'Who do you say I am?': Young people's conceptions of Jesus
Date: 15 May 2009
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Doctor of Philosophy in Education
‘When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the Prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said, ‘who do you, say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up and said, ‘You are the Christ, the ...
‘When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the Prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said, ‘who do you, say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew, 16: 13-16). This thesis reports the findings of an empirical study conducted in England investigating young people’s conceptions of Jesus. The study, which adopted a qualitative approach, employed an open ended questionnaire completed by over five hundred students, and follow up semi-structured interviews with twenty four of those students. Findings from this study confirmed those of previous studies in the field (Alves, 1968; Astley & Francis, 1996; Claerhout & Declercq, 1970; Cox, 1967; Francis & Astley, 1997; Hyde, 1965; Loukes, 1961; Madge, 1965, 1971; Savin-Williams, 1977). As in previous research, the majority of young people in this sample expressed generally favourable views towards Jesus; emphasised Jesus’ humanity rather than his divinity; and expressed reservations regarding the miracles of Jesus and the reliability of the Gospel accounts. In addition, this study extended the findings of previous studies by demonstrating that the conceptions of Jesus held by participants were largely determined by their predominantly scientific and positivist world-views. Moreover, responses from young people participating in this study indicated that students were often unaware that the views they held were contingent and grounded in particular ontological and epistemological assumptions. So whilst religious beliefs were subject to critical scrutiny, the assumptions underpinning the students’ own positions were not. Consequently, this thesis argues that to engage fully with the beliefs of others, students need to be more cognisant of the principles underlying their own beliefs, religious or otherwise. Furthermore, drawing upon the hermeneutical framework of Hans-George Gadamer (2004), this thesis proposes that commitment to genuine dialogue should be at the heart of contemporary religious education. Finally, this thesis concludes by making recommendations for future research in religious education.
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