I spent last week ‘in residence’ at the University of Bristol as part of a knowledge exchange project. You can read more about the nature of the ‘Shared Space’ project (see link below) but this short blog is not about the knowledge that was exchanged per se. This blog seeks to show the impact of dialogic exchange or as Janet Orchard (Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol), terms it ‘hanging out’ or participating in a ‘theology of loitering’….
I spoke to theologians, social and political scientists, psychologists, educationalists and teachers. Janet and I ‘hung out’ (had lots of coffee) with all these different people, it was fab; we listened, we observed, we shared. We then thought and reflected a lot, discussed, tested ideas with one another and considered ways forward for our RE community.
Yes, I learnt (in terms of knowledge) a huge amount about contact theory (thanks to Shelley), intergroup climate ( thanks to Jason), theology in the public square (thanks to Gavin), the nature of integration and multi-culturalism (thanks to Jon), the importance of content and process in terms of rethinking religious education for social change (thanks to Claire), the implications of contact theory for RE (thanks to Katy) and the distinctive contribution of theology to development politics (thanks to Martin). I hope I also shared my knowledge of RE classrooms as well as my own PhD thesis on creating space from a theological perspective.
In particular the following questions were raised for me in terms of religious education:
– what is the relationship between content and process in RE? Do we need a new language to shape this?
– what evidence do we actually have that RE promotes good community relations? Is this an appropriate purpose and/or outcome for RE?
– how important is experiencing diversity?
– what does it mean to say that education is transformative?
– are we (theologians, social scientists etc) saying the same things but using different language or is what we are saying actually different?
– do seating plans in school RE classrooms make a difference? What criteria do we use to devise plans? What impact does this have?
However, it was seeing the connections between the disciplines of theology and the social and human sciences that was particularly powerful. How, as educators and academics, we bring different perspectives to the same issues and can potentially deepen and broaden our understanding if we spend time with one another grappling with complex issues in dialogue and conversation with one another.
Last year around the same time I went to Rome with a group of headteachers on a ‘retreat’ (see previous blogs) and this emphasised to me the importance of taking time out from our busy schedules to think creatively, to reflect and consider in different ways what we are doing in our day to day practice as educators. This year, the knowledge exchange provided a different way of undertaking a ‘retreat’. I highly recommend it to everyone who is at a similar point to me in their career…
A knowledge exchange… yes it was… but it was also a dialogic exchange…
https://www.natre.org.uk/about-natre/projects/the-shared-space-project/ Information on the shared space project