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Religious Education and Freedom of Religion and Belief

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Stephen Parker, Rob Freathy and Leslie J. Francis

What opportunities and challenges are presented to religious education across the globe by the basic human right of freedom of religion and belief? To what extent does religious education facilitate or inhibit ‘freedom of religion’ in schools? What contribution can religious education make to freedom in the modern world? This volume provides answers to these and related questions by drawing together a selection of the papers delivered at the seventeenth session of the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values held in Ottawa in 2010. These reflections from international scholars, drawing upon historical, theoretical and empirical perspectives, provide insights into the development of religious education in a range of national contexts, from Europe to Canada and South Africa, as well as illuminating possible future directions for the subject.

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PART II Theoretical Perspectives

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Jef f Astley 5 Can We Choose our Beliefs? A Philosophical Question for Religious Education Abstract In this chapter Astley first distinguishes a freedom for religious belief from a deeper freedom of belief, in the sense of an ‘inner freedom’ of human beings to control their religious states of mind, heart and spirit. There is a considerable literature in philosophy and the philosophy of religion devoted to the issue of the role of the will in belief; and the topic has also been of historical concern to Christian theologians. In exploring these ideas, Astley argues against certain assumptions that are widespread in the debates concerning religious education, especially those that utilize the concepts of intellectual autonomy, decision and choice in ways that imply or directly assert a radical freedom of belief. By contrast, he develops the claim that we possess no more than an indirect freedom in our believ- ing, and that the employment of the language of choice is often mislead- ing as we can only exercise choice at the level of choosing to examine the grounds for our beliefs. We may choose our path to belief; but we cannot directly choose our beliefs. The implications of these claims for both non-confessional and con- fessional religious education are discussed. 82 Jef f Astley Freedom ‘for’ and freedom ‘of ’ belief In considering the relationship between freedom, on the one hand, and reli- gious beliefs, on the other, discussion normally centres on what I would call freedom for belief. This...

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