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Introduction

Religious Education and Critical Realism: Knowledge, Reality and Religious Literacy seeks to bring the enterprise of religious education in schools, colleges and universities into conversation with the philosophy of critical realism. In doing so it has a dual audience in mind. First teachers, academics, religious ministers and politicians who carry the burden of responsibility for overseeing the cultivation of the religious literacy of children and young adults, and hence of the future religious literacy of society as a whole. Second, the philosophical community of critical realists who are at the forefront of a renaissance in our understanding of ourselves and the world we indwell that has the potential to overcome the tired dichotomy between modernity and post-modernity, reformulate our understanding the heritage of both the pre-and post-Enlightenment past, and under-labour for more truthful ways of being and flourishing as persons-incommunity. The intentionality underlying the identification of two different sets of implied readers is twofold. First, to overcome a tendency of some religious educators towards an inward-looking parochialism that fails to locate the subject in its broader historical, cultural and intellectual contexts. Failure to properly understand these various contexts opens the door to the accommodation of the subject to prevailing norms in a manner that occludes the possibility of the subject challenging and transforming such norms for the better. In short, if the argument of this book is viable, then the possibility of a religious education capable of proactively changing the world for the better, and in the process undercutting the objections of its cultured despisers, is equally viable. Second, to overcome a tendency amongst some philosophers of critical realism not to take the full implications of their emergent philosophy seriously. Critical realism has generated a set of powerful and compelling arguments that demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the epistemic assumptions of much modern and postmodern thought are fundamentally flawed. Now if the epistemic assumptions that generated the various worldviews of modernity and post-modernity have been found wanting, there is every reason to question the veracity of the worldviews constructed by such deeply flawed epistemic tools. However, the equation flawed epistemology, therefore (possibly) flawed ontology, has not always been afforded the seriousness it deserves: the level of resistance to the so-called

‘spiritual turn’ in critical realism, which effectively recognised that the worldviews constructed by flawed epistemic foundations can no longer simply be taken for granted, was significantly high. The book is primarily about process rather than substance. It addresses the question, not of the substance of our primal beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality and our place in the ultimate order-of-things, but of the process through which we might attend to questions of substance in more attentive, reasonable, responsible and intelligent ways. Hence it under-labours for the pedagogic emergence of a religiously, philosophically and spiritually literate society. The book deals in turn with questions of philosophy, theology, education in general and religious education in particular. Each set of questions is addressed in parallel chapters, the first of which seeks to unpack the impact of modern and postmodern thought on its given topic, and the second of which seeks to generate a new critically realistic vision. Religious Education and Critical Realism: Knowledge, Reality and Religious Literacy has had a long gestation. During the process of writing, debates within the community of critical realists regarding critical realism’s so-called ‘spiritual turn’ revealed the urgent need for an account of the relationship between Christian theology and critical realism. hence I found myself abandoning this book and writing Christianity and Critical Realism: Ambiguity, Truth and Theological Literacy instead (Wright 2013). Having lived with the current book far longer than intended or anticipated, it is with equal delight and relief that I find myself typing the final words and anticipating opening a rather expensive bottle of single malt by way of reward. Before doing so, I must pause to acknowledge many debts of gratitude. To my previous friends and colleagues at King’s College London, and to my new friends and colleagues at UCL Institute of Education and London School of Theology. To my current doctoral students: Mustapha Cabir Altintas, Katie Clemmey, Lisa Cornwell, Ayse Demirel, Ciro Genovese, Johnny Go, Angela Goodman, Thomas Pemberton, Johanna Woodcock Ross, John Seymour and Adrian Smith. To my wife, Dr Elina Wright, Regent’s Park College University of Oxford for making me think. To Alexis for correcting my mistakes. And to Flora for sharing her songs of Zion. On taking up my present post at UCL Institute of Education, I was delighted to discover that I had been allocated a room adjacent to Roy Bhaskar’s. Sadly, within weeks delight had turned to deep sadness and the choice of this book’s dedicatee had been made for me. And, finally: mere expressions of gratitude cannot possibly recompense the unconditional love, care, support and encouragement graciously gifted by Elina, and by Juliana, Mariana, Becky and Liz.