Editorial: Civic Education and the Global Challenge of Addressing the Spiritual Dimension of Public Life
Dr David Lundie – Associate Editor, British Journal of Religious Education
Early in the second decade of the 21st century, two major studies of education highlighted similar issues around the need for a place in the curriculum for young people to explore contemporary moral issues and questions of identity, to encounter difference and learn respectful dialogue. Both studies drew on deep ethnography and mixed methods to explore the lived realities of teaching such sensitive topics in a range of school contexts, and brought these into creative dialogue with philosophical reflections on the nature and purpose of education. Due to particular historical features of the legal and cultural landscape that surrounds schooling, the American study, Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy’s The Political Classroom (2014), located these challenges and opportunities in the Civics classroom, while the British study, which James Conroy, other colleagues and myself published as Does Religious Education Work? (2013) focused on non-confessional multi-faith Religious Education, a staple of the public education curriculum in the UK. Now, at the beginning of the third decade, facing multiple global crises in political and public life, the need for joined-up thinking is more pressing than ever.
This is just one example of the myriad ways civic, moral, political, religious and societal questions are framed in education systems across the world. British Journal of Religious Education is a leading venue for publishing work which explores these intersections. This virtual special issue brings together ten contributions which range in context from the deeply secularist separation of religion from public education in China (Ye & Law 2017) to the role of confessional Greek Orthodox religious education in political identity formation among Greek Cypriots (Zembylas & Loukaidis 2018). Across these diverse contexts, they employ a range of theoretical perspectives to understand the relationship between citizenship, civic values and identity, and issues relating to religious, spiritual, moral or worldview questions in education.
The relationship between religion and citizenship or civic education, where these are distinct curriculum subjects, is a theme addressed by several of the authors in this special issue. In the UK, Citizenship Education has only existed as a discrete subject for a few short years, in contrast to a long history for multi-faith Religious Education – in that context, Watson (2004) found teachers were borrowing the non-directive, non-confessional aims of RE in their attitudes towards questioning, rather than instilling, civic values in the classroom. In the Hong Kong context, where the two subjects are framed together as “Moral and Civic Education”, Cheung et al. (2018) found that religious engagement did not necessarily have a positive impact on social and civic values. Understanding the influence of religion on civic education is a key theme of Andrew Peterson’s (2017) paper, from the Australian context in which there is no formal religious education in public schools. Moving beyond theories of separation between religious education as concerned with the heavenly city, and political education as concerned with an early one, Zembylas & Loukaidis (2018) theorise a historicised and politicised approach to both religious and civic education, highlighting the importance of how moral dilemmas are framed in any education system as either/both religious or political for our understanding of the kind of solutions young people are educated to believe are possible. It is a similar concern with the development of the whole student which Miedema & Bertram Troost (2008) address in their call for an integrative “educating for religious citizenship” (p.129).
Democratic pedagogies provide another illuminating thread to understand the contribution of religious education to helping young people learn to live together. Beginning from Habermas’ secular politics of deliberation, Skeie (2006) explores the challenge for a polity such as Norway as it transitions from a privileged place for Lutheran Christianity in the curriculum toward a more pluralist aim for Religious Education in accommodating plurality in the civic as well as religious realm. Moving beyond this, toward a rehabilitation of religion to constructivist and dialogical civics education, Peterson (2017) points to the need for young people to explore the competing origins of their concepts of civic justice, rather than stopping at their shared commonalities. The theme of recognising, protecting or sanitising identities in civic discourse has produced much politicised controversy in recent years. Drawing on the landmark Signposts (Jackson 2014) study on safe spaces in Religious Education, and moving beyond it, Iversen (2019) theorises the need for communities of disagreement which take seriously the ways that intersectionality can produce non-orthodox responses and expressions of both religious and secular values.
A final thematic thread is the relationship between religion, education and the law. Located in the firmly secular laïcité of the French state, Gaudin (2017) attempts to address the continuing importance of religious, philosophical and humanistic learning for developing a religious literacy suitable to the challenges of contemporary European pluralism. Employing a content analysis approach to official Chinese textbooks, Zhao (2018) illustrates the was that religion can be delegitimized not only by exclusion from the curriculum, as in the French or American cases, but by its inclusion and framing as superstitious, pre-modern, anti-scientific. Nonetheless, as Ye & Law’s (2019) work with pre-service teachers in China illustrates, even where the purposes of the state curriculum push in one direction, teachers’ own stated attitudes, life experiences and aims may reinscribe these with more open and tolerant pedagogical enactments.
Common to the contested attempts to theorise the post-secular (Lewin 2016) counter-secular (Gearon 2012) or post-normal (Sardar 2015), is an understanding that the religious/secular binary is highly contested, and a recognition that, no matter how or where the line is drawn in different cultural contexts, such separations do not easily allow for an educational space where young people can express their beliefs, worldviews and identities in holistic and authentic ways. The British Journal of Religious Education remains a space that is open to research in citizenship and civic education that takes seriously all of these dimensions of human experience.
C.H.W. Cheung, K.J. Kennedy, C.H. Leung & M.T. Hue (2018) Religious engagement and attitudes to the role of religion in society: Their effect on civic and social values in an Asian context. British Journal of Religious Education 40(2) 158-168.
- Conroy, D. Lundie, R. Davis et al. (2013) Does Religious Education Work? A multi-dimensional investigation. London: Bloomsbury.
- Gaudin (2017) Neutrality and impartiality in public education: The French investment in philosophy, teaching about religions, and moral and civic education. British Journal of Religious Education 39(1) 93-106.
- Gearon (2012) European Religious Education and European Civil Religion. British Journal of Educational Studies 60(2) 151-169.
- Hess & P. McAvoy (2014) The Political Classroom: Evidence and ethics in democratic education. New York: Routledge.
- Lewin (2016) Educational Philosophy for a Post-Secular Age. London: Routledge.
- Miedema & G. Bertram-Troost (2008) Democratic citizenship and religious education: Challenmges and perspectives for schools in the Netherlands. British Journal of Religious Education 30(2) 123-132.
- Peterson (2017) The contested place of religion in the Australian Civics and Citizenship curriculum: Exploring the secular in a multi-faith society. British Journal of Religious Education 39(2) 207-222.
- Sardar (2015) Postnormal Times Revisited. Futures 67(1) 26-39.
- Skeie (2006) Diversity and the political function of religious education. British Journal of Religious Education 28(1) 19-32.
- Watson (2004) Educating for citizenship – the emerging relationship between religious education and citizenship education. British Journal of Religious Education 26(3) 259-271.
- Ye & W-.W. Law (2017) Pre-service teachers’ interpretations of religious policy in citizenship education in China. British Journal of Religious Education 41(3) 327-336.
- Zembylas & L. Loukaidis (2018) Emerging relationships between religious education and citizenship education: Teachers’ perceptions and political dilemmas in Cyprus. British Journal of Religious Education 40(2) 169-181.
- Zhao (2020) The religious world in Chinese social studies textbooks. British Journal of Religious Education 42(2) 214-223.