Critical Religious Education, Multiculturalism and the Pursuit of Truth. By Andrew Wright
Article first published online: 7 APR 2009
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 3, pages 566–567, May 2009
How to Cite
Carmody, B. (2009), Critical Religious Education, Multiculturalism and the Pursuit of Truth. By Andrew Wright. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 566–567. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00484_52.x
- Issue published online: 7 APR 2009
- Article first published online: 7 APR 2009
Pp. 290 , Cardiff , University of Wales Press , 2007 , $85.00.
Wright provides a detailed account of the history of religious education at community schools in England and Wales and contextualizes this in relation to the on-going secularization and increasing pluralism. He identifies this tradition's concern with issues of truth and shows how these have become less central in recent approaches to religious education.
In the initial discussion, the author distinguishes between truth and truthfulness. Truth is the totality of all that is, even though our knowledge of it remains partial and contingent. Still, our knowledge is not arbitrary; rather, it enables us to make informed judgments even about ultimate reality, which provide the key to truthful living. Although Wright's position appears to be rather exclusive, he repeatedly emphasizes that he is presenting a framework that is intended to invite dialogue. Indeed, the overall aim of Wright's proposal is to solicit intelligent cooperation in crafting a kind of religious education that is more satisfactory than is currently operative.
As Wright sees it, a major part of the challenge ahead is to re-align the search for truth with right living. These elements have become progressively separated in religious education over the past thirty years or so, but for Wright, ‘learning about’ and ‘learning from’ religion are inseparable.
Wright argues against what he terms comprehensive liberalism, where in essence one religious viewpoint is as good as any another, as long as it promotes as pivotal such values as freedom and tolerance to a degree where they become imperialistic. He uncovers their historical roots and shows how they have emerged in education through the thought of Loukes, Goldman, Erricker, Hay, White and less obviously Jackson. Wright discusses phenomenology's contribution to religious education in this development and notes that it has come to mean something quite different from what Ninian Smart, the main pioneer in this field, intended. Wright also focuses on the position of Robert Jackson who strives, like Wright, to bring truth claims toward centre stage in the study of religion. For Wright, Jackson atomizes religions and so makes overall truth claims problematical; moreover, Wright contends that Jackson's epistemological position needs further amplification, for it does not seem to be capable of addressing the other truly as other.
Religious education fails to be transformative because of a progressive lack of concern with matters of truth. It is also unsuited to the kind of dialogue that is willing to identify tensions and irreconcilable differences, even if it aspires to promote social harmony.
Wright has been criticized for failing to present concrete articulations of how his method might be implemented in the classroom. Here he presents an extended discussion of the subject in terms of a ‘variation theory of learning’. In this Wright draws on the work of Ference Marton and associates, who identify ways in which pupils experience the object of study, illustrating how their experiences require modification if they are to reach the learning outcomes set by the teacher. Perhaps in defense against the accusation of being impractical, however, Wright cautions that religious education teachers ought to refrain from moving too quickly from theory to practice; instead it is important to identify the pupils' prior experiences so that the learning space addresses what they currently lack. If this is done properly, a pupil's experience will be expanded and deepened.
Teachers, as far as Wright sees it, should strive to produce an informed, intelligent, and religously literate society. They should not aim to graduate people with capacities for relativist balance between traditions, opinions, and schools of thought. In thus stating the objective for religious education, Critical Religious Education presents a major challenge to religious educators not only in England and Wales but wherever religion is part of national curricula. The discipline is challenged to be transformative, enabling its students to engage critically with the diversity of religions and their truth claims.
Critical Religious Education, by arguing persuasively the need to address more satisfactorily the question of truth, raises the discourse to another level and provides a framework that invites creative cooperation in what is both a major and urgent task.