ‘worldviews approach’ describes a new paradigm, moving away from the current ‘world religions approach’.

Why the change to worldviews?

Firstly, religious adherence, or more accurately, Christian adherence, in the UK is in sharp decline. There is a corresponding rise in those who describe themselves as non-religious. The UK is also becoming more ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse. Where there is religious adherence, it is more and more likely to be among non-white British groups. The first concern of the worldviews approach is to reflect more accurately the religious and ideological landscape 21st Century pupils recognise.

How does a worldviews approach address this issue? For us, a worldviews approach does not start with buildings, beliefs, objects, books or festivals, it starts with people and with a particular understanding of the person as complex and multi-layered who holds views that are often hard to categorise as either sacred or secular. Because people are inherently diverse and rooted in a time and place, diversity and context are a natural and inherent dimension to worldviews thinking. Taking people as a starting point means integrating diversity and context in worldviews as an ordinary part of people’s identity and beliefs. Although there is an argument that only religious world views should be considered (Barnes, 2015) we believe that a focus on people as the starting point of worldviews education can help teachers engage with the beliefs of people and communities in ways that are genuinely intercultural and holistic (Braten and Everington 2018).

Secondly, a worldviews approach invites pupils’ critical engagement as part of the learning. Pupils’ own responses and questions about what they learn, as they make sense of complexity and context, is woven through the learning. As people in their lives navigate political and economic pressures, cultural traditions, change and diversity, so will pupils engaged in learning through the worldviews approach.

Example: the mosque

Underlying the world religions approach is an assumption that the religions, singly and comparatively, have common characteristics; sacred spaces, sacred texts, important people, core beliefs. A world religions approach to the mosque might be to identify the main features of the mosque and their function. The assumption underlying this approach is that all mosques have common characteristics and Muslims everywhere share a common relationship with the mosque. A further assumption is that all Muslims believe very similar things and that Muslims everywhere practice their religion in very similar way.

To take a worldviews approach to the mosque is to ask different questions from the outset. For example, the mosque in Gillingham in Kent where Lynn has been taking PGCE students for many years, is not an abstract idea of a mosque, but an actual mosque. To start with people is to ask about the people in the mosque: who are they, where are they, what do they say? The majority of this mosque population is 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation Pakistani-heritage Sunni Muslim. The older generation tend to be more liberal, the younger generation are more conservative in their faith, but also more likely to be vocal against racism and confident in their British Muslim identity. To start with people is not to assume that we, the onlooker, knows what Muslims think about their mosque, it is to ask and listen and engage with their influences, pressures and hopes to make sense of what they say.

But why stop in Gillingham? With a worldviews approach we can look at people anywhere in the world. In the lesson resources we present a snapshot of the Egyptian Women’s Mosque Movement. Egyptian women wanted to educate themselves as North African, Muslim women in response to social shifts and their own self-awareness. We feature this fascinating period in our KS3 lessons, allowing students to engage with questions about gender, piety and tradition, as the women of the Mosque Movement did. We also find out that the world’s oldest mosque is in China, the Huaisheng Mosque, highlighting the wide geographical spread of Islam in its early days. A focus on people naturally draws on places, histories and diversity to offer a rich and contextual understanding.

Teaching Resources

We have produced practical lessons resources to introduce worldviews thinking for KS1 – 5. The resources are designed so that teachers can adapt and change them to suit the needs of their classrooms. The resources have also been designed so that teachers can use different disciplinary lenses to frame the questions and learning outcomes. For example, in the KS1 materials pupils learn about the Persian poet Rumi, his work and his links to Sufism and mysticism. Teachers can use the lenses provided by history, creative writing, art or geography to explore Rumi’s worldview or how Rumi’s work could influence the worldview of others. [Update: Some of the teaching resources were added to RE:ONLINE in October 2021 and are available here]

Questions arising from the project

An important part of the project is its collaborative nature. We have worked with teachers to explore the potential of this approach and to find ways of making the resources as stimulating and challenging as possible. We are still collecting feedback but two queries that teachers raise is their concern about the perceived lack of a ‘core content’ and their fear that a worldviews approach is ‘not religious enough’. These are both important questions and we will explore them in our analysis.

If you are interested in seeing the teaching resources or would like Lynn and Kate to speak at a network meeting, please email kate:

Questions for discussion

  • What is your response to the idea that the worldviews approach represents a step on from the world religions approach to the subject?
  • Is there a lesson or unit you currently teach that could be adapted to start with people, and discover beliefs from the starting point of people or a person?

Consider these examples of where the worldviews approach starts with specific people rather than abstract beliefs:

KS1- 2: the poet Rumi was a Sufi mystic from Medieval Persia. He was also a friend and a poet. Pupils explore Rumi’s love poetry, his great friendship with Shams, dragons from different parts of the Islamic world, as well as Sufi beliefs and practices.

KS2- 3: Muhammad Ali was a devoted Muslim. He was also an incredible athlete and an activist. Pupils learn about Muhammad Ali the boxer and Muhammad Ali the conscientious objector, as well as exploring Muhammad Ali’s spiritual journey as a Muslim.

  • Is there a lesson or unit you currently teach that could benefit from a wider context, to enable pupils to engage critically?

Consider these examples of where the worldviews approach draws on wider contexts to allow pupils to engage with political or ethical issues as well as religious beliefs:

KS2- 3: Muhammad Ali experienced racism and exclusion. Pupils learn about racial segregation in the Southern USA in order to understand Ali’s later activism. Ali refused to fight in Vietnam. Pupils learn about the reasons why and discuss issues around fighting for justice. In learning about these eras and the ethical questions raised, pupils gain knowledge of key events in world history and have the opportunity to consider their own and their peers’ reactions.

KS3- 4: Malala Yousafzai is a Muslim woman from the Swat valley in Pakistan. She refused to accept the Taliban’s ban on girl’s education and eventually they tried to kill her. She survived and has become a globally recognized campaigner for girls’ education. Students will learn about Malala’s culture and region, views of women and girls, the impact of poverty and fundamentalism. They will make sense of these forces and pressures as Malala has had to. Students will learn about how Malala’s Islamic faith sustains and inspires her, but not in the abstract, in the context of her struggle for girls’ education.



Barnes, L. P. (2015) Humanism, non-religious worldviews and the future of Religious Education. Journal of Belief and Values Vol. 36 (1)

Braten, O. M. H. and Everington, J. (2018) Issues in the integration of religious education and worldviews education in an intercultural context. Intercultural Education. Vol. 30. (3s


You may also be interested in the In Conversation event where Lynn and Kate discuss their worldview project. You can find a recording of it below.

In conversation with

Recorded on 17th March 2021. An audio recording. Professor Lynn Revell and Dr Kate Christopher talk to Dr Kevin O'Grady.

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