eligious Education is by law in all state schools in the Kingdom. What should it be teaching? Should it be taught at all? This has been the subject of much debate the last few decades. Older people are likely to remember being taught "Scripture" or "Religious Instruction", the clear aim of which was to help children to become good Christians. During the sixties and seventies, religions other than Christianity began to be taught alongside in many state schools and the subject became "Religious Education". In response to an increasingly secular society where only a minority were churchgoers, various experiments began to try to make religious education more relevant to children's own diverse backgrounds and experience. This produced a backlash in the eighties, when the Conservative government tried to make sure that Christianity had pride of place (even though other religions should also be taught) in the 1988 Education Act.
On the surface, the debate about religious education may appear to be based on a dispute between Christian and non-Christian interests struggling for influence in education. In fact, it's a philosophical dispute rather than one about faith, and I shall argue that it can only be resolved philosophically. However, before doing this it's necessary to clarify what the competing philosophical positions are.
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1. Confessionalism This is the traditional view and the one which still holds sway in Roman Catholic Schools. According to confessionalism, the aim of religious education is to instruct children in a particular set of religious beliefs. Confessionalists argue that you can'tunderstand any religion properly except from within its beliefs, and children must accept the beliefs first in order to understand the values.
Confessionalism rests on a Foundationalist view of knowledge and an Absolutist view of ethics. There are some truths which are absolutely certain, known in this case through revelation from God via an authoritative scripture or person. Once you accept these truths then you can work out other things which are true or false, right or wrong on the basis of them. Other views are only taught in order to show they are wrong.
The obvious problem with confessionalism is that we may not share its fundamental religious beliefs, or agree that any given source of revelation is authoritative. Confessionalism lost its grip on state schools the sixties because no Christian as true,
increasing numbers of people of other religions in the U.K.
2. Secularism One response to the shortcomings of confessionalism is to conclude that religious education should not be taught at all in state schools. This is the governmental policy in secular states such as the US. Religion is seen as a private matter, and parents who want religious education for their children must arrange it privately. It is believed that to bring it into state schools is only a recipe for conflict.
Secularism in fact shares the fundamental assumption of confessionalism: that you can only teach religion in a context where everyone shares the same beliefs. If people have differing religious beliefs, these are completely irreconcilable so must be kept out of state education.
However, secul~rism raises further difficulties. Is it not very divisive to keep religion completely in the private sphere? Children are not brought up to discuss and understand their religious differences, so religious beliefs are less likely to become amenable to reason. A secularist policy could provide a breedingground for fundamentalism and intolerance between divided groups within society, as it seems to have done in the United States.
3. Non-confessionalism In Britain a third way has been taken which is neither confessionalist nor secularist, which can loosely be called "Non-confessionalism". Religious education is taught in state schools, and is seen as important in helping children understand religion and gain a sense of values. However, several religions are taught and no one religion is presented as true. I will distinguish two sub-positions which represent the extremes of a spectrum of views within nonconfessionalism : Instructional nonconfessionalism (a term I have coined) and Experientialism.
Instructional non-confessionalism agrees with secularism, that in a society with no clearly shared religious beliefs a state school should not just promote one religious vie"1. On the other hand, religion still needs to be taught in state schools so that children will have some understanding of religious points of view and be able to choose one of the available religions if they wish. The instructional nonconfessionalist also agrees that you can fully understand a religion by accepting its foundational beliefs. He/she solves this problem by arguing that religious education should instruct children about the different religious beliefs from a completely objective