Friday, 5 June 2015

BlogSyncRE: Religious Literacy

BlogSynRE: What is religious literacy and how can it be improved in RE classrooms?

The student who attends both Catholic primary and secondary school will receive approximately 14 years of RE. They will also probably have had about twice as much lesson time as students in a non-faith schools. They will also have at least one external qualification (GCSE RS) plus will have probably have had some 6th form RE. 

Does this make them religiously literate? Does it make them more religious literate than students in non-faith schools?

Obviously some may suggest that they may not have the breadth of study, but they certainly have the depth. Does this indepth study and understanding actually enable them to better transfer knowledge of religion to other faiths more easily? Does a confessional approach actually help in becoming more literate about religion in general, and more specifically other faiths? Would a faith school student have a better understanding of the demands of religious belief, regardless of the faith in question?

I guess, to draw a parallel with English, you become more literate by reading more. Do you become more religiously literate by studying more? However, to be more literate, maybe you need to read the 'right' books? Maybe you need to study the 'right' stuff in RE to become religiously literate?

Interestingly, I am currently beginning my half-term units on Hinduism (Y7) and Islam (Y9). As I have 5 lessons per fortnight, this gives me approximately 20+ lessons on each. I wonder how many schools are able to dedicate such time to each? Judaism is covered over Y7 and Y8, occupying at least the same number of lessons (possibly more). If anyone questions my credentials for teaching other religions as a Catholic, I remind them I had Dr Tim Winter as my supervisor at Cambridge on Islamic jurisprudence and Shar'ia. I still remember his face as he read through my essays...

Additionally, given our status as 'core of the core' as a subject, we are a very well resourced and high status subject. We have extensive artefact collections, plus a wide selection of textbooks to cover each religion. Students enjoy the subject, and are determined to do well in it. The headteacher teaches RE. We also are one of the departments who lead on teaching and learning.

Admittedly, we only focus on one religion at GCSE at the moment. However we do do Edexcel Philosophy and Ethics at A-Level which goes way beyond a Christocentric curriculum. The GCSE syllabus will obviously change in 2016 and this is something I fully welcome; I look forward to studying Judaism or Islam at a higher level (and digging out my undergrad notes!).

So, does a faith school RE education result in greater religious literacy? 

This is merely a discussion generating suggestion. I look forward to reading your views and responses.
This is part of June's 


  1. I'm not sure exactly what religious literacy really means, I suspect it doesn't have very much to do with a bank of knowledge in your head though.

    You could spend many, many years studying knowledge on different faiths and still be clueless about most of it. I still feel I know very little having been teaching RE for six years.

    I see religious literacy as more like the language rules in English. I think it must be about understanding the role, place and experience of being religious and fostering respect for religious faith.

    For example, if student A knows a huge amount about religion, meets someone from a faith they have not studied and dismisses it, has no interest or empathy I would say they are not religiously literate.

    If student B with very little religious knowledge meets someone from a faith they no nothing about, is curious, respectful, shows empathy and is interested enough to google it I would say they are more religiously literate.

    1. Forgive the SPAG! I blame a tiny reply box.