Religious education in schools should no longer be used to teach only Christianity but should also include instructions on world religions and philosophies, according to a report published today. The report – the agreed findings of a working party of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales – says even the term “religious education” may be an anachronism. Britain was no longer an exclusively a Christian country, and this should be reflected in the way religion was taught in schools.

The working party’s recommendations, which include the abolition of the traditional agreed syllabus for religious education, are bound to provoke critical reaction from some churchmen. They will be regarded as a further attempt to erode Christianity’s privileged position. But the working party, representative of the council’s inter-faith membership, suggests that it is not the responsibility of schools to teach any particular faith or train “incipient theologians.” Instead, this should be done by the respective religions, thus throwing the onus of Christian instruction and induction on to the different denominations.

The report, What Future for the Agreed Syllabus?, was presented to yesterday’s meeting of the Religious Education Council, but will not come up for possible ratification until later in the year. By then, denominational pressures may well lead to a divided verdict.

Mr Edwin Cox, senior lecturer in education at the University of London Institute of Education, who was chairman of the working party, said yesterday that the agreed syllabuses, which formed the present basis for religious education, were now out of date. Originally, they had been intended to safeguard denominational interests.

The working party concludes that the agreed syllabus should be replaced by a National Advisory Council, set up by the Secretary of State, which would lay down national guidelines on religious instruction. These would be supplemented by local working parties of teachers which would decide how these guidelines should be interpreted and implemented in their areas.

The report says of the changed situation since the 1944 Education Act: “Denominational interests seem less urgent, active believers of other religions than Christianity are now to be found in schools, the number of those who claim to subscribe to non-theistic views of the nature of reality have increased, and new opinions about the nature and function of religion have developed.”

It is proposed that the study of world religions might include Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism. Education for understanding of “life-stances,” embracing belief in the existence of the supernatural, could mean the addition of Zoroastrianism, Shinto, Confucianism, together with magic, occultism, and astrology.

There should also be a place for studying “all stances for living,” including those without belief in the supernatural, even those denying its existence, “but which are equally based on beliefs, and equally formative of lifestyles and moral systems.”

“What Future for the Agreed Syllabus?” Religious Education Council, 55 Boundstone Road, Rowledge, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4AT, 30p.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here