Resurrecting Religious Education through the study of worldviews

Placing the notion of “worldviews” at the heart of Religious Education will ensure the subject remains relevant for an increasingly non-religious generation of students, argues new Theos report, Worldviews in Religious Education. 

Previous polling has shown that only 12% of the 4000 surveyed pupils were prepared to admit to enjoying RE a lot. In secondary schools there is a decline in the number of pupils entering for public examinations in Religious Studies, and an increase in the number of schools not offering the subject. It seems that RE as a subject is under threat with more schools ignoring or marginalizing it and pupils increasingly not enjoying it.  

In 2018, the Commission on RE suggested a way of reinvigorating the subject by reframing it with a focus on “worldviews”. This proposed paradigm shift generated considerable debate and has not yet been adopted by the government. 

Worldviews in Religious Education offers a distinctive contribution to the debate in support of the Commission’s recommendations, interpreting and developing the idea of “worldviews” and exploring its implications for the classroom. Lead author Trevor Cooling and co-authors Bob Bowie and Farid Panjwani argue that the previous “world religions” approach to Religious Education is no longer fit for purpose, and respond to various criticisms that have been made of the paradigm shift. For example, they argue that changing the focus would not dilute the proper attention that should be given to religions but that it is rather a different way of framing how that content is introduced to the students. 

They argue that the exploration of both “organised” worldviews, such as Christianity, Islam and Humanism, and also “personal” worldviews, the beliefs and hidden assumptions which shape how each individual sees the world, should be at the heart of the subject going forward. RE should focus on pupils’ understanding their own worldview through their study of the worldviews of others.  

Theos Head of Research Madeleine Pennington says:

“Religious education in schools is a key ingredient in any cohesive society, especially as the UK becomes increasingly religiously diverse. Re-framing the subject around the study of ‘Religion and Worldviews’ promises to enliven RE for another generation.” 

You can view the full report here:

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