A school subject about truth-seeking and way-seeking

I am linked to the AfterRE project, a research project funded by Culham St Gabriel’s which is asking questions and exploring possibilities about the next stage in development of the subject, Religious Education. This is a think piece that is linked to that project.

How the world thinks

In his conclusion to the first section of his book How the World Thinks, Julian Baggini suggests that philosophy is differently conceived across the world. One objective that seeks to pin down reality (he says the world) as a truth-seeker, fixed on getting an understanding of things right, with conceptual clarity. Another objective is the concern of a way-seeker, attempting to navigate life, how to live and act while engaged in the world.

“Philosophy in the West has always aspired to be more of a science: rigorous, precise, describing reality as it is. In the East it is more of an art of living.”

Baggini, Julian. How the World Thinks (p. 143). Granta Publications. Kindle Edition.

Baggini contends that philosophy needs both.

“These two projects are related, of course. You understand the world at least in part to get around it, and you can’t have an interest in getting around it without also knowing something about the way it is.”

Baggini, Julian. How the World Thinks (pp. 143-144). Granta Publications. Kindle Edition.

What might RE learn from Baginni’s reflection on Philosophy?

Baggini’s thinking about philosophy could be applied to current discussions about the future of the subject of Religious Education (RE) (See here, here and here for example) which has been framed under a new phrase Religion and Worldviews. Historically the subject of RE has probably often contained a balance between these two strands. On the one hand a focus on asking ultimate questions of existential importance about the fundamental nature of truth – truth-seeking as found in the scholarship of Divinity, theologies, and philosophies, seeking to answer questions of the meaning of life. On the other, the study of ‘way-seeking’ – the more embodied search for meaning in life as enacted and practiced through traditions and communities of way seeking.

The current debate in RE can seem quite focussed on definitions of Worldviews. However the focus could on both Religion and Worldviews, treating it as a compound concept, a constructed concept of multiple parts. Religious Education is a compound concept with a particular sense of religious and education brought into a particular relationship. Failure in understanding those sense and that relationship is one reason for the subject being conflated with faith development.

Treating Religion and Worldviews as a particular compound concept in the context of school education in England, could allow a subject that combines both truth-seeking and way-seeking; the meaning of life and meaning in life.

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