RE in Schools


RE, parents, pupils, assumptions and some religions

Hinduism and Assumptions before and during inadequate RE
Christianity and Assumptions before and during inadequate RE
Buddhism and Assumptions before and during inadequate RE
Islam and Assumptions before and during inadequate RE
Judaism and Assumptions before and during inadequate RE
Sikhism and Assumptions before and during inadequate RE
RE Recycling - Comparison with History
RE in Any School
Issues of Teaching RE
The Law
RE hours
Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development
Aspects of RE
QCA Non-Statutory Guidance, 2000
Perspectives of RE

Confessional model
Critical realism model
Phenomenological model
Postmodern model
Feminist model
Interpretive model
Spiritual/ Experiential model
Implicit model
Human meaning model
Additional Important Cross-curricular Issues
Literacy and RE

Scripture and language
Oral work and memory
Reading and Listening

Regular numbers
Extreme numbers
Inverted Importance and Extras
Calendars and time
Religious gambling
Content analysis

Creative Arts in RE

Religious paintings
Some RE involving websites

RE in Schools

RE, parents, pupils, assumptions and some religions

If parents, teachers and pupils (even when informed) make assumptions like within the following, then good and corrective RE is justified.

Hinduism and Assumptions
before and during inadequate RE

  • Lots of gods
    [yes but]
  • Difficulty of teaching one, three, thirty three and infinite Gods conceptually
    [but shows difference from other faiths]
  • A big divine family tree
    [worth drawing]
  • Hinduism variety means an easy tendency to ethnography
  • Reincarnation that becomes a lesson in good behaviour
  • The caste system is their form of class system
    [not really]
  • Brahma, Brahman and Brahmin confusion
  • Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras and dalit - how religion is bad for you
  • People are disabled because of what they did wrong in their last life
    [moral argument]
  • Krishna the badly behaved manifestation of God
  • Scriptures become story time (when some are revelation)
    [not the whole]
  • Rama rescued his wife from an island
  • Ganesha is an elephant god
    [no - head only]
  • There is a monkey God
  • Something about Gandhi and salt
    [salt, a symbol of oppression]
  • Gandhi was killed like Jesus was
    [not theologised]
  • Sacred text of a civil war
    [Mahabharata/ Bhagavad Gita]
  • The British were good for India
  • The British were horrible in India
    [military repression]
  • Unlike the Bible, Hindu sacred text is made up
  • Hindu sacred text is one long poem
  • There's that poem which comes from another poem
    [Bhagavad Gita]
  • Do they have temples or just stay at home?
  • Temple or that name not used a lot
  • They burn women after their husbands die, or did do
    [illegal - creeping back in some places
  • No one wants girls
    [problem in other developing countries]
  • Religious people beg in the streets
    [not all at all]
  • Religious people do magic tricks in the streets to dupe people
  • Sanskrit is the Hindu version of Arabic and Hebrew
    [not a version of anything]
  • Not seeking life after death but seeking impersonal bliss
    [yes, a distinction]
  • Festivals with lots of lights at Christmas
    [Christmas is Christian]
  • Festivals and throwing colours over each other
    [Holi, not quite]
  • Saying Om in the classroom to get on the teacher's nerves
  • George Harrison, that group with capital letters and Hare Krishna
    [Western features, ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness)]
  • Men bald with a bit of hair dancing in the street
    [As above; the topknot is the sikha which Krishna will pull to get each to heaven]

Christianity and Assumptions
before and during inadequate RE

  • Don't upset believing parents by asking too many questions
    [sensitivity about education]
  • Parental assumptions that the school teaches Christianity
  • Parental assumptions that pupils decide beliefs only when adults
    [no brain before adulthood?]
  • Parents who regard religion as a waste of time
  • Pupils who regard RE as an hour a week off
    [it seems so, often]
  • RE and worship are the same: broadly Christian
    [one recognises, one promotes]
  • The muddle of the Trinity (three and one) in hypostatic union
    [hard to teach]
  • God and the Father when many pupils don't have fathers
    [symbolic problem]
  • Jesus and the two natures of Christ in hypostatic union
    [hard to teach]
  • Jesus is tall, white and handsome
    [fundamentalist cartoon problem]
  • Jesus came down from heaven and later went back up again
    [misunderstood doceticism]
  • Jesus let little children come to him, unlike others
  • Jesus wanted to drink wine so he got hold of some water
    [story symbolises joy of Kingdom of Heaven, not needing a drink]
  • Somebody rolled the stone
    [lost in the story]
  • The Holy Spirit and what on earth that is
    [often left out]
  • Pupil familiarity and some who haven't a clue
    [but what are they familiar with?]
  • No one knows the Lord's Prayer any more
    [some do; and releavance to RE?]
  • Why can't school teach the Lord's Prayer?
    [not its job]
  • Sunday school and RE
    [Sunday School is usually confessional]
  • The complex debate about God
    [needs abstract minds]
  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem (etc.) - don't upset the children
    [time to learn]
  • Everyone is Church of England
    [No, but it has parish population obligations]
  • The Church of England was nationalised
    [in a funny kind of way]
  • Some bishops in the Church of England don't believe
    [ognorance of theology]
  • Methodist's don't drink
    [not the one's I know]
  • The Salvation Army plays brass bands and sing carols in public
    [and has a few charity shops]
  • Different denominations and understanding less about why
    [their problem]
  • Let's make a church with a box and get the right bits in
    [after a visit of course]
  • The Bible is true isn't it?
    [what is truth?]
  • Genesis is rubbish but everything else is true
    [rubbish and naive]
  • Learning through fundamentalists' cartoons
    [too convenient a resource and distoring religion]

Buddhism and Assumptions
before and during inadequate RE

  • Having no God but what are those gods?
    [Mahayana devas, helpers]
  • If Buddha is not a God what is he?
    [he found out]
  • Buddha as a fat man sat down
    [and happy]
  • Buddha looked for a tree
    [he found out under one]
  • Buddha was rich but Jesus wasn't
    [and Buddha first gave up wealth, and who knows about Jesus]
  • Difficulty of Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path and Five Precepts becoming boring revision lists?
    [a danger]
  • Dharma as behaviour method?
    [a loss]
  • Mantras and lots of chanting
    [and quiet]
  • Buddhism as psychology and therapy, not a religion
    [a misunderstanding]
  • Not seeking life after death but seeking an end
    [important - but not attached to an end]
  • Giving up attachments - what is nice now that does harm long term?
    [an RE exercise]
  • Doing a meditation in RE but it's not religious and don't fall asleep
    [problem of justifying meditation]
  • Shaving heads and wearing orange
  • Buddhists eating rice given by villagers out of little bowls
    [sometimes, India plus]
  • Buddhists don't eat meat
    [or, rather, aim not to]
  • Dalai Lama: the one who laughs[and disciplines]

Islam and Assumptions
before and during inadequate RE

  • Tawhid (oneness of Allah) - is it the same God as the Christian one?
    [so they say]
  • Muhammad - is he their Jesus?
    [no, only human; Isa is Jesus]
  • Muhammad - is he better than Jesus?
    [last in line of prophets]
  • Muhammad - does the teacher, do the pupils, have to put pbuh every time?
    [respectful: peace be upon him]
  • Problem of war and expansion
    [issue to discuss]
  • Christians and Jews tolerated if they pay tax - who's the boss?
    [but very tolerant in those days]
  • Christians can't worship in Muslim countries
    [they can]
  • Muslims who become Christian get killed
    [some places, rarely - not unknown]
  • If Muslims are supposed to be so good why so much fighting?
    [or those of other faith]
  • Media and are they the terrorists?
    [like the IRA are Catholics?]
  • The Crusades and "us versus them" (etc.)
    [in every conflict]
  • Teacher to Muslim students in the class - "sorry for my mistake"
    [learn it then; use the students as an asset]
  • Teacher to Muslim students in the class - "I know you know all this already"
    [they might not]
  • Can't draw pictures
    [of people and humans]
  • Let's draw five pillars of a building
    [rather cliched, yes]
  • Picture-like writing as a drawing substitute
    [but good literacy plus creative]
  • Zakat, the funny name for charity
    [best to know the terms]
  • Hajj - travel and tourism comes to RE
    [only partly]
  • Hajj - the ultimate school like trip
    [would that it was]
  • Can't they tell the time?
    [prayer times do vary given the seasons]
  • Muslims starving in Ramadan especially in summer
    [they eat and drink after sunset - summer is harder]
  • Months by the moon
    [as with other some faiths]
  • Muslim men like many wives
    [in fact Muhammad's were purely tribal-contractual but one]
  • Women are second class aren't they?
    [there's the debate]
  • Muslim women look like Christian nuns
  • Women run away to avoid marrying people they don't know
    [a few do but arranged marriage does not mean forced marriage]
  • Women marry in Pakistan to let men into Britain
    [very occasionally if it is a racket]
  • The hareem and exotica
    [there's an everyday image]
  • Let's make a mosque with a box and get the right bits in

    [still a creative project]
  • Let's look at a mosque and do telling the time
    [that is shallow]
  • Is it like clocks at the airport?
    [nothing takes off]
  • A long tower and a dome
    [not always but when, why?]
  • The women are hidden upstairs if they go at all
    [issue of head knocking and distraction, mainly]
  • An arch points to Makkah
    [not an arch - Qiblah wall]
  • Let's be clever today and use masjid
    [and other terms]
  • Use the correct spellings
    [QCA recommended]
  • It's not about bingo
    [Mecca is]
  • Muslims kill animals with a quick blow of a sword...
    [the argument is that it is swift and instant...]
  • Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Salman Rushdie
    [issue about freedom of publishing in the arts and religious offence]
  • Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden
    [a type of Islam with a royal topping]
  • Oil
    [and more]

Judaism and Assumptions
before and during inadequate RE

  • Why write G-d when last week we wrote God?
    [similar to pbuh in doing Islam]
  • How did Moses get the heavy slabs off the mountain?
    [an interesting picture]
  • The waves parted and let them through
    [argue how or argue a story or location or...]
  • Torah and so many commandments
    [613 by one definition]
  • Many rules
    [for human faithfulness]
  • Lots of eating around the table
    [symbolism of food]
  • Jews have to do what is kosher
    [kosher is about food]
  • Current conflict over land
  • Could Israel have been in South America?
  • Learning through cartoons (some from fundamentalist Christians)
    [too easy to rely on]
  • Big candlestick
  • Men in the synagogue
    [and women upstairs in Orthodox synagogues]
  • Women doing the cooking
    [men can]
  • Mother runs the home, dad does the religion
    [women do go to synagogue including in Orthodoxy; the home is also the religion]
  • Wine and children searching for something
    [Seder meal]
  • History of persecution and horrors
    [which identifies Judaism throughout history]
  • God said, "Let my people go."
    [so oft-told the story goes]
  • Chosen people - self promotion?
    [chosen to be holy and lead by example]
  • Don't they agree?
    [many branches of Judaism]
  • Ah, the Chief Rabbi (like the Archbishop should be) and there's Julia Neuberger (a woman)
    [the Chief Rabbi does not speak for all of the Jewish denominations, nor for secular Jews]

Sikhism and Assumptions
before and during inadequate RE

  • Pure God
    [indeed, a reform of Islam and Hinduism]
  • The Mool Mantra and big writing
    [a creative exercise for RE]
  • The Mool Mantra is like the Christian creed
    [not really]
  • Are they half way between Hinduism and Islam?
    [no, it is distinct, but scriptures do contain other faiths' material]
  • Ten Gurus and then a book
    [the book is a Guru - it is even put "to bed" at night]
  • Scriptures of many hymns
    [GGS character]
  • The poet who made Sikhism happen
  • Do they look like Muslims?
    [only to the ignorant]
  • Do they fight Muslims? Do Muslims fight them?
    [it happens]
  • They don't cut their hair
    [not in the Khalsa]
  • They wear turbans
    [the Khalsa - not all Sikhs]
  • What's this about feet?
    [can point to God - a discussion with Islam]
  • A temple made of gold
    [Golden Temple at Amritsar]
  • Is it a temple or Gurdwara or both?
    [Both but Gurdwara is accurate - Doorway to the Guru]
  • Free food in the kitchen
    [the Langar, a symbol of community]
  • They're all called Singh
    [they're not - in the Khalsa]
  • The women have the same name too, something or other
  • Their Singh is like our Smith
    [Singh carries religious significance]
  • The ones who don't have to wear motorcycle helmets
    [tough to wear a turban and standard helmet - where would the hair go?]
  • The ones who can carry a knife
  • Don't get nasty with a Sikh because they defend themselves
    [they did in history when attacked as oppression]
  • Festivals (gurpurbs) a bit like the Hindus'
    [own too but much to share]

These assumptions either have to be challenged or subjected to better information in RE or both. RE itself in school does have a problem when compared with other subjects. A comparison is history. The problem is that RE fails to develop after primary school so there is repetition, and RE tends to look at the same things again whereas history thinks it is following what historians do and what makes for historical method (principally the issue of primary resources).

RE Recycling - Comparison with History

  • History pupils evaluate the material they are reading whereas RE pupils accept their reading
  • History pupils must grapple with challenging language whereas RE pupils are given simplified language
  • History pupils read multiple sources to get the evidence whereas RE pupils look at one
  • History pupils can work with original texts whereas RE pupils use second hand texts
  • History pupils learn that their writing must be accurate and careful whereas RE pupils think people can believe what they like
  • History pupils realise that reading is complex regarding accurate comprehension whreas RE pupils suffer from too low comprehension
  • History pupils must develop their writing whereas RE pupils repeat and recall too often

So it is important that RE uses its opportunity to develop abstract thought and converts this into reading, comprehension and writing. Secondary school RE must build on and go beyond the primary school.

RE in Any School

The following sections look at RE as it happens and potential.

Issues of Teaching RE

  • School approach, policy on RE
  • Co-ordinator and co-ordination
  • The Agreed Syllabus (Local Education Authority, Diocese)
  • Schemes of work planning
  • RE separate, modular or integrated (e.g history, geography, or Personal, Social and Health Education)?
  • Time for RE compared with other subjects?
  • How many teachers teach RE
  • Specialists, spread among subjects, responsibilities distributed
  • RE location and rooms
  • Rows or around tables (when?)
  • Friendship or ability seating
  • Classroom displays relating to RE and use
  • Work displayed, use and responses
  • Examination syllabuses (if any)
  • RE tasks
  • Discussions, questions, writing, practical
  • Pace, timing, guidance, challenge
  • Ending (summarising, praising, putting away)
  • Homework
  • Learning achieved
  • Marking policy (covering RE?), marking done
  • Resource based learning (where?)
  • Visits to places of worship
  • Visits from members of religious communities
  • Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development

The Law

RE is compulsory for all pupils in state schools to 18 (except FE colleges and private schools). County schools must teach in accordance with the local Agreed Syllabus agreed by the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE).


  • Consists of membership from the Church of England, Christian and other religious groups (often also a humanist), teachers' associations, and the Local Education Authority
  • Appoints the committee to create an Agreed Syllabus
  • Handles requests for exemption from worship
  • Revises provision for and advising on teaching methods
  • Advises the LEA regarding a complaint
  • Publishes an annual report

Teaching must:

  • Be non-denominational
  • Show that religious traditions in Great Britain are mainly Christian
  • Take account of the teaching and practices in Great Britain of the other principal religions

In other words there is a heavy emphasis on religions over and above experiential and implicit approaches.

Voluntary Aided and Voluntary Controlled schools can form their specific foundation or Diocesan guidance, then known as the 'Agreed Syllabus'.

Two aspects of collective worship in County schools (Voluntary Aided schools act according to foundation bodies):

  • Wholly or mainly broadly Christian without being of one denomination
  • Appropriate to the families, ages and aptitudes of the pupils

The headteacher may ask the SACRE to decide if these are incompatible for the whole school or a named part of it.

Parents can withdraw their children from RE and/ or collective worship. Alternative provision must be made. Teachers can avoid teaching RE and participating in Collective Worship. They can be given other work.

RE hours

Sir Ron Dearing's recommendations of RE for a year in his 'Final Report' on the curriculum (1995) and the QCA Model Syllabuses for RE:

Key Stage 1 36 hours
Key Stage 2 45 hours
Key Stage 3 45 hours
Key Stage 4 40 hours

Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development

The 1988 Education Act: schools should promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. It should be the concern of all subjects and school life but can be religious and RE has an important role.

Spiritual development

This should be especially relevant to RE:

  • Inner life
  • Meaning into experience
  • Non-material dimension
  • Sensing an enduring reality
  • Beliefs
  • Awe, wonder, mystery
  • Feelings of transcendence
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Self-knowledge, Individual identity, Self-respect.
  • Relationships, worth of each individual, community
  • Creativity, arts, crafts, imagination, inspiration, intuition, insight
  • Feelings, emotions, beauty, kindness, anti-injustice, anti-aggression, control emotions.

Moral development

  • Moral issues
  • Debating values
  • Debating issues

Social development

  • Others in different social settings
  • Awareness of various communities
  • participation
  • Leadership
  • Cultural development
  • Diversity

Beyond all this there is what RE actually covers, in terms of aspects and perspectives.

Aspects of RE

  • Faith schools and more RE
  • Christianity and Christian knowledge
  • Assuming Christian belief
  • Christianity and wider Christian values
  • Christianity and other major living religions
  • Religious beliefs and effects on believers
  • Believers and effects on religious beliefs
  • Religious and moral dimensions of human experience
  • Religious understanding of life
  • Practices and effects on believers
  • Knowledge
  • Meaning in life
  • Developing own beliefs
  • Respecting other beliefs
  • Sexist religious language and structures represented
  • Self understanding
  • Spiritual development
  • Spiritual dimension
  • Creating responsible members of the multi-cultural society
  • Positive attitudes
  • Cultural development
  • Moral development
  • Educational aim of reflection
  • Learning from religious and spiritual insights
  • Going from concrete to abstract
  • Accelerated learning
  • Arts and faith
  • Learning from beliefs and practices
  • Exploring and responding
  • Whole personality
  • Emotions explored
  • Self esteem
  • Enjoyment
  • Buildings and architecture - look inside
  • Not getting the murti dirty
  • Number into religion
  • Religion into number
  • Religious language and symbolism
  • Learning religious literacy

QCA Non-Statutory Guidance, 2000

The importance of religious education: Religious education develops pupils' knowledge and understanding of, and their ability to respond to, Christianity and the other principal religions represented in Great Britain. By exploring issues within and across faiths, pupils learn to understand and respect different religions, beliefs, values and traditions (including ethical life stances), and their influence on individuals, societies, communities and cultures. RE encourages pupils to consider questions of meaning and purpose in life. Pupils learn about religious and ethical teaching, enabling them to make reasoned and informed judgements on religious, moral and social issues. Pupils develop their sense of identity and belonging, preparing them for life as citizens in a plural society. Through the use of distinctive language, listening and empathy, RE develops pupils' skills of enquiry and response. RE encourages pupils to reflect on, analyse and evaluate their beliefs, values and practices and communicate their responses. RE does not seek to urge religious beliefs on pupils nor compromise the integrity of their own beliefs by promoting one religion over another. RE is not the same as collective worship, which has its own place within school life.

Perspectives of RE

Confessional model

It is British, concerns Christianity, and even Anglicanism, on its own terms. 1944 Education Act stated that RE should bring children to an encounter with Jesus Christ, to recognise the challenge of His personality' (also in a Schools Council Working Party Report in 1971). This approach demands that faith as delivered be taken seriously as all people should develop a life stance, indeed the one on offer commended to all. The wheel does not need to be reinvented (it would claim): greater people than schoolchildren and their teachers have worked out religious concepts and religius experience to be gained.
From the 1960s on criticism centred around that this was partial, from on high, of no real business of county schools, and because the educational method is passive does not engage sufficient critical thought.

Critical realism model

There is no confession to be had, but there is examination as if a confession was to be offered. Religions are systems that are wholes to be examined for conceptual consistency and inconsistency and for their delivery of theologies and ethics for followers. These theologies and ethics clash with others wihthin and between religions. This position is thus not relativist but of (the secular) Isaiah Berlin who held to objective truths even that may clash against each other.
The people of this approach are sometimes called Coolingites after Trevor and Margaret Cooling, who write about Christianity, though any faith can be so covered. It is also called concept cracking. Issues such as tolerance are not discovered on universal liberal principles but on the basis of the systems of faith themelves, for example Islam's own revealed justification of tolerance (Andrew Wright).
This approach is more systematic and critical than descriptive religious studies phenomenologists. The phenomenologists delude themselves with an impossible value neutral position. Experiential approaches as too subjective. Instead, pupils develop critical thinking skills and make judgments. This might be seen as too academic and too negative, but can still be seen as taking religion seriously and having a positive engagement.

Phenomenological Model

This operates via an empathy of meaning by faithfully describing as if from within and tackling issues as they arise from the descriptive exercise. There are philosophical questions especially regarding God and ethics answered from within each religious tradition. No confession or assent is required, but accuracy and internal debate.
It is an academic religious studies approach (over theology, but includes it) that is about observable knowledge, being both critical and empathetic. Sometimes called SHAP after promoters Ninian Smart (Christian theologian and religions), John R. Hinnells (Zoroastrian and S. E. Asia specialist) and Geoffrey Parrinder (world religions and Hinduism). It never wants to impose categories on how to look at a religion, e.g it would not say that a Christian has a church and so the Muslim has the equivalent of a mosque, or the Sikh a gurdwara. Instead let Islam describe how the mosque plays its role within the faith, and let Sikhism describe the role of the gurdwara. Comparative religion from a Christian category system is a distortion.
There is a parallel here with the social anthropologist who essays a culture and declares that internal meanings are so subtle that there can be no comparison between cultures, especially from one cultural position. This approach to RE is subject to the same criticism, the contraction by the description and the inevitability of cultural comment.
Indeed Ninian Smart has dimensions of ritual, myth (why stories are told), doctrine, ethics, social, and experiential in order to identify the concept of "religion" to study. Yet each religion properly represents a post-liberal closed world where the bigger world may be secularised and uninvolved.

Postmodern model

This has stronger conceptual examination on a more open postliberal model than phenomenological where each and every package and each and every pick and mix is open to examination for consistency. It avoids the illusion of being value neutral on a religious studies approach, by choosing, displaying and justififying its own consistent critical stance and apparatus. It develops from radical cultural anthropology; and in Western Christian theology relates to a cultural linguistic motivator of meanings or, alternatively, a non-cultural pure space of its own (revelation so pure it is dislodged from human cultural containing and therefore also beyond objectivity). These two are in literary "death of God" approaches especially relating to the Near Eastern faiths. Like them this RE perspective learns particularly from humanism, Buddhist non-theism and modernist Hinduism. It tackles religions, philosophy, assumptions of science, the outpouring of culture and creating morality. Its stance might be ethically driven or coming from a social critique.
This is often an unrealised approach, not neat and not complete (but would not intend to be). This is because it is a "both and" position of using interpretive and critical realist approaches and is aware of the commentator. It tries to suggest to pupils that a religion is not a truth competition over scientific explanation (the danger of compartmentalism is that "You did science in the last lesson, this is what religion thinks") but instead is its own space of creativity, but open to criticism from a chosen one of so many hopefully coherent points of view (if incapable of completion). It says the teacher and pupil doing it matters, and they can disagree. It requires more abstract thinking and higher end pupil understanding. It is often the further questions that happen after description.

Feminist model

This is another unrealised model and one often skirted around. Just as feminist research laid down partiality as a methodological starting point, so this promotes equality and liberation. School settings and policies do promote these through education. Yet many of the religions described, especially the Near Eastern, are structurally male in orientation and promote attitudes that a liberal tolerant society have come to oppose. The RE teacher is often in a feeble position, doing educationally minimal tasks of using inclusive language where possible, but failing to criticise the immense symbolic bias in religion. The feminist RE teacher would be unafraid to expose and challenge the masculine nature of religion, and promote those aspects of religion and thought that are more inclusive. The blockages that religion offer to spiritual, moral and cultural development are often sidestepped, and many teachers avoid RE and collective worship altogether in part because of its perceived negative impact on equality and liberation.

Interpretive model

This is an ethnographic model in terms of investigating how religions are to their believers in all their varieties of believing. Official descriptions of religion are not the whole story in how they are practised and what they mean to adherents. So whilst an official description may state what makes a Christian, or a Jew, or Muslim, the group and the individual may display something quite different and challenge the dominant or official view.
In general this approach will also discuss official descriptions and spiritual experience as a comparison with members' views and activities. Therefore pupils should develop skills of comparison, interpretation and making sense. There is the level of the group and the individual. Robert Jackson promotes theory and will draw in phenomenological description too, and there is Eleanor Nesbitt of the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit (WREP - who does much observation fieldwork. Another important influence is Clifford Geertz, the social anthropologist.
In RE terms, pupils' writing can be read for their own religious interpretations, either from a community or not. RE teachers often spot the literacy of pupils who are members of faith communities, but some prefer to keep quiet. In terms of resources, the work is so varied and research long term that teaching materials take a long time to build. The variety of group and individual experience may be such to make the subject difficult to examine. Variety makes common generalisations difficult. Do all Christians pray - is prayer an essential part of Christianity? Do all Muslim men go to the mosque for Friday prayers and pray five times a day - therefore is a Muslim really to be identified by daily and weeky prayer patterns?
There needs to be more work on those non-aligned (including religious people who are DIY) or across religious communities (as in mixed faith families).
Difficulties include an inability to apply critical methods between one ethnographic description and another that may differ. Indeed this may not be RE but a form of social anthropology. Although dominant representations of religion might be challenged, new representations can be exaggerated by interest groups. In any case the framework is still an official religion (when many people mix and match). Conversely, community and institutional definitions are being undermined which see themselves as undergoing a task of shaping their peoples (confessional model), not being shaped by them.

Implicit model

Rejecting confessional approaches this was about absorbing religious questions and feelings and developing the means to do it by young people. A more radical versions focussed on experience and human meaning.

Spiritual/ Experiential model

This is about developing young people's spiritual insights through creative imagination and educationally justified religious-like practices. These might include stilling, careful fantasy guidance and using the arts. Writers include David Hay, John Hammond, Mary Stone, Veronica Williams and Clive Erricker.
The pedagogy here is not some form of knowledge into the pupils, but the pupils giving out their experience. Pupils give out their learning and are empowering themselves through the activity. Of course it is very difficult to conceptualise, and therefore ask about and examine: but the promoters of this approach say this is the problem of the system not good Religious Education. The system assumes what pupils mean, but, given the limited nature of the usual RE conceptual assumptions, do they? In the experiential approach it is the pupil who develops the question and the metaphor using narrative comes out of the deepest formed experience - whether to be called religious or not in conventional terms. So it is also difficult to validate as good experience or less good experience: every feeling driven account is as good as another.

Human meaning model

The focus is concrete human living and the meaning of it all, as can be related to religions and other philosophies, but not the religions themselves as givers of meaning. Life experience as it is lived is the key (especially for young people) rather than an inner mental and spiritual world. In life itself are the moral issues. But does this not degrade the specifically religious, avoiding it rather than tackling it?
In a more humanist view, human beings have language, history and they can remember and predict. They can imagine before their lives and prokject beyond death. They can categorise and count. Meaning is in the arts, sciences and social sciences, and they add to the quality of life. Spiritual experience is essentially human, part of our brain development and relates to the arts and to those moments of inspiratation. Religions are cultural phenomena and influence social and political developments reflecting important motivating beliefs both at an individual level and collective level. Such a humanist account tends to become another phenomenological account or be subjected to critical realist treatment. An ethnography of humanists might be useful too, some of whom are more agnostic, softer and warmer to religion than many a representative publication.

Additional Important Cross-curricular Issues

All schools are concerned with numeracy and literacy and RE interacts with these. Also there is the creative arts.

Literacy and RE

Literacy is always a concern of schooling because without it at a sufficient level children cannot learn and perform in other subjects. RE and literacy interact.

Scripture and language:

  • Arabic is the language of heaven to Muslims
  • The Qur'an's Arabic is of a perfection that cannot be translated
  • Hebrew is treated as a holy language by many Jews
  • Sanskrit has scriptural importance to many Hindus
  • Pali is important to Therevada Buddhists in Tipitaka scripture
  • Latin was crucial for Catholic liturgy and the Bible
  • A Church of England Article says that language should be vernacular
  • The Guru Granth Sahib is predominantly Punjabi but as a whole is a person, a Guru
  • For Jews the name of God is unspeakable and English marks this by using 'G-d'
  • Vowels represented God's breath
  • In the Hindu tradition 'O' in Om is the silence of God

Oral work and memory:

  • The Pali canon was chanted before being written
  • The Vedas were oral before being written
  • The Qur'an was memorised by Muhammad, passed on to friends and written before memories were lost
  • Jesus wrote nothing and the gospels were written from original oral accounts


  • Sacred words have extra significance
  • Calligraphy indicates importance
  • Languages are raised up
  • Writing gives the flavour as well as the detail of sacred events
  • How historical must be a good story?

Reading and Listening:

  • Scripture was crucial in learning to read - King James Bible
  • Pupils learning or knowing the Qur'an give first hand experience of rote learning to others
  • Listening needs accurate recall as did Muhammad's and Jesus' followers
  • Stories that capture imagination through their narrative can teach difficult topics
  • The connection of meanings within religions allow pupils concept development (Vygotsky')
  • Pupils are actively developing hermeneutics (the study of meaning)


Regular numbers:

  • God is One (in many religious traditions)
  • God is one in three (in main Christian traditions)
  • God is one, three, thirty three, many
  • Ten selves in Jewish/ Pagan Kabbalah
  • God gave the Torah and they saw 7 heavens, 7 earths, 7 hells and they saw nothing but God's glory in each
  • 7 candles on many menorahs

  • 613 Jewish mitzvot or commandments
  • "The Ten Commandments"
  • Jesus' two main commandments
  • Azharot numerical value is 613 (Azarat is Jewish instructive poem  - "In the beginning you gave azharot to your people")
  • 10% tithing
  • Zakkat - what can you afford?
  • In Islam 33 or 99 prayer beads (reciting the Ninety Nine Beautiful Names of God)
  • Catholic Christianity rosaries of 55 or 165 prayer beads (15 sets of 10 Hail Marys, the Lord's Prayer, and Gloria Patri between each set)
  • 3 sections of the Tipitaka (Teaching Basket, Discipline Basket, Higher teaching Basket)
  • Four Noble Truths (Teaching Basket)
  • Eightfold Path (Teaching Basket)
  • Synoptic Gospels (means 1 view)
  • Guru Granth Sahib is 1430 pages whatever the language


  • In some religious traditions numbers have magical qualities
  • Sometimes numbers are said to come from text and throw up hidden meanings (gematria or theomatics)
  • Kabbalah in Zohar within Judaism/ hidden meanings in Torah
  • Qabalah in Paganism and numerology
  • 'Ilm ul-huruf in Islam (e.g. numerical value of Adam and Eve equal to Divine Name of Allah)
  • 7 in Genesis - God rested on the 7th day and called it holy
  • 7 in Book of Revelation - horns, eyes, candlesticks, churches, seals, trumpets, spirits, bowls, thunders, personages, new things, beatitudes, judgments
  • 7 in many books of the Bible!

Extreme numbers:

  • The number system we use is Arabic, its zero from India, the zero solving the difficulties of the Roman system.
  • Zero allows Brahman no attributes (nirguna)
  • Zero (sunyam) leads to Buddhist sunyata and 'no-self' (anatman)
  • If God is infinite in some attributes, how big is infinite?
  • In a class this leads to infintity puzzles, like infinite plus 1 and twice as many infinite integers as infinite odd numbers

Inverted Importance and Extras:

  • Jesus' shepherd seeks out the one lost sheep
  • Is the one more important than mass numbers
  • Media focus on individuals and the sympathy factor
  • How much extra is vegetarian food for Buddhists and Sikhs?
  • How much extra is kosher food?
  • How much extra is halal food?

Calendars and time:

  • Time as recorded gives shape and pattern to religions, and the difference between solar and lunar months gives rise to calculations
  • Islamic calendar 12 x 29.53=354.36 days from the Qur'an (Sura IX, 36-37)
  • Islamic calendar shorter by about 11 days than the tropical year
  • Islamic AH Anno Hegirae or year of the Hijra (16 July 622 C.E. Julian calendar)
  • Islamic years number slowly catching up the Christian number and will overtake - when?
  • 1/5/20874 CE Gregorian calendar = 1/5/20874 AH (day/month - May or Rabi' II/year) (approximately)
  • West using CE and BCE as secular/ common alternative to BC and AD
  • RE should use CE and BCE even with Christianity and Islam
  • Ramadan and fasting effort in summer/ winter
  • When festivals fall: eg Hannukah, Diwali, Christmas
  • Sundial or compass used to find Qiblah direction (to pray) by Muslims based on local calculations
  • How long does it take to read the Bible/ Qur'an/ Guru Granth Sahib at a certain reading speed?


Geometric patterns come especially from islam and Christianity, and relate to:
  • Architecture of buildings for worship
  • Tile patterns
  • Spiritual gardens

Religious gambling:

  • Odds for Pascal's wager on believing in God
  • God gives an infinite reward
  • No God is zero or minus something (in hell)
  • Is it a sham belief anyway?
  • What of different kinds of God and betting on the wrong God?
  • Cost/ benefit analysis of sinning
  • rating the punishment against the pleasure of sinning


  • The greatest benefit for the greatest number
  • Ethic of minimal punishment for an offence to deter others

Content analysis

  • Number of female characters in a holy book compared with male
  • Loving God counted against Vengeful God
  • Ethical and unethical events counting in the media

Creative Arts in RE

Using arts involves Art, English, Drama, Music, and Technology departments and is therefore cross-curricular.

Religious paintings:

  • Visual representatives tell doctrines and stories (church windows)
  • Paintings suggesting depth, the infinite, colour relationships
  • Painting as spirituality: high art, all art
  • Marc Chagall in synagogues and churches
  • A painting speaks: what it says (a writing exercise!)


Allows entering into a story even with different beliefs:

  • Drama from biblical stories
  • Drama of vision of hell
  • Drama highlighting ethical issues


  • Specifically religious
  • The human spirit
  • Poetry within sacred scriptures


  • Whirling dervishes (in dhikr, Islam, glorifying God and seeking spiritual perfection)
  • Hassidic dancing in excitement (Judaism)
  • Circle dancing (Christianity, Paganism, feminist)

Some RE involving websites


Institute for Learning Centre for Educational Studies (2002), text by Julian Stern, Secondary Initial Teacher Training Partnership, Secondary PGCE, Religious Education, 2002-2003, known as RE PGCE Handbook 2002-2003 (2002), Hull: University of Hull.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful