Book Review from British Educational Research Journal Vol. 32, No. 1, February 2006, pp. 151–152 Publisher Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group Rethinking religious education and plurality: issues in diversity and pedagogy Robert Jackson, 2004 London, RoutledgeFalmer 221 pp. ISBN 0415302722 (pbk), 0415302714 (hbk) Robert Jackson is a social scientist specialising in religious diversity. He is Professor of Education at the University of Warwick and Director of the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit which over the past 10 or 15 years has established a worldwide reputation for innovation in the study of family structure in several major world religions, and for the research methodology and the classroom pedagogy which has resulted from these inquiries. In his 1997 book Religious education: an interpretive approach he explained his reservations about the then popular phenomenological approach to the study of religions and set out his own ethnographic methodology. His 2003 edited volume International perspectives on citizenship, education, and religious diversity developed this social science approach to the teaching of religion by showing its relevance to the problems of social cohesion and cultural diversity which are issues of growing concern in the European Community. In addition, Jackson showed how once the study of religion in schools becomes detached from its traditional locus within specific religious communities it acquires a wider significance in the preparation of young Europeans for the complexities of modern life. The secularisation thesis of the 1960s anticipated the increasing privatisation of religious faith but this expectation has not been realised. On the contrary, the events of the 11 September 2001, the rise of religious extremism in all the world religions, and the possibility of including Turkey within the European Community have all contributed to a new public presence for religion. In that context, the question is whether the study of religion in schools is to reinforce traditional religious boundaries or whether religious education might become a significant aspect of public curricula in Europe. It is at this point that Jackson’s new book emerges. Jackson argues that the educational potential of the study of religion in state-funded schools has been generally underestimated. He is not in principle opposed to the recent emphasis in England and Wales on the creation of new faith-based schools, and argues that the narrowness of outlook and tendency toward indoctrination of which they are sometimes accused are by no means necessary features of faith-based education. Nevertheless, emphasis upon them, whether for or against, tends to minimise the role of the state or community school in educating for cultural diversity. Community schools should not be thought of as places of secular education but rather as providing a pluralist context for educational development. It is the very diversity of religions and lifestyles in the publicly funded school which offers such scope for dialogue. In order to clarify and commend his understanding of the role of religion in state schools, Jackson discusses a number of other contemporary philosophies of religious studies. The main alternatives to his own interpretive ethnography as a basis for teaching religion are the more nostalgic attempts to return to a monocultural position, the radical postmodern approach which tends to ignore the religious traditions and encourages the pupils’ own construction of religious insights, and the approach through ‘religious literacy’, which although it does focus upon the religious traditions in a pluralist manner does not take adequate account of the inner diversity of each religion and the huge range of local religious forms. Those whose image of religion in schools is still dominated by the stories of Noah’s ark and the missionary journeys of St Paul may be surprised to find the sophistication with which these complex social and epistemological issues are being discussed today, and how generally important for education as a whole this literature has become. Having evaluated alternatives to his own approach, Jackson goes on to show the close relationship between interpretive ethnography and various developments in north-western Europe and southern Africa. These include contextual and dialogical methods and other techniques that have in common an approach to diversity through the life-worlds of the children themselves. Recent policies and projects of the European Community and the Council of Europe are reviewed, and Jackson shows how there is an increasing concern in these quarters for the political and ethical aspects of religious diversity. Religion is a potential source of alienation and conflict, and some way must be found to neutralise these elements and encourage European citizens in human values and in mutual acceptance. One of the most impressive chapters in Jackson’s book is the one where he reviews recent research which has led to the emergence of his own and similar views. With its growing links to citizenship, democracy, politics and ethics, the teaching of religion in schools evidently offers challenging possibilities for the educational researcher and Jackson is convincing in showing the extent to which these possibilities are being realised. Religious education is part of the heritage of the European Enlightenment. It shares the scepticism of the Enlightenment, the rationalism and the emphasis upon the personal integrity of individual and community life which is typical of European values. Even in France the increasing significance of a modern critical dialogical education concerning religions is being discussed. In some ways, England and Wales have pioneered these developments and the partnership which has emerged between cultural, social and religious educators in Britain and other countries in the pluralist democratic tradition is likely to be increasingly important. Jackson’s masterly work not only helps us to rethink religious education; it shows its wider educational significance and points to its exciting future. John M. Hull, Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, UK.