Religion, Culture & Society: key to understanding diversity

King, Carolyn orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3347-2971 (2022) Religion, Culture & Society: key to understanding diversity. In: 3rd International Conference on Education (EDU2022), 26-29 September, Remote.

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Britain can certainly claim to be a pluralistic, democratic society hosting a population as diverse in ‘race’ and ethnicity as it is in faith, belief systems and cultural traditions. Therefore, it is crucial that different communities within pluralistic Britain not only understand each other’s belief systems, practices and cultural traditions, but also accept and support difference. In accomplishing this aim, it is equally vital that the youth are educated about the diversified and multi-faceted nature of the society they live in and global humanity around them. A central tenant of Religious Education (RE) is engaging in critical and evaluative analysis of different faith systems and cultural heritages. Through studying RE, we can begin to appreciate and understand not only traditional heritage, values and cultural practices, but also the nature of religion and belief systems in direct relation to humanity and human development. This phenomenon applies historically to the development of social and cultural settings worldwide but also underpins the acquisition of knowledge and the meaning of law, sociology, politics, economics, education, philosophy, art, literature etc. Basically, Religious Education provides excellent preparation for real life engagement living and working in a pluralistic society and an ever growing global community. Further, RE informs past, present and future understandings of difference and developments globally and gives us an insight to current events that affect the global community; for example, the 2018 insurgencies in Thailand, the Syrian refugee crises and asylum seekers escaping the near genocide in Sudan.

Accordingly, RE is part of the National Curriculum in England and Wales and therefore compulsory for students in primary and secondary state funded schools. However, RE is not compulsory at General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Level like other Humanities subjects such as History or Geography. This is a direct consequence of Government reforms including the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which push students towards Science, Technology, Economics, Math (STEM) subjects. The Baccalaureate is a rather deplorable mechanism to measure education in league tables. The exclusion of RE from the EBacc is having extreme and damaging effects. Not only does this foster a real lack of awareness of valuing difference, but also lack of awareness of how to support diversity and why community cohesion is important. RE engages with inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue, without it the youth are prevented from truly understanding and appreciating multicultural societies or global events.

I would argue the short-sighted reform brought about by the previous coalition government and supported by the current government undermines policies such as community cohesion, social inclusion, multicultural value of difference etc. and instead fuels ignorance, mistrust, division, intolerance, fear and social unrest. Religious Education ensures students learn about different ways of life locally, nationally and internationally, generating genuine understanding of Other – and we need it in our schools!

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