New directions in Religious and Values education

International perspectives

by Leslie J. Francis (Volume editor) Stephen Parker (Volume editor) David W. Lankshear (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection X, 320 Pages
Series: Religion, Education and Values, Volume 17


This volume brings together 15 studies reporting the latest international research on developments and trends in religious education. Together these 15 studies illustrate recurrent themes affecting the development of religious education in diverse locations and also illustrate the distinctive trajectories of locations shaped by different histories and by different contemporary contexts.
These contributions were brought together in a recent seminar convened by the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values, the leading international association for religious educators and values educators across the world. This volume has selected key contributions made to the seminar, spanning both conceptual and empirical perspectives, rooted in both religious and secular traditions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Introduction: Tracing the Origins of the Modern Concept of Religious Education in Schools
  • 1 The Role of the Religion Teacher in Australia: Pluralism within a Faith-Based Religious Education Approach
  • 2 The Future of Religion in Irish Secondary Schools
  • 3 Time for a Change? A Case Study of the Work of the Commission on Religious Education in England
  • 4 Religion Education and Public Life in South Africa: A Case for New Religions and Alternative Spiritualities
  • 5 Societal Values in Jewish State Religious and State Secular Schools in Israel
  • 6 The Framework of the New Curricula in Greece: Profound Changes in Religious Education
  • 7 Crossing Secular and Religious Borderlands in Latvia: Explorative Study of Students’ Worldviews in Academia
  • 8 Intentionality and Reflexivity: The Role of Non-confessional Religious Education in England
  • 9 Students’ Needs and Teachers’ Goals for Ethical Competence: Developments in Sweden
  • 10 Religious and Professional Beliefs of Schoolteachers: Theoretical Reflections and Preliminary Research Findings in Germany
  • 11 Unconditional Hospitality in Place-Space-Time: A Responsibility for Religion and Values Education in South Africa
  • 12 Religious Education on the Move: Empirical Studies Shaping Future Perspectives of Religious Education in Germany
  • 13 Religious Education, Pedagogy and Curriculum in Plural Context: A Muslim Perspective in Turkey
  • 14 Ethics Education within Religious and Values Education: Studies in Sweden, Namibia, South Africa, California and Quebec
  • 15 Religious Education in Greece and Quebec: A Common Configuration for New Political Debates
  • Contributors
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Subjects



The International Seminar on Religious Education and Values (ISREV, isrev.org.uk) is the most important research organisation of its kind. It is a community of 315 religious education (RE) researchers from 35 countries, founded by John Hull and John Peatling in 1978, and coming together in a different country for a major seminar every two years. The twenty-first session was held in Nuremburg, Germany, in 2018. At that meeting, more than 100 papers were presented on all aspects of religious and values education, each followed by a prepared ‘response’ paper and further discussion. From all those papers, this book presents 15 chapters that best represent the core theme of the seminar: international perspectives on new directions in religious and values education.

←ix | x→

ISREV has no religious basis or test itself, and has members specialising in research in, for example, Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, multi-religious and non-religious contexts. Given such variety, exploring RE around the world could lead to confusion. However, the current volume is a fine example of how scholars can draw on different traditions not only to explore but also to influence new directions for the subject. A number of major themes emerge from the different strands of research. One theme is that of ‘worldviews’, which has recently become a focus for policy discussions in England. Stephen Parker’s introduction puts this in historical context. It is worth noting that earlier post-war RE in England was itself a reaction against the threat of totalitarian ‘worldviews’ (Weltanshauungen), of which we were all reminded in the seminar venue of Nuremburg. The danger of seeing the world in terms of competing worldviews is no more attractive than seeing the world in terms of competing religious or cultural traditions. The current re-emergence of populist politics in many countries highlights the risks. RE– and worldviews education – is therefore always developing new relationships with nations and with education policies. As history keeps moving on, so does RE.

Another theme of this volume is that RE in religious contexts has been re-evaluated in the light of global pluralism and post-colonial movements, so that narrow definitions of ‘confessional’ RE are no longer viable – whether in Christian, Muslim or Jewish education systems.

Meanwhile, religious groups see their influence wax and wane. ‘New directions’ in one jurisdiction may be an ‘old direction’ in another. One of the striking impressions given by this volume is that RE is never a ‘given’: it is always argued-over and is always being made and re-made. Happily, it is not just a matter of politicians deciding on a curriculum by fiat: there are excellent examples here of how students and teachers help influence religious education. And in the middle of politicians, policy-makers, professional bodies, teachers and students are researchers. I am myself one of the researchers who see research as central to all religious education classrooms, for students and teacher alike (for example in Stern 2018), whilst other researchers look to data on the impact of RE, or the different interpretations of key terms such as ‘secularity’ or ‘spirituality’.

There will never be a time when RE will be settled in a single pattern all around the world – and there never has been such a time. This volume provides a wonderful insight into the criss-crossing of religious, national, and pedagogical boundaries: the living, breathing, dialogue of RE. It is a true dialogue, one that develops in what Buber refers to as ‘mutual surprises’ (Buber 2002, p 241). That is the lesson of each ISREV seminar, and I am delighted, as ISREV’s General Secretary, to commend this dialogic, surprising, book to its readers. One of the chapters is by Yaacov Katz, a hugely influential member of ISREV over many years, a good friend to all and a wonderful, surprising, dialogician. He died in September 2020, and this whole volume is dedicated to his memory.

Julian Stern
General Secretary of ISREV
October 2020

Buber, M (2002 [1965]) Between Man and Man; London: Routledge.
Stern, L J (2018 [2006]) Teaching Religious Education: Researchers in the
Classroom: Second Edition
; London: Bloomsbury.


Introduction: Tracing the Origins of the Modern Concept of Religious Education in Schools

The introduction to this book considers wartime and post-war religious education in England from the point of view of the disruptive nature of the Second World War. It enquires to what extent religious education in England was shaped by experiences of the conflict, particularly the vision of a Christian society espoused during it. More particularly, it examines how the legacy of the vision of religious education promoted during the war ultimately frustrated the possibility of a quality religious education of relevance to young people. By way of introducing the other chapters in this volume, this chapter considers the extent to which the notion of ‘worldviews’ offers a way forward for religious education, unshackling it from this unfortunate legacy.


←1 | 2→

The seminar from which the chapters in this volume arose was held in Nuremburg in 2018. As a historian of religion and education, with a particular interest in the religious dimensions of the Second World War (Parker, 2005), my participation in the conference had personal poignancy. In this city just seventy years before, the Nazis held the final of their annual conventions, celebrations which sought to invoke and symbolize the party’s ideology and connections with the myth of the German volk, the propaganda films of which I had seen multiple times before my visit to the parade ground where these actually took place. Chillingly, I, as will have many others, stood where Hitler had to address the throngs present decades ago. This was one of those occasions when, for a brief moment, in the imagination at least, the past and present seemingly fuse, and one is suddenly present in both eras.

Delegates of International Seminar on Religious Education and Values and I were also invited to visit the nearby remains of the congress centre of the Nazis, now converted into a museum (<https://museums.nuernberg.de/documentation-center/>). This, the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgeländ, makes use of the intentionally grandiose architecture of the specially designed pre-war building to invoke recollection of the ritualistic rallies held nearby. It points to a connection between the cultivation of a particular worldview and version of nationhood and the resultant decisions and actions taken by individuals and peoples in the past. It starkly reminds one of the simple, yet influential, ways by which moral motivations may be shaped, and even distorted, to extreme and evil ends.

I had made similarly evocative personal trips to Germany prior to this one. Back in 1998, on my first visit to Germany, an exchange visit between my theological college and the Leipzig University Faculty of Theology, a group of us toured the cities of Dresden and Berlin, reflecting with one another whilst doing so upon history and the Christian concept of reconciliation. One of my abiding memories of this week-long visit is of the sense I obtained – even amongst young people some six generations, sixty years on, from the Second World War – that the effects of the conflict had reverberated on in people’s psyches well beyond 1945. The past continued to influence the present not only in the built environment: the costs of the war and the meaning and means of reconciliation were still emotionally present and being ruminated upon. These were as evident in the architectural resurrection of Dresden’s historic buildings, and in those memorialized in churches I visited, such as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, in Berlin, as they were in the conversations between us.

←2 | 3→

What has all this to do with religious education? In what follows in this introductory chapter I set out to explore a series of related questions suggested from the brief reflections above as they apply particularly to the English context. Responses to these questions lead to suggestions for further research. The questions are: how was religious education, and its development in the post-war period, shaped, impeded and/or propelled by the experiences of the Second World War? How did the espoused vision for the subject play out in the post-war period, and was this for good or ill in the subject’s success? What part did the events of war, and those who experienced it, play in its later reframing, especially in the long 1960s? Finally, as change is in the air in religious education, as indicated by many of the chapters in this volume, and religious education is in many quarters set to be reframed in terms of the study of ‘worldviews’, in my final remarks here I briefly examine and critique the idea of ‘worldviews’. It seems to me that if the subject is to be reframed in accord with this terminology, then we need to consider the archaeology, heritage and variety of meanings of this particular substitute conceptualization before adopting it as an alternative.

Religious education in the post-war world

←3 | 4→

I have written extensively elsewhere of how the drive for compulsory religious education in schools in England came about as a result of the blitz over Britain during the Second World War (Parker, 2005, 2010, 2012; Parker & Freathy, 2017). The cataclysm was regularly framed in sermons, published literature and religious broadcasts as being the result of longstanding national moral and spiritual turpitude, giving licence to those who saw an opportunity for the creation of a renewed British Christian identity by promoting religious education in schools as a means to this end. Compulsory religious education – for which read Christian education – that is a thoroughgoing introduction to the Bible, the basics of Christian doctrine, and a form of collective worship, came to symbolize for many a unified and ecumenical-Protestant commitment to a particular form of national religious identity through the school system. It was this which the 1944 Education Act legislated to introduce. What has hitherto been little accounted for is how the dream of religious education was implemented in context, most especially how it was shaped in the immediate post-war years: first, by those who had direct experience and memory of the war; second, by the geopolitical reconfigurations resulting from the conflict; and third, by the creation of such transnational organizations as the United Nations or the World Council of Churches and developments in ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue (on aspects of the latter see Doney, forthcoming).

By the early 1960s, not only had the challenges of implementing compulsory religious education in England and Wales (the national jurisdiction covered by the 1944 Education Act) become apparent, the idealistic ethos created by wartime circumstances had begun to wear thin. Even those, such as Frederick Cockin, bishop of Bristol, who had been amongst compulsory religious education’s most vocal advocates urged a reconsideration of approach to religious education such that it spoke more relevantly and directly to ‘the mental, moral and spiritual needs of young people’, rather than beginning with curriculum design and imperative (Cockin, 1965, p. 317). Indeed, many of the leading figures in religious education in Europe in the post-war period, leading up to the 1980s, were of the generation who had experienced the war, served in the armed-forces or been conscientious objectors. Others had completed military service in the postwar years. The legacy of their personal experiences remained influential. As an example, John Hick, the highly influential philosopher of religion and theologian who worked with the religious educationalist John Hull and the Humanist Harry Stopes Roe in framing the 1975 Birmingham Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education, in wartime served as a ‘conchie’ in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit (Hick, 2002). His experiences of the war, and of travelling to Egypt to serve there, had a profound effect upon him, and likewise others in similar situations. In most instances the connection between wartime experience and their views on religious education were not explicitly articulated, but surely the nationalism they experienced as rife across Europe in the early to mid-twentieth century did much to convince the would-be religious educationalists that an internationalist, ecumenical and universalist vision was the only way to guarantee future peace and stability. The underexplored connections between war, military conflict, revolutions or other forms of extreme culturally transformative experiences and emerging conceptions of religious education are ripe for further research.

←4 |

Likewise, as the reality of the extent of Nazi barbarism perpetrated in the Holocaust became more widely known, and the moral and theological questions arising from it more pointed in the post-war era, though these will have likely influenced the character and quality of discussions with young people in religious education classrooms, they are not particularly evident in discussions amongst religious educators. Indeed, there has been paucity of historical research on the influences of the Holocaust and postwar theological trends in relation to this on religious education curriculum and teaching. Certainly, prior to the late 1950s and early 1960s, the problem of evil, Biblical criticism, modern theological and radical Christian ideas did not feature as a subject for discussion in the principal journal for the subject, Religion in Education, only a smattering of articles dealt with such matters as Rudolph Bultmann’s demythologizing of the gospels (Marsh, 1954; Smith, 1954) for instance. Other thorny theological issues were not proposed as matters for discussion in the now compulsory curricula on offer to teachers in schools.

The failure of English religious education in the post-war world

←5 |

As early as the 1950s a malaise had set in around religious education. Evidence published by the Institute for Christian Education (1954) and later by the University of Sheffield (1961) on religious education suggested a subject poorly resourced and under pressure from a lack of expertise and curriculum time. It was beginning to be clear that the subject had been freighted with unrealistic expectations by the wartime vision given substance in the 1944 Education Act. It was not possible to Christianize the youth of England, even if it was desirable in the form that some had envisaged it (Parker, 2015, p. 13). Realizing this, and taking into account other material changes to the sociocultural and educational context, impetus for change began to grow. It was at this point that the generation whose youth had been spent amidst global conflagration now found themselves in leading and influential positions across government, stakeholders, the churches and in education. This generation’s collective experience of the Second World War shaped education policy in relation to religious education for the period following the 1960s. The lag between experience and agency/ leadership as a generational phenomenon in relation to religious education needs to be taken account of in the historiography in ways it currently is not.

The reframing of religious education which took place in the long 1960s (that is from the late 1950s to the 1970s) may thus be seen as the subject’s ‘mid-life crisis’: the idealism and exuberance of youth giving way to a more settled and sober vision of life. It was at this point that the wartime generation’s experience yielded a number of things: an internationalist outlook and sense of the global, coupled with a cultural openness drawn from their experience overseas; ecumenism, borne of the collapsing of the differences between Protestant Christians in wartime, and the advent of the World Council of Churches in its aftermath. These and other factors made it possible for the leaders and influencers of religious education policy to gradually move the subject in a direction which was more sympathetic to the inclusion of the non-Christian religions, secularist and Humanist perspectives, and a more liberal approach to Christianity.

The changes which religious educationalists sought to bring in the 1960s may thus be something set in train by the Second World War, or at the very least a ripple of influence finding its origins back then. These observations of the history are presently speculative on my part, based upon a breadth of knowledge of the religious history of education in England. They are, what one might term, intuitive hunches. What I am suggesting is that the history of religious education in England was profoundly disrupted, perhaps even distorted, by the Second World War, for good and ill. Historical research is required in order to contextualize what I am suggesting here to be the case, both in the English context and elsewhere. How religious education might have looked had the conflict not taken place is a parallel but equally fascinating question.

←6 |

From religious education to worldview studies

My oral history research of wartime religion led me to conclude that at an individual level people’s faith displays what I termed ‘promiscuous eclecticism’ (Snape & Parker, 2001, p. 410). That is to say that when asked retrospectively about their faith in wartime people selected their beliefs and practices in relatively pragmatic ways on the basis of the questions, ‘does it make sense of life?’ and ‘does it work for me in this context?’ As van der Kooij, de Ruyter and Miedema (2013) similarly point out ‘a person’s worldview can be eclectic and idiosyncratic’ (p. 212). In other words, lived religious life in the past as much as the present belies homogeneity, is more amorphous and dynamic than the easy delineation of religious traditions implies. As Linda Woodhead (2003) has observed, Christianity is in reality Christianities. This might equally be said of other religious traditions or ‘organized worldviews’. What my research pointed to is that religious life (belief and practice) at an individual level draws upon the available cultural resources in order to make sense of and structure life. In wartime Britain, this was the likes of the offices of the churches, Christian hymnody and prayers, National Days of Prayer, religious broadcasts, films and specially published religious literature. These were rooted in the Christian tradition, reflective of the wider Christian heritage, but these may well have been differently resourced in other cultural and national contexts. I described the popular religious situation of wartime I unearthed as ‘air-raid shelter spirituality’ (Parker, 2005, p. 61), but the concept of ‘worldviews’, had I known of it, particularly now in its developed form, may also be a helpful optic through which to understand the phenomenon I discovered to be the case from my oral history data.

←7 |

The concept of ‘worldviews’ is not by any means a new descriptor, but it has recently been mooted as an alternative to, and perhaps even an eventual replacement for, ‘religious education’ as a name for the subject in schools, framing an approach to the subject in classroom (van der Kooij, de Ruyter, & Miedema, 2013, 2017). Part of its appeal as a term is that it describes more than the religious per se: ‘worldviews’ permits the inclusion of non-religious perspectives on life. Worldviews terminology is having traction across national contexts and is beginning to be widely used, as is shown by its use in a number of chapters in this volume. Moreover, its use, alongside ‘religion’, as in ‘religion and worldviews’ has been recommended by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (2018) as the next stage in the subject’s development and as a means of giving curriculum coherence and revitalizing the subject’s lacklustre fortunes (see Freathy & John, 2019) for a substantive argument in favour of the Religious Education Council’s recommendations).

The history of term ‘worldview’ is helpfully recounted in detail in David Naugle’s (2002) fascinating book Worldview: The History of a Concept. Herein, Naugle traces in detail the origins and history of the idea of worldviews from its Germanic roots, through the height of its scholarly usage at the turn of the twentieth century, through to its popularity in Evangelical Christian scholarly works towards the present day. Space does not permit my recounting of Naugle’s historical reconstruction, so I shall simply recommend a reading of this particular volume if one is to grasp the longevity of the term and its sophisticated usage over time. What Naugle does helpfully offer towards the end of his book is an examination, the pros and cons of the concept, which below I have taken and applied specifically to the applicability of ‘worldviews’ as a substitute term for ‘religious education’.

The first ‘danger’ of ‘worldview’ terminology that Naugle describes is that of philosophical relativism (Naugle, 2002, pp. 332–334). By taking an objective stance to the study of perspectives upon life, ‘worldview’ terminology orients students towards a position of neutrality in relation to the subject matter. Is this an apt position to foster amongst students in the context of religious education? On the whole, in public schools serving children from multiple (non)religious constituencies and backgrounds, one would think so. However, such relativism and neutrality may well sit uncomfortably with those who see the purposes of, for example, religious education in faith schooling as inviting young people to have any sympathy with the religious way of life, such that they may wish to consider its merits themselves.

←8 |

Similarly, Naugle points to a ‘theological danger’ with ‘worldviews’ in line with Karl Barth’s objection to the use of the term in that it works to erode notions of religious truth as revealed. The Christian ‘worldview’, according to Barth, should be shaped by the Word of God rather more than by cultural forces (Naugle, 2002, pp. 335–336). Whatever the veracity of Naugle (and Barth’s) caution over the term, here we can see how the term ‘worldview’ may also be used within a tradition as well as without. It is possible to study the Christian ‘worldview’ as an insider frame, pointing to its distinctive shape and contribution to understanding life, and living out a Christian discipleship. But it is also possible to utilize the term ‘worldview’, perhaps within religious education, to describe the Christian ‘worldview’ from the perspective of an outsider. Whether children and young people can differentiate and how they might do so between the objective study of religion in one context, for example, a school, and go along with adherence to it in another context (say in a place of worship) is an intriguing question.

Extending his argument, Naugle also points to a connected ‘spiritual danger’ in the use of ‘worldview’, which is, to paraphrase how he puts it, displacing a relationship with the divine with a mere idea. ‘Worldview’ terminology has the tendency to make labour in the study of religion into an intellectual rather than a spiritual pursuit (Naugle, 2002, pp. 336–339). Granted that Naugle is particularly addressing a Christian theological readership in his study, even so in relation to religious education the introduction of ‘worldviews’ does raise the age-old debate about whether and to what extent religious education may be permissibly confessional. To what extent should children and young people be invited to be inspired by what they are studying? To what extent should children be asked what they might learn from religion beyond the cognitive? How can religious education or worldview studies move legitimately beyond an instrumental level in relation to the accumulation of particular knowledge and skills, in relation to the study of religion towards the passing of exams to finding something of personal merit and worth in the (non)religious perspectives upon life under scrutiny?

←9 |

Naugle also suggests a number of benefits to the study of worldviews. One philosophical benefit from Naugle’s point of view (Naugle, 2002, pp. 340–341) is that in talking of ‘worldviews’ one is able to describe the unique contribution of – say – Christianity to the human condition. In this sense, in delineating out religious traditions and framing them in this way to mark out their distinctiveness in religious education would not only be useful in helping young people to have a frame within which to place their accumulating understanding, they may also be able to find value and uniqueness in the traditions being studied. A ‘theological benefit’ of ‘worldview’ from Naugle’s point of view is that it opens up religious tradition from being ‘fishbowl-sized’ to ‘oceanic’ (p. 342). Globalizing and historicizing belief and unbelief has the capacity to enable students to see a ‘bigger picture’ when speaking of a particular religion, such that its disparate elements take on some form of coherence. For Naugle there is also a related ‘spiritual benefit’ to the use of ‘worldview’ from comprehending this larger picture of a religious tradition to aiding in students a real encounter with the value and benefits of said religious tradition. In the context of religious education, beyond any confessional intention for the subject ‘worldview’ studies, ‘worldview’ education may give students a better grasp of the scope and coherence of religious traditions as some level of personal evaluation of whether such a philosophy of life may well be appealing and/or possible (see Riegle & Delling, 2019). Granted that Naugle is writing particularly about the Christian worldview and its study, even so his observations are pertinent, it seems to me, to debates in relation to its usage in religious education.

Moreover, ‘worldviews’ as a term was recommended by one of the founders of discipline of religious studies, now some religious studies scholars are recommending that ‘worldview studies’ replaces religious studies as a more apt term in the changed religious context since the 1960s (Droogers & van Harskamp, 2014). Similarly, ‘worldview’ terminology is being utilized in disciplines other than the study of religion per se, towards an understanding of religion’s part in people’s lives in general. For example, its usage is increasingly prominent in the fields of psychiatry, psychology and counselling (Koltko-Rivera, 2004; Gray, 2011; Peteet et al., 2016; Lewis-Hall and Hill, 2019). This usage across disciplinary fields in human studies bodes well for the transferability of the discourse of ‘worldview’. If introduced as an alternative to or alongside religious education its existing and increasing wider use in other fields means that children would be being introduced to a key term of potential utility beyond the study of religion per se.


X, 320
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (May)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. X, 320 pp., 12 tables.

Biographical notes

Leslie J. Francis (Volume editor) Stephen Parker (Volume editor) David W. Lankshear (Volume editor)

Leslie J. Francis is Professor of Religions and Psychology at the University of Warwick, England. David W. Lankshear is Visiting Professor at Glyndwr University, Wales. Stephen G. Parker is Professor of the History of Religions and Education at the University of Worcester. All three editors are well established members of the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values.


Title: New directions in Religious and Values education
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
332 pages