Public Engagement Projects 

Project Lead: Stephen Pett
Dates: 1 June 2018- 30 June 2019
Award: £29,000


The inclusion of non-religious worldviews has been part of the discourse of religious education (RE) in the UK for some years now, e.g., opportunities to study ‘secular philosophies such as humanism’ (QCA, Non-statutory National Framework 2004:12); the move in many RE agreed syllabuses to attainment targets ‘learning about and learning from religion(s) and belief(s)’ (e.g., Norfolk 2012); and the aim in the DfE-supported 2013 RE Framework, for pupils to know about and understand a range of ‘religions and worldviews’, a term used ‘to refer to Christianity, other principal religions represented in Britain, smaller religious communities and non-religious worldviews such as Humanism’ (RE Council Framework, 2013:11n7).

In practice, there is little coherence about how non-religious beliefs or worldviews are handled in the RE classroom: many teachers struggle with this. Humanism is offered by many agreed syllabuses as an example of a non-religious worldview and resources from Humanists UK are increasingly used in classrooms. However, emerging academic research points to different kinds of non-religious worldviews, including but not limited to humanist orientations (e.g., Recognising the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular, Lee 2015). Research also reveals complexities to non-religious worldviews, such as findings which show that people who do not believe in God and/or identify as non-religious sometimes hold beliefs that do not obviously fit within a materialist worldview: beliefs in supernatural beings, in the soul, in life after death, angels and reincarnation (e.g., Post-religious Britain: The Faith of the Faithless, Spencer/Weldin, Theos 2012; The “No Religion” Population of Britain, Bullivant 2017). It is in this context the Understanding Unbelief programme offers a significant contribution to RE.

RE Today has a long history of supporting teachers in the RE classroom, from teachers of 4 year olds to teachers of A level students. Its contribution to the Understanding Unbelief programme is to engage with teachers of 11-14 year olds in the first instance. A future project may look to extend the work to teachers of primary-age pupils. RE Today will develop materials that bring the research findings of the Understanding Unbelief programme to teachers and pupils in the RE classroom. These resources will help pupils to address questions about the nature and diversity of the wide range of beliefs and commitments of so-called unbelievers, including a deeper understanding of atheism and a wider understanding of less discussed outlooks such as agnosticism. The resources will enable pupils to explore what people believe in, not just what they don’t believe in. They will get beyond the stereotypes of New Atheists offered in the media (and some RE lessons), and demonstrate the diversity of experiences and outlooks within the broader ‘unbelieving’ population.

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