Religion and Education

in a Pluralist Society

John M Hull

in Dermot A. Lane (ed.) Religion, Education and the Constitution Dublin, Columbia Press 1992, pp. 15-33 ISBN: 1 85607 051 4

Thank you very much for your warm welcome. It is an honour to be present at the 25th Anniversary of this distinguished Institution which I have visited before under happier circumstances than the one I find myself in tonight, but I am sure I will feel much happier about it tomorrow!

Religious education is undergoing something of a resurgence. In many of the countries of Eastern Europe, where religious education only two or three years ago was actually forbidden, its place occupied by compulsory materialistic and atheistic education, it has become a compulsory subject. The British Journal of Religious Education in January 1992 will be publishing an article on the resurgence of religious education in Russia.(1) We can also think of the revival of religious education in Germany, stimulated by the unification and by the presence of the Turkish community.(2) I must also refer to the 1988 Educational Reform Act (England & Wales) which may be regarded as a kind of resurgence of religious education. What kind of resurgence is a matter of debate, but that it has been accompanied by a considerable increase of public, political and professional interest in what religious education should be doing is undoubtedly the case.(3) We have, for example, in 1988 the change in status of the Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACRE) which every local education authority in England and Wales is now required to establish.(4)

What I have to share with you this evening falls under four headings. First, religious education as the study of religion, second, religious education as the critique of religion, third, religious education as a gift to human development, and finally, religious education as Christian mission.



When we ask what religious education is, the most obvious answer is that religious education is the study of religion. Beneath that apparently simple answer lie a number of perplexities. What is religion and how is it to be studied? By whom is it to be studied and who is to control the study of it? The study of religion can itself be considered from a number of different points of view, forming a series of philosophical and educational problems. My colleague in the University of Birmingham, Michael Grimmitt, has distinguished between learning religion, learning about religion, and learning from religion.(5) Religious education as learning religion would be the transmissional view of religious education, religious education as that which transmits religious culture, belief and values, religious education as responsible for the perpetuation, the survival, the handing on of the tradition. Here one learns religion. We can also think of religious education as learning about religion, that view of the study of religion which looks upon it in a purely objective and descriptive manner where one no longer learns religion in the sense of absorbing it or receiving it but in the sense of knowing facts about it. This way of teaching religion in the English tradition, goes back to the early 19th century. It is out of that historical critical approach to the Bible that religious education slowly evolved in the course of the twentieth century.(6) We may regard this approach, and some of the more factually objective forms of teaching religion today, as being various examples of teaching about religion.

If we consider Michael Grimmitt’s third distinction - learning not about religion but from religion - we have an interesting perspective, a more educational perspective, one which asks what is the educational advantage to be gained by the study of religion. How can one learn from religion? What is there to learn from religion? What is it that boys and girls and men and women have today to learn from religion which is valuable for their lives? In what way can the study of religion illuminate the problems of human living? I will return to this under my third heading, Religious Education as a gift to human development. When we start to talk about religious education in this way in a pluralist context, we realise that the study of religion cannot be confined to the study of one religion. Nearly everyone recognises this today. There has been much discussion in England and Wales about the precise balance between the teaching of Christianity and other religions.7 In 1988 there was a strong movement (which was successful) to name Christianity in the Act as a compulsory religion. The final text of the 1988 Act is an ambiguous compromise. Section 8 (3) says that any new agreed syllabus shall reflect the fact that the principal religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.

That sentence is carefully balanced. The agreed syllabuses shall reflect the fact that the principal religious traditions of Great Brit- ain are in the main Christian; this is balanced by the second part of the sentence; whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions. Interpretation of these words has ranged from those who have emphasised the first part, that agreed syllabuses must reflect Christianity, (therefore they must be based on Christianity, they must be Christian agreed syllabuses, Christianity must predominate) to those who have emphasised that what is significant is that world religions, the teaching of religious education through the study of the religions of the world, is now formally established by law. No agreed syllabus can be legal if it fails to take account of the teaching and practices of the principal religions represented in the country.

The Government, in seeking to define the content of religious education, has made a rod for its own back. The definition is sup- ported by a complaints procedure which has been used by groups of parents who are dissatisfied with the religious teaching being received in their schools. The Government has been obliged to rule on these various complaints. This has led to a closer and closer definition of the clause I quoted a moment ago. This is to be found in the two letters circulated from the Department of Education and Science in March and in August of 1991. The March 18th letter contains the significant expression that no agreed syllabus can be legal if any principal religion represented in Great Britain is omitted. But what is a principal religion? What has to happen in order for it to be represented in Great Britain? The inexorable logic of further legal complaints may compel the Government to draw up a list of principal religions, and to define statistically what representation signifies. We will then be back in the days of the Roman Empire with a list of civil religions acceptable to the state. Protesting groups will besiege Whitehall demanding to receive principal religion status. Any such content-rich definition is likely to lead to embarrassments of this sort.

When the transmission model of religious education is functional the question of control is fairly straightforward. The religion that is being transmitted controls the process of transmission. When however you are dealing with a pluralistic situation, where the study of religion embraces several faiths, there is a problem of who is to control. Shall the parents, the profession, or the Government control the curriculum? Shall the churches control? When religion as the object of study is controlled by the churches as the sponsors of study, the audit of quality will remain a problem. It is contrary to the principles of quality control that the sponsors of study should control their own teaching, that the objects of study should be in the control of those in whose interest it is that their own faith should be transmitted. That would represent a kind of control too narrow for the various value systems and pressure groups which constitute our modem, democratic society. We must therefore find forms of accountability where the objects of study although not excluded, do not have total power over the way in which they are studied. This question of the balance between the proper authority to be exercised by religions as the objects of study and the actual teaching of children in the schools is another question which is exercising many of the SACRE’s in England. Various solutions are appearing. In some areas an agreement has been reached between the profession and the religions, in which the religions will produce lists of what their principal teachings are so that the agreed syllabus can take account of them. The teachers are to mediate that content to their children in the form of a curriculum. The religions are to say what it is about them which is to be studied, but it is the teachers who are to say how, in what context, by what methods, in what sequences the material itself shall be presented to the children. That is quite an interesting way of arranging the respective roles of the religions and the teachers. This is a new form of the ancient tension between the priest and the teacher, a relationship which has an interesting shape in pluralism.

The solution to these problems lies in some properly constituted, consultative mechanism representing the various interested groups, a public arena set up by law where parents, teachers and religious groups, can properly negotiate what is to be taught. Without some such placing of control on a community basis, I do not see how religious education can ever move from the parochial setting of the transmission model into the wider sphere of the curriculum which is demanded by the cultural and social problems of today. For the Churches, the question is painful: whether to exercise control within a narrow and increasingly irrelevant sphere or to abandon control, i.e. to share power with other interested parties, thus establishing a spiritual presence in the heart of the secular curriculum. I shall return to this theme in the final part of this paper.


The problem with religious education as the study of religion lies in the ambiguity of the phenomenon. Religion is a highly ambiguous matter.(8)

At this point we have to ask ourselves about distinctions between studying religion and studying mathematics or geography. Religion occupies a unique place in the ideology of a culture. Although mathematics and geography are far from free of ideological traces, religious matters serve ideological functions in a striking and central way. This is highlighted by the Marxian analysis of religion, which will become increasingly important now that the study of Marx has been freed from the political inhibition caused by the former communist regimes of the East. In the thought of Marx religion forms part of the super structure of society. This role is played not by mathematics, nor by geography, but by religion. In industrial societies religion forms part of the over-arching framework of ideas, of culture, of presuppositions which serve as the mirror image of the industrial and economic base of that society. In medieval society the king is in his palace and the beggar is at his gate. This is the way God decreed it and so the earthly society mirrors the heavenly one. Similar but more complicated forms of superstructural religion abound in western culture today. In many of its modern forms religion is functioning as the mirror image of late industrial society. What are the implications for the way religious education is taught? Is it possible for a religious I education which is itself a product and an expression of that super structure to mount a critique of itself?

We have to find some point of reference from which the study of the ambiguity of religion can be mounted. This moves religious education into the social sciences. In speaking of religious education as the study of religion, the social science basis was already obvious. Religion is to be studied by means of a number of disciplines including anthropology, history, psychology and others. When religious education is regarded as the study of religion, theology is already in the market place with other disciplines. When one turns to religious education as the critique of religion one moves from the normal social sciences into a more critical view of the nature of the social sciences themselves.

Jurgen Habermas has distinguished three types of subject, three principal disciplines which make up the modern universe of f knowledge.(9) First there are the disciplines concerned with measurement and description such as physics, botany and biology, then those which are mainly concerned with interpretation such as history and psychology, and thirdly those which are concerned with human emancipation. He distinguishes thus between the descriptive disciplines, the interpretative disciplines, and the emancipatory disciplines. Amongst the latter he places Marxist economics and Freudian psycho-analysis. We can define religious education as one of the emancipatory disciplines within the critical social sciences, one whose goal is human freedom.

We can now conceive of religious education as performing tasks which go far beyond its role as comprising the study of religion. The task of religious education is to expose religion to itself, to re- veal the ambiguity of religion in ways which liberate adults and children from the oppressive aspects of religion, and at the same time to open up the treasures of religion, its liberating and life affirming aspects to human beings.

We may now compare religious education with deep sources of human energy, inspiration and deception like those lying within our sexuality. Religion has a power and an ambiguity both to transform and to deceive, both to build up and to destroy, similar to that of our human sexuality. Both are fundamental in energising basic human nature, both are characterised by elements of regression, of infantile fixations, both have a tendency to become fetishised, i.e. to take symbolic parts in place of wholes. They are the source of the most tragic wastefulness and also the source of our most sublime and creative human relationships. If religion is to be looked at in that way, then religious education like sexual education must adopt a critical stance. It cannot take its phenomena for granted but must adopt a critical approach towards them. The sex educationalists are dealing with something which is presented to them already. Young people bring sex into the classroom with them. So it is with religion. Young people come into the classroom with their infantile gods under their arms (10) and with the whole cultural super structure of the ideological function carried out by religion already embedded.

Ideology is that within which our identity is embedded. The ideology consists in the surrounding and unconsciously accepted framework of values, beliefs and assumptions which are so much the groundwork of our identity that we do not even notice them. Paul Ricoeur has remarked that we cannot notice our ideologies because they are not in front of our eyes; they are behind our backs. We cannot argue for them because they are the ground upon which we argue.(11) Ideology is also the reification or the projection into a belief structure of the features of our socio-political and economic life.

Finally, ideology enables groups to articulate their identities. Such ideologies enable groups to achieve historical significance. The ideology gives direction to the project of the group in the world. By the same token, ideologies have a tendency to tribalise the groups which adhere to them. It is characteristic of modern Europe that the resurgence of religion is accompanied by a revival of tribalised nationalism. Yugoslavia offers an instructive case of this. After decades of communist rule when religious distinctions were suppressed, people voted along religious and tribalistic lines at the first opportunity. Orthodox Christians voted for Orthodox politicians, Catholics voted for Catholics, Muslims voted for Muslims, and so on. The same thing is taking place in many of the Republics of the former Soviet Union.

These events illustrate the extraordinary power of religious traditions to confer identity upon groups which then become tribalised in that identity. By tribalisation I mean the way in which religions confer identity through exclusion. I am Christian precisely because I am not Muslim; I am Protestant precisely because I am not Catholic; I am a Christian precisely because I am not Asian. At this point the connection between religious identity and racism becomes rather obvious.

In these forms of exclusive identity-creation, awareness of identity becomes inflamed in times of conflict. The result is a form of delirious perception. The other, the alien, the one against whom I assert my own identity by negation and exclusion becomes a stereotype.

Now the characteristic mechanisms of ideology come into play. No longer for example does history create the Jew (which is the truth) but we have its ideological inversion, the Jew now becomes the one who creates history. Thus emerges the typology of the Jewish conspiracy to create modem Europe, and the reifications of Judaism as the alter-ego of the Arian race, and the delirious perception which conferred power and charisma upon Jews, which finally led to Auschwitz.

These forms of delirious perception lie beneath the surface of our own society. Religious education must grapple with the relationship between identity, ideology, tribalisation and nationalism in a time of multinational mixing. Above all, it must tackle the delirious perception which leads to this stereotypical view of the other, another from whom one must separate; one must dread the contamination of contact with such aliens. Finally one must engage in conflict in order to extinguish the opponent in the interests of one’s own identity. When we examine the Decade of Evangelism currently under way in England we find similar problems of tribalism, nationalism and delirious perception. This then, is the sort of thing I mean when I talk about religious education as offering a critique of religion. It can be done with young children as well as with adults. These concepts can be interpreted pedagogically for very young children as for older ones. A teacher in a nursery school was telling me recently that when she sought to gather examples of nursery rhymes from her children there was not a child in her class who knew any. All they could do was sing television jingles. These children already emptied of traditional culture are being filled by commercial jingles, being set up to enter the consumer culture. If we consider the way in which religion and the market co-operate at Christmas time to turn children into receptacles for all manner of things, we find in a simple way much of what I have been talking about. Religious education is capable of tackling these problems in a manner appropriate to children of every age and level of ability. This critique of religion is also an essential responsibility of adult education within the churches. This however implies that not all religion is false, not all is super structural, that not all religion is a mere mirror imaging of a tribalistic identity. If there is a false religion there is a true. This brings us to our third section.


One of the weaknesses of religious education considered simply as the study of religion lies in the inability of religious studies under the domination of uncritical social sciences to distinguish between true religion and false. Indeed the phenomenological method which brackets out such evaluation would say that such distinctions were not only distinctions were not only irrelevant but scientifically illegitimate. This is however false to the ideological nature of religion. In the epistle of James (1:27) we read that ‘pure and undefiled religion’ is to ‘visit orphans and widows in their affliction’. If there is a pure religion there is an impure religion, and an approach to religious education which is unable to make the distinction between the pure and the impure cannot get beyond the study of religion. It cannot understand religious education as a critique of religion because the very pre-suppositions of critique are not granted as being possible by a view of the study of religion which refuses to distinguish pure from impure religion. If false religion leads to delirious perception and tribalisation, true religion lends genuine dignity, autonomy and communion to human beings. In that sense religious education is a gift to human development. In Birmingham we have created what we think is a new approach to the teaching of religion to young children.(12) We have developed ways to present the beauty and holiness of religion to young f children directly, almost without preliminaries. Our technique is to confront children immediately with the direct representations of religion in its beauty and holiness. Through a variety of teaching techniques we invite children to identify themselves with these holy objects and realities, but then to retreat and to distance themselves. We have created a series of techniques which we call ‘entering devices’ which enable children to identify with the materials, and ‘distancing devices’ which protect them from inappropriate intimacy. We are discovering that through this teaching technique it is possible for religious education to give gifts to children. This is an empirical claim and we hope to start a three-year project in which we shall seek to assess it. We hope to discover whether this kind of religious education has equipped the imaginations of children in such a way as to deepen their vocabulary, to give them greater curiosity, to deepen their empathy, to strength-en their faith in the case of those children who have faith, to heighten their sense of dignity and independence in the case of children who do not come from religious families, and thus to offer gifts to the general education and human development of children.

Not all the gifts of religion need themselves be religious. Thoth, the god of wisdom in Ancient Egypt, gave his people not only religion but writing, medicine, culture, literature and poetry. All these gifts came from the gods. Similarly not all the gifts of religious education need be religious. Religious education can give secular gifts to human development. These are available not only to those who believe in religion, but to those who study it. It would be curious if religious education did not offer religious gifts. Accordingly the distinction between religious nurture and religious education which was so important ten or fifteen years ago is less significant today. While we should carefully distinguish those children who are to study religion from those children who are also to be nurtured in religion, both functions of religious education are possible and legitimate. If, however, religious education succeeds in deepening identity and in opening each to the other, it will occupy a unique position in the spirituality and morality of the curriculum.


In the last paragraph of his famous sermon ‘The Yoke of Religion’ written more than forty years ago, Paul Tillich said this about the teaching of Christianity.

It would not be worthwhile to teach Christianity, if it were for the sake of Christianity. And believe me, you who are estranged from Christianity, it is not our purpose to make you religious and Christian when we interpret the call of Jesus for our time. We call Jesus the Christ not because He brought a new religion, but because He is the end of religion, above religion and irreligion, above Christianity and non-Christianity. We spread His call because it is the call to every man in every period to receive the New Being... 13

It is not worthwhile teaching Christianity if it is taught merely as Christianity. What does this mean? We have to distinguish between a Christian religious education which seeks to propagate itself and a Christian religious education which seeks to serve humanity. Need these two things be different? They need not be, but such is the ambiguity of religion that they may be different. We have seen already how certain kinds of Christian religious education far from serving humanity serve only to tribalise humanity by building up delirious perception. Christian identity is itself ambiguous. This can be illustrated by contrasting two approaches towards a theology of evangelism.

First there is a theology of evangelism which is a supplanting approach, i.e. the view that evangelism consists in seeking to replace Muslim beliefs in my Muslim friend by Christian beliefs. Faith in Islam would be supplanted. Its place will be taken by Christian belief so at the end of the day there will no longer be any Muslims, or Sikhs left in the world. They will all have become Christians. It is regrettable that many Christians adopt this view because it feeds tribal identities. It seeks to reinforce tribal identities by glorying in the cessation of other identities. Authentic Christian mission must scrutinize this view and religious education must carefully distance itself from it.

The second theology of evangelism draws upon the mission of Jesus, the work of the Galilean Christ as recorded in the synoptic gospels. In the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth there is little or no trace of a supplanting view of evangelism. There is little evidence that Jesus was interested in getting other people to share his religious views. He had plenty of opportunities to do so. In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel the Samaritan woman tried to draw Jesus into a dispute between religions with the question ‘our fathers worshipped on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where we ought to worship.’ Would Jesus seek to supplant Samaritan faith with genuine Jewish faith? No. Jesus was completely indifferent to the question. ‘Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father...true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’ (Jn 4:21, 23). Indeed he spoke somewhat critically of those who cross sea and land to make one’ proselyte, to gain one convert. (Matt 23:15). What then was the mission of Jesus? In Luke, Chapters 9 and 10, we find that it was not a mission which sought to transplant beliefs from one position to another but one which sought to heal the sick and to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. (Luke 9:1; 10:9). When religious education is described as a ministry of healing and emancipation, a criticism is sometimes levelled against it. Christianity it is said, is being used. It has now become instrumental and is used by education for purposes other than those intrinsic to Christianity itself.

At this point a fundamental question about the nature of the Christian faith itself arises. Is it the mission of Christianity today to propagate itself or to serve humanity? If Christianity is to be inspired by Jesus Christ the answer is clear. Christianity did not emerge as a religion amongst the religions of the world in opposition to them. It emerged as a vision of a new humanity, in which Greek and Jew, circumcised and the uncircumcised (distinctions between religions), male and female, slaves and free, would all be one, (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11), the Christ person in whom all these distinctions were overcome and made into one glorious mishmash. (2 Cor 5:17). Separation, however, is very important to many religious people and the distinctions between the religious traditions are held to be extremely significant. That does not seem to me to be the view of the New Testament or of Jesus. Let us take the situation where Peter had the vision of the great sheet lowered down from heaven (Acts 10:11). In the sheet were all sorts of animals representing various taboos which Peter had been faithfully taught to observe, holy and sacred things about his faith, things which should have been carefully separate and distinct from one another, all jumbled up together in a glorious mishmash. A voice from heaven said ‘Rise, Peter, kill and eat’. Peter said ‘No, Lord, because I have never eaten anything which is common or unclean’. He did not want to be contaminated by such a failure to distinguish. The answer came ‘What God has cleaned you must not call unclean’. Let us take one final example of an instrumental view of Christian faith. On the Sabbath day Jesus is watched in the synagogue by the Pharisees and the Scribes to see what he will do about a man with a withered hand who has come into the synagogue to seek healing. Jesus said to the man ‘Come and stand here’. They all watched to see what he would do. Looking around upon them Jesus said ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ When they made no reply he said to the man ‘Stretch out your hand’, and it was made whole. (Luke 6:6-11). Here we see a prophet who was unwilling to accept , the distinctions, the legitimate and necessary structures of self-perpetuation which had been transmitted to him by his own spiritual tradition. This reminds us of the saying 'People were not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for people’. (Mark 2:27). If that was said by Jesus of the Sabbath, the most central and sacred institution of his own tradition, should we not as inheritors of the Spirit of Jesus say it also of our own faith? People were not made for Christianity but Christianity for people. We must regard the whole of the Christian tradition as being used by God in a divine mission which is greater than Christianity, of which Christianity is the servant, and which points to the Kingdom of God. My understanding of religious education can be summed up in the expression ‘out of pain into pain.’ Religious education is to enable young people and adults to be delivered from their own personal pain and to shoulder the pain of the world. But how can the pure and the impure in religion be distinguished? The answer is a fairly simple one. Every religious image, doctrine or tradition which opens people up to human pain is a pure religion. Every religion which closes people off from human pain is an impure religion. The task of religious education then is to enable young people, under the stimulus of the religious and Christian imagery, and in the context of the spiritual traditions of all humanity, to mature out of their own pain and thus to embrace the pain of all humanity. In this way the mission of Christianity may be fulfilled by pointing us all towards the Kingdom of God.

The Mission of Religious Education in England and Ireland.

Although the different approaches to religious education which we have been considering may be thought of as universal types, international comparisons cannot leap from the concrete characteristics of particular traditions to conclusions about policy merely by means of these abstract types. From the point of view of scholarship and the exchange of ideas, religious education is no doubt part of the global village, but at the same time, the legal framework within which it operates from one nation state to another is part of the historical legacy of each country. Every actual religious education has been shaped by the history of religions between religions, between religion and state, as well as religion and religion. Even the expression ‘religious education’ means different things in different countries. Religious education in England and Ireland has been influenced by the different character which pluralism has taken. English Christianity became pluralistic in the 16th century with the emergence of distinctions between Catholicism and Protestanism, and within Protestanism distinctions between Presbyterianism, Congregationalism and others. The Quakers appeared in the 17th century, Methodists in the 18th, while Catholic emancipation put Roman Catholicism back into the denominational marketplace in the early 19th century. With the coming of the ecumenical movement in the 20th century, the Agreed Syllabus emerged as the management structure for curriculum decision-making in a pluralist society. Between 1920 and 1970, however, the emphasis was upon agreement rather than upon plurality. The Agreed Syllabus was a device for enabling a single (although reduced) Christian world view to be presented in spite of pluralism.

From the late 1960’s or early 1970's a change came over English religious education which has to be interpreted sociologically as well as educationally. Plurality was no longer disguised but studied. It was no longer a problem but an educational opportunity. Over a period of about 20 years, a new consensus was formed. This was inspired mainly by liberalism, and by the scholarly study of religion using phenomenology as its technique. The nurturing of faith was seen as the task of the religious community or Church while the State religious curriculum was dedicated to increasing an understanding of religion in a pluralist context. This pluralist context was no longer confined to the Christian traditions but embraced the major religions of the world. This widening of the horizons was not only linked to the increased ethnic diversity of the English population, especially in the industrial cities, but to an increasing awareness of the dangers of a Euro-centred approach. Moreover, religious radicalism was no longer taking a merely secularist and existentialist form as it had been during the 1960’s, but was increasingly influenced by justice and peace issues, informed by a more sophisticated social and historical understanding of the role of religion. Religious education was now not only seen as making a contribution to the search for a faith to live by on the part of the individual student, but as having a role to play in the conscientisation of the school community, the entire curriculum, religious groups and family life. Religious education became increasingly aware of the ambiguity of its position towards racism, the oppression of women and the perpetuation of the structures of economic injustice. These trends, both in religion and in religious education, did not go unchallenged, nor was the conflict confined to religion. The 1988 Education Reform Act may be regarded as the triumph of conservatism. An attempt was made to restore the instructional model based on Christianity. The ‘integrity’ of each religious tradition was not seen as central to religious education, and the ideal pattern would be a separate faith instruction, from Christian teachers to Christian children, with similar rights extended to children from other faiths. This is not the place to examine these trends in detail, but enough has been said to see some striking contrasts and similarities with the situation in Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, pluralism has been relatively slight. An attempt was made to solve significant differences between Catholic and Protestant by territorial demarcation, leaving the northern counties as the cockpit of conflict. In the south, Christian instruction conceived mainly in doctrinal terms under Church patronage but informed by a generally tolerant spirit of openness and enquiry occupied the field, whilst in the north two systems of instruction faced each other, each bound intimately into struggles about identity and culture.

I will not make any attempt to comment on the painful situation in Northern Ireland. As for the Republic, the first question is the relationship between religious society and secular society, between religious tradition and the character of the State. If this can be solved in a manner so as to make possible the participation of religious education in the curriculum as a whole, in some way that is professionally, educationally and culturally respectable, the next issue will undoubtedly be pluralism. Monolithic instruct- ional traditions when penetrated by the needs of a secular society cannot resist the widening horizons of world religions. If the English experience is anything to go by, and we have seen how profoundly different it is, this stage of religious pluralism will bring about a conservative reaction which will lead to the radicalisation of the mission of religious education.

With some caution, we may discern the outline of three consecutive stages in the development of religious education in modem national states. Monoreligious traditional instruction gives way to multi-cultural education for understanding. This in turn becomes dialectical through controversy, leading to a heightened awareness of the ambiguity of religion and a reformation of the goals of religious education in the direction of the Kingdom of God, of the ideals of international peace and justice.

This three-stage theory is made more complex when we place Ireland and England within the context of the European community, and of the wider geographical and economic space of Europe as a whole. The question of religious education within Europe turns into the question of the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world. Is religious education about to enter a new period of Christian conservatism, when European culture and Christian tradition will be increasingly identified with each other, to their mutual satisfaction? Or are we entering a period of repentance, when the relationship between Christian faith and European culture will be seen in dialectical terms, so that Christian faith urges European religious education away from the gods of the European dream toward the God of all people?

For modem European religious education, the man from Macedonia, who first appeared in a vision to Saint Paul calling Christianity from Asia into Europe, is now experienced in reverse. Instead of the man from Macedonia, modem religious education is haunted by the child from the streets and the sewers of Bogota. My child is lost in the sewers of Bogota, Colombia, and I must go and find him. A religious education which thus strives to bring young people and adults out of pain and into pain will be an educational enterprise worthy of Christian discipleship.