LEARNING ABOUT RELIGION
This chapter will apply the approach to learning developed in previous chapters to a particular issue, namely the place of religious education in a mainly secular society. It has been argued that learning takes place through participation in and commitment to particular forms of life. It seems to follow that learning about religion should best occur through children’s participation in religious forms of life. Many, however, would object on the grounds that they did not wish their children to become religious believers or at least to be indoctrinated into religious belief. It is widely claimed that children can learn what religion is without first becoming committed to any particular religion. I shall argue that it is unlikely that this could be so. The secular religious educator is presented with a dilemma. Should he make children religious believers and so violate his own principles and, perhaps, those of parents, or should he teach children about religion and run the risk that they will remain ignorant of why it is important for many people or even develop a contempt for its apparent irrationality? This is not just an abstract problem for educators, but one that affects the conduct of public education systems in different ways. The problem is particularly acute in the UK, which developed a public education system in large part built up initially by the churches at a time when the temper of society was mainly Christian. In the late twentieth century, the temper of society has changed drastically. The problem for policy-makers concerns the currently contested character of religious experience, the perceived controversially of religious beliefs by some and their indubitability by others, and the overall difficulty of making sense of religious experience for children in a largely secular world where relatively few adults take established religions all that seriously. A large and obvious exception to this generalisation is the presence of ethnic groups with a strong attachment to their religious beliefs. Their presence adds to the complexity of the situation that I describe and contributes to the choices that I propose at the end of this chapter.