A newly invigorated national conversation around the future of RE is underway in the UK, which reveals a lack of clarity about how and where learning about religion and belief should take place, what it should consist of, and what it is for.
The Religious Literacy Programme at Goldsmiths, University of London, has argued that clarity about the teaching of religion and belief is highly pressing because billions of people around the world are religious, despite the assumptions of secularity, globalization and migration put us all in to daily encounter with the full plurality of religion and belief in our personal and professional lives, yet many European societies have largely lost the ability to talk well about religion and belief (see for example Dinham 2012).
This is also important because, at the same time, the religion and belief landscape has changed significantly, both in terms of demographics and what and how people believe. For example, recent research reveals that whilst formal, dogmatic forms of religion may be in decline, more fluid, informal forms are thriving (See Woodhead. L & Catto, R 2012) and data suggests the real, lived, religious landscape has changed dramatically over the last few decades and continues to do so, precisely while the capacity to talk well about it has declined most. The current school RE settlement encapsulates and reflects this dilemma, having been reached at the beginning of the period in which religious literacy has declined.
Schools can play a crucial role in shaping how young citizens engage with this lived diversity, in their own communities, future workplaces and wider contexts. They also represent a key level of intervention in addressing religious illiteracy in public life more widely.
Objectives and methods
The project’s primary objective is to critically engage with the on-going debate around the future of RE by providing a new evidence base informing a cycle of discursive engagement with protagonists in the field.
It aims to explore:
a) What pupils, teachers and parents think children need to know and learn about religion and belief and what that learning is for
b) What themes and issues around religion and belief emerge as of interest to pupils, teachers and parents
c) What knowledge and skills employers think school leavers need in order to be religiously literate employer/ees
d) The extent to which these perspectives reflect the current religion and belief landscape and are reflected in current educational policy
The project will examine these issues in the following stages:
1) Documentary analysis of current educational policy and of research data on the contemporary religion and belief landscape.
2) Field research in 20 secondary schools in England
3) Reflective analysis: A network of "influencers" will be invited to a new forum to explore and crystalise the challenges and opportunities around making RE 'real'.