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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
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Volume 32 Number 1
Spring 2005

Rethinking Religious Education and Plurality:
Issues in Public Religious Education

Robert Jackson

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the American Academy of Religion meeting in San Antonio, Texas, in November 2004, about some of the issues raised in my recent book Rethinking Religious Education and Plurality: Issues in Diversity and Pedagogy.1 Although I wrote the book primarily in relation to the English educational scene, I took account of some developments in other parts of Europe (in particular, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and France) and also gave some attention to recent developments in South Africa. I am pleased that there is now the opportunity to receive some responses and reactions to the book, especially in relation to the debate about religion and public education in the USA.

This opening paper will give a brief résumé of the main themes in the text. The book reflects developments in religious education in England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have different systems), and readers need to understand that ‘religious education’ in publicly funded community schools is fundamentally about giving pupils a knowledge and understanding of religions, and the opportunity to reflect on their learning. The subject has evolved over time to the extent that its current aims are very different from those in the past. In England and Wales, at least until the late 1950s, religious education in fully publicly funded schools was a form of Christian instruction that had moral and civic as well as spiritual goals.

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