Towards the origin of Statement Three

We have considered Statement Three with which the chapter began against the questions ‘Flow did the statement become possible at that particular moment? Were there constraints that had prevented this practice from developing earlier which—by being lifted—create new ‘historic circumstances of possibility’?63 We must now consider Alves’ statement in the same way.

The answer to these questions can be found—to some extent—in theological and ecclcsiological developments that were concurrent with the developments in RE. The promulgation of the Decree Nostra Aetate (‘Relations with non-Christian religions’) by the Second Vatican Council in October 1965 is one route by which we can understand these changing constraints.64 Nostra Aetate has been shown to be the first widely circulated declaration through which the Catholic Church endorses dialogue between Christians and non-Christians.65 The Decree marked a substantial discontinuity in the Vatican’s position towards non-Christians. Consistent with its development, the discussion of relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism make up a greater part of the Nostra Aetate, although Islam is also discussed in some detail.66 In both regards, the decree focused on that which is held in common, emphasizing the shared heritage of Judaism and Christianity, and setting out a ‘high regard for the Muslim’, going on to say, ‘Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding’.67 The promulgation of Nostra Aetate, in combination with the earlier establishment of the Secretariat for Non-Christians by Pope Paul VI, created circumstances in which dialogue with non-Christians became legitimized within the Catholic tradition. There were concurrent developments in the Protestant traditions, exemplified in the work and activities of the World Council of Churches.68

Furthermore, the creation of these circumstances at this particular point became possible as a result of a longer-term discursive reconstruction of the non-Christian by both Protestant and Catholic groups. A long-term process of re-positioning non-Christian from ‘enemy’ to ‘ally’, seen principally within the Protestant global ecumenical movement between 1910 and 1928 but continuing into the 1960s, created circumstances within which it was possible not only to engage positively in dialogue about non-Christian faith traditions but also to dialogue with them. The frequent construction of non-Christian as ‘enemy’ within the dominant domain of discourse during the earliest period (prior to 1910) had acted as a substantial constraint, restricting the discussion of and with those of other worldviews and confining interactions to missionary endeavour with the specific aim of conversion to Christianity, which constructed itself as the ‘supreme’ faith.69 As the non-Christian became more positively constructed, especially during the 1920s and 1930s, these constraints were cased and, by the mid-1960s, they were lifted sufficiently tor dialogue to take place between Christian and non-Christian religious representatives.

For as long as the non-Christian was constructed as ‘enemy’, any discussion with, and/or about them, was constrained. This constraint within the theological discourse also acted on the educational discourse; the study of non-Christian religions for any reason other than to assert the supremacy of Christianity was virtually impossible. Once the constraints were lifted within the theological discourse, to think about studying (and, indeed, to study) non-Christian religions and belief systems became a legitimate activity within the educational discourse.

Consequently, by the time Alves was writing in 1967-8, it was beginning to be legitimate to actively encourage the study of non-Christian traditions, and to argue that, ‘We can, and should, learn from men of other faiths theistic and non-theistic and they from us’.70 However, this legitimacy seems to have expanded over the following few years, meaning that by the time that

Statement Three appeared in WP36 in 1971, it was taken up in a different way, under different rules of repetition, and repeated more widely.

The programmatic nature of Statement Three

We now consider the programmatic nature of Statement Three. In what way does this statement ‘try to impose a vision or spell out most clearly a new way of conceptualizing a problem’?71 A cursory examination of many of the statements included in WP36 to support the adoption of the study of world religions demonstrates the extent to which the document draws on previously available materials and pre-existing discourses rather than being novel and initiating them. However, this lack of novelty does not diminish the extent to which the statements can be considered to be programmatic.

Whilst many of the key ideas contained in WP36 had been published previously, it is not clear to what degree they had been taken up elsewhere. Considering the document more generally, it is important to highlight that up until now, discussions of WP36 in terms of what is taught (content) and how it is taught (method) have not been adequately differentiated, an oversight that leads to an inappropriate conflation of the issues.

Focusing then on the statements within WP36 that emphasize the content of RE, Statement Three is central to the argument developed by the authors. They clearly set out to persuade the reader that the study of non-Christian religions and worldviews is essential to the nature and purpose of RE as they see it. Statement Three appears in the first chapter ( ‘Why study religion in school?’), and is positioned within a series of quotations from other sources, each of which serves to expand the horizons of RE beyond a narrow confessional study of Christianity. Statement Three is included in a section which focuses on ‘modern educational theory’, wherein justifications are rehearsed for the study of world religions.72 These appeal to a variety of Government reports (each of which supports the teaching of religion in schools but none of which refers directly to Christianity) and statements from a range of constituencies including the Christian Education Movement, the British Council of Churches, The Social Morality Council and the Birmingham Community Relations Committee.73

The argument that students should study non-Christian religions is developed in Chapter VII of the Working Paper (Non-Christian Religions and the Religious Needs of Minority Groups). Here, the authors argue emphatically that the justification for the study of non-Christian traditions is an educational one rather than one that has its basis solely in the rise of immigration.74

Chapter 7 of WP36 demonstrates that the discursive construction of ‘immigrant’ in WP36 is significantly different from the construction in the wider educational discourse of the time in two particular ways. Firstly, WP36 is more specific, focusing on the religious aspects of immigration. Secondly, the writers of WP36 construct immigration more positively than is the case in the wider discourse. They emphasize the benefits of religious immigration, highlighting the possibilities offered (‘the presence of members of different faiths should be welcomed as an asset in religious education’) and stating decisively the willingness of ‘religious others’ to engage with Christians: ‘Most of the immigrant communities in Britain at the present time are liberal-minded and anxious to co-operate with Christians.’75 Evidence for this is not presented but may be based on materials presented elsewhere in WP36 from the Birmingham Community Relations Council, which appear to be very willing to engage in co-operation.76 The desire for reciprocity is expressed in other ways too: ‘We believe that in a multi-racial and pluralistic society there must be dialogue between those holding different beliefs and growth in mutual understanding, not the widening of inherited divisions’.77 This assertion is significant. There is both an equating of the terms ‘multi-racial’ and ‘pluralistic’ and an implicit suggestion here of a shift in the conception of pluralism.

It is useful to note the distinction made by the theologian Lesslie Newb-igin at this point; he suggests that pluralism can be understood in two ways.78 Firstly, as a present reality, such a pluralism is a major feature seen in both the Biblical narrative and evident throughout Christian history.79 Within this understanding, pluralism is simply the acknowledgement that ‘peoples of many ethnic origins and of many different religious commitments live together’.80 Secondly, where this present reality becomes an ideological aspiration-, ‘the belief that pluralism is to be encouraged and desired’.81 In short, there is a move from a descriptive to a prescriptive understanding of pluralism. This distinction is important, yet it appears to have been frequently overlooked in the discussion of pluralism within the historiography of English RE. There is a wide base of evidence that pluralism as a present reality was being engaged with across the educational system. However, at this point in WP36, there appears to have been a shift from this understanding of pluralism as a present reality to pluralism as aspiration. Such a shift is further evidenced by Statement Three and others, including ‘Tolerance alone is not enough. Pupils belonging to minority faiths need to feel that their way of life is understood and its true worth appreciated’.82

Statement Three, then, is clearly programmatic inasmuch as it attempts to persuade the reader of the validity of the approach to RE that the authors of WP36 arc articulating. It is a call to expand the teaching of religions and belief systems beyond Christianity rather than to initiate it. The statement can be seen as a rhetorical device designed to normalize the practice by suggesting that it is already in use.

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