chapter  7
27 Pages

Liberal religious education

Given the impossibility of inhabiting a genuinely neutral space, the religious educator is ‘under an obligation to expose for examination the fundamental axioms, the prior decisions about what is allowed to count as evidence, which underlie his way of understanding’ (Newbigin 1982: 99). This opens up the possibility of ‘a critique of ideology that aims at freeing the subject from his dependence on “hypostasized powers” concealed in the structures of speech and action’ (McCarthy 1984: 94). Bernard Lonergan argues that ‘the basic form of alienation is man’s disregard of the transcendental precepts, Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible’, and that ‘the basic form of ideology is a doctrine that justifies such alienation’ (Lonergan 1973: 55). We have also seen how post-Enlightenment versions of the epistemic fallacy generated a closed liberal worldview that seeks to colonise theological and educational discourse, and religious and pedagogic practices, within its own normative frame of reference. This has resulted in the disintegration of classical paideia and the privatisation of the public truth claims of the Abrahamic faiths. The situation presents a profound challenge to the religious educator operating within a liberal environment: how to do justice to the non-liberal self-understanding of the vast majority of the world’s religious traditions within a cultural and pedagogic space dominated by liberal norms and assumptions. The present chapter explores the thesis that liberal religious education, which has dominated the subject in state-funded schools in England and Wales since the early 1970s, is culpable for a widespread ideological misrepresentation of religion. The following chapter will propose that critical realism offers a heuristic framework capable of meeting the challenge of doing pedagogic justice to non-liberal worldviews and belief systems.