Me, You and Religious Diversity

‘Rethinking Religious Education in Ireland: Pluralism,
Diversity and Methodology’
Presentation by
Dr. Thomas Grenham and Dr. Patricia Kieran
MIC Research Showcase Day
September 2013
This Research:
1. Funded by MIC Research Seed Funding. Research
leading to the publication of a co-authored book.
Contract secured.
2. Book presents a synopsis of current scholarly
literature (Part 1) & diverse methodologies (Part 2)
for teaching Religious Education in Ireland.
Researchers engage in field work in schools &
semi-structured interviews.
To date: On site visits to primary school.
Undertaking a series of voluntary semi-structured
interviews (MIREC Clearance) with key thinkers and
leaders, from a variety of traditions and sectors, in the
area of Religious and Ethical Education in Ireland (all
over 18 years old). Focus on questions about the
place of religious education in the primary school
system; the place of religions and beliefs in
contemporary Irish society; and the function and
future of RE and education about religions and beliefs
in primary schools.
Census Results for Ireland 2011
Roman Catholic 84.2%
Church of Ireland 2.8%
Orthodox 1%
Islam 1.1%
No religion 5.9%
Undeclared 1.6%
Other 3.4%
Should primary school children be taught about
beliefs like atheism and agnosticism? When? How?
With growing cultural diversity and religious plurality,
the teaching of religion & beliefs has become a focal
point for academic and public debate about
education, society and personal identity in Ireland.
Radically new practices emerge in classrooms –
academic literature is playing catch up…..
Traditionally in Ireland schools were divided into
Either or Category:
A. Confessional / forming children in faith either
mono-denominational or inter-denominational
B. Multidenominational – providing broad learning
experiences about a variety of religions and beliefs
Ireland’s Primary Schools
A. Confessional Schools primarily forms children in faith – experiential/formative faith based programmes (Catholic, Church of Ireland, Jewish, Methodist, Muslim,
Presbyterian, Inter-denominational schools etc. ). Confessional schools may also
engage in learning about and from diverse beliefs.
OR (Since 2008 Community National Schools are the exception as they are multi-belief
- engage in both A & B)
B. Multidenominational Schools– Educate children in an informed empathetic and
experiential manner learning about and from a range of beliefs and provide broad
learning experiences about religions and beliefs including humanist/ atheistic/ nonreligious perspectives.
Research involves a detailed literature review of
existing national and international scholarly work in
the area of Religious Education (Part 1) as well as an
outline of pedagogies and strategies relevant for
teaching in (formational), from (transformational) and
about (informational) religions and beliefs (secular
and religious), in diverse types of primary schools in
Ireland (Part 2).
In policy and practice there is an increasing recognition
that Education about and for diversity of Religions and
Beliefs is a crucial aspect of any education system in a
liberal democracy involving diverse types of schools
including faith schools
Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (Art.2; 16;
18; 19)
Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959 (Principle 1;
Primary School Curriculum DES 1999
Intercultural Guidelines NCCA 2006
Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching About Religions and
Beliefs OSCE 2007
Council of Europe: Religious diversity and intercultural
education 2007
The Cambridge Primary Review (2009)
REDCo research Religious Education Dialogue Conflict
REMC Religious Education in a Multicultural Society
Report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the
Primary Sector (2012)
Inverview with Minister Ruairi Quinn
Minister in DES
Recorded 30 minute interview in
‘How can you be educated if you
know nothing about religions?....
‘religious education is part of a vital
set of tools that people need if they
are to be active citizens and if they
are to make informed choices about
issues’. Minister Ruairi Quinn.
• In Ireland Catholic schools
account for a total of 92% of the
96% faith based schools in the
country. There has been growing
public debate concerning the
adequacy of faith based schools
in Ireland to cater for the needs
of a more religiously diverse and
secular society.
• Interview with John Coolahan.
The Forum addressed the issue
of the adequacy of Ireland’s
overwhelmingly (96%)
denominational primary school
system to serve the learning
needs of a belief diverse
democratic society.
• Extraordinary level of public
interest in Faith and Schooling
in Ireland
• Forum on Patronage cited in
the Programme for
Government in 2011.
Chair of Forum on Patronage &
Prof. John Coolahan
• Contributed significantly to
understanding the complexity of
issues surrounding religion,
education and patronage in
Ireland, comparative
international dimension.
Innovative consultation with
stakeholders especially children.
Solicitous of the rights of
majority and minority groups.
• Sustained reflection on
terminology/ approaches
applied to RI, RE, ERB in Ireland.
Archbishop Diarmuid
“These are challenging times. They are,
however, great times to be involved in
education. For the first time in generations
there is real ferment in Irish educational
reflection as we take a fundamental new look at
our entire educational system. There is a sense
of common search for a new and integrated
educational policy which responds to the needs
of today and tomorrow. ”
Policy shift -New curricular focus on education about
Religion and Belief (ERB)and Ethics in Primary School
• Term belief covers people of religious, personal and secular
conviction – Forum on Patronage and Pluralism
• Rationale: No one religion or belief system is the exclusive or
universal source of truth for the planet’s 7 bn. inhabitants
• The promotion of co-operation, tolerance, as well as improved
understanding and relationships between different religions and
belief systems is key.
Council of Europe: Rationale for educating about diversity of religions
and belief in educational contexts
Report of Forum p.7f.
Civic mindedness
See John Keast, ed., Religious Diversity and
Intercultural Education: A Reference Book for
Schools (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2007)
Most frequent google searches
‘Why are Muslims/Christians so….
Book explores reasons for teaching about religious
diversity and beliefs in Irish primary schools:
1. Socio-cultural arguments
2. Anti-racist argument – eliminate
prejudice & ignorance – Human Rights
3. To prevent conflict –John Bowker states
that religion is likely to cause future
world conflict
4. To help children refine their own beliefs
5. To prevent indoctrination – not to
educate children about religion/belief
would be to inculcate an antireligious/anti-belief bias
6. To live out the requirements of being a
good person as
du/ Jew/Muslim/ Sikh etc.
Irish Classrooms are culturally and
religiously diverse
Divesting of school patronage is one key
aspect of multiple changes in Educational
Policy at Primary Level
Others include
• Emergence of new types of schools
(e.g. CNS).
• Introduction of Education about
Religion and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics in
primary schools/Colleges of Education.
• New curricula (e.g. Catholic/ GMGY) &
approaches to teaching which
acknowledge, support, and celebrate a
diversity of religions and beliefs
 Forum attempts to ensure that all primary schools in Ireland
respect, celebrate and recognise diversity of belief and
religion. Diversity reflective of the composition of the
national, local and school community. Rights of minority
groups recognised.
 Underlying assumption of Forum is that different religions and
beliefs must be respected and valued, through provision of
choice of school, in Patronage of schools, in school curriculum
and community. Diverse religions, beliefs and ethics are of
relevance to total school community, educational system,
society and state.
Story to date
Report of the Forum on Patronage and
Pluralism in the Primary Sector 2012
Ireland is now divesting (or transferring)
patronage of certain existing schools
(Catholic) where there is evidence of
parental demand for a different ethos. (38
areas identified – process underway
parental surveys completed)
Government wishes to explore strategies
to provide a sufficiently diverse range of
primary schools catering for all religions
and none (historic Report p.6) and to
ensure that all children/teachers have
basic standards of religious and belief
literacy (ERB and Ethics).
Minister Quinn
"For many parents this will be the first time they will have a
real say in the type of primary school they want their children
to go to, whether it is denominational, multi-denominational,
all-Irish or other…… there should be a public consultation
process on the findings and recommendations in the report
with regard to promoting more inclusiveness in schools,
particularly in 'Stand Alone Schools' where transfer of
patronage is not an option."
Educational Policy changes in Report from the
Forum on Patronage and Pluralism (2012)
RE timetabled to facilitate ‘opt out’
for stand alone schools (1,700
approx.) in relation to faith
Every school should have a display
wall on which all beliefs in the
school could be represented.
Education about Religion and
Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics should be
taught in all schools. Implications
for teacher formation & in-service
All primary schools should
celebrate festivals of different
Historic Change in Policy
If the recommendations of the Forum on ERB are
implemented then all schools will (confessional and
multi-denominational) engage in ERB. For the first
time in the history of the State the organs of the
state – NCCA – has a direct input into designing and
monitoring the curriculum for education about
religion & beliefs (ERB) in primary schools.
Recommendations for ITE programmes also.
Move RE in all denominational Irish schools beyond exclusively
confessional/multi-d. RE and out of the exclusive remit of Patrons, into
mandatory multi-belief State designed ERB programme. No opt out for
teachers, parents, children in schools or pre-service teacher programmes.
Policy Changes in Forum’s
Religion in Primary Schools
Sacramental preparation
not to encroach on time
for general curriculum
Stand alone schools –
confessional RE taught as
a discrete subject 7.2
Abolition of Rule 68
(Religious spirit should
vivify the whole school
day, RI is most important
part of the curriculum)
Religious celebrations in
schools should be
inclusive P10 (views of
young people).
Impact on Faith Schools?
John Henry Newman
‘To live is to change…………to be perfect is to
change often.’
Reception of the Report
In a faith school can RE be taught as a discrete subject?
What kind of ERB? What methodologies? What
timetabling arrangements? If in objective value-free
manner is this superficial, religious /belief tourism?
Does removal of Rule 68 (and in some schools
sacramental preparation) undermine school ethos/
fabric of integrated curriculum in Faith Schools?
Meddling with existing system – is this enough?
Allocation of additional time/resources/in-service for
John M. Hull, The Contribution of Religious Education to Religious Freedom: A Global Perspective (2001)
< Religious%20Freedom.html> [accessed 5
September 2012].
John Keast, ed., Religious Diversity and Intercultural Education: A Reference Book for Schools (Strasbourg: Council of
Europe, 2007).
Anne Looney, ‘Religious Education in the Public Space: Challenges and Contestations’, in International Handbook of the
Religious, Moral and Spiritual Dimensions in Education, ed. by de Souza, M. et al. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006).
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, ODIHR, Advisory Council of Experts on Freedom of Religion and
Belief, Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools (2007)
< documents/toledo_guidelines.pdf> [accessed 20 March 2013].
Ruairí Quinn TD, Response to Report of the Advisory Group on the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary
Sector (June 20th 2012) <
oc=57707> [accessed 20 March 2013].
Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Catholic Primary Schools: A Policy for Provision into the Future (Dublin: Veritas,