‘That Would be an Ecumenical Matter’: Contextualizing the Adoption of the Study of World Religions in English Religious Education Using 'Statement Archaeology', a Systematic Operationalization of Foucault's Historical Method
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To enable publication of the research as a book
It is claimed that during the 1960s and 1970s a new chapter in the history of English Religious Education (hereafter RE) began. Christian Confessionalism, whereby children were introduced to, nurtured in, and encouraged to adopt, the Christian faith, was swept aside and replaced by a non-confessional, phenomenological, multi-faith model, in which children were introduced to a variety of World Religions, with the aim that they would become more understanding of and tolerant towards others. Subsequently the study of World Religions (hereafter SWR) was adopted at all phases of the school system. Whilst this transition has been subjected to a wealth of historical analysis, existing accounts concentrate on narrative reconstructions of what happened, rather than investigating the complex interaction of discourses that created circumstances in which the change became possible. By framing analysis within national boundaries these reconstructions also overlook supranational influences. Thus, the supranational ecumenical movement (concerned with achieving greater unity and co-operation between denominationally separated Christian groups) has hitherto been largely overlooked. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s historical methods, I have developed a critical methodology, which examines how certain practices become possible. This method, Statement Archaeology, follows Foucault in emphasizing ‘discontinuities’, ‘statements’, and the search for the ‘relative beginnings’ of particular practices. Deploying the method entailed a detailed forensic exploration of relevant primary, unutilized, sources drawn from relevant domains of ecumenical discourses at both supranational (World Council of Churches) and national (British Council of Churches) levels. These sources were identified by tracing the provenance, and origin, of ecumenical statements repeated within Schools Council Working Paper 36 (1971). A ‘compound’ framework of understanding, combining the notions of Governmentality and Normalization, has been used. The thesis presents a number of original contributions to knowledge. By focusing on the multiple intersections of supranational and national domains of ecumenical discourse, Statement Archaeology reveals a much greater level of complexity than has hitherto been described and exposes a more nuanced understanding of how it became possible for SWR to be adopted, suggesting that the ‘relative beginnings’ of the practice are located—to some extent—in national ecumenical discourses. Further, supranational issues that affected these processes are unearthed, and motivations behind them are exposed, thus highlighting the importance of incorporating ecumenical discourses into the historiography of RE. The research also problematizes some assertions that have become characteristic of the existing historical narrative. Amongst other things, it disputes the existing positioning of Working Paper 36, highlights the problematic positioning of ‘mass immigration’ as a causal factor in adoption of SWR, and exposes a complexity of terminology, none of which appear to have been examined previously. These findings have application both in England and elsewhere, and are briefly discussed in relation to two other national contexts where approaches akin to SWR have been adopted. Finally, the limitations of the study are discussed and recommendations made for further work.
PhD in Education