Everyone a theologian?

All schools should explore ways of extending pupils’ ability to think theologically and engage in theological enquiry as part of their learning in RE

(Making a Difference: A Review of RE in Church of England Schools p.31)

In the last year, there has been discussion about what this might look like in Church of England schools. There have been many different suggestions and so here are my thoughts. I need to stress that these are not fully formed or researched. They represent my current thinking- which is subject to change!

I decided I needed to get some thoughts down on paper after hearing an excellent contribution to the debate from Mary Hawes, National Going for Growth (Children and Youth) Adviser, at a recent Diocesan RE advisers conference.

I have tried to represent my thinking in a diagram. Let me explain it!

Screenshot 2015-07-29 09.06.09


Everyone has the ability to think theologically and to participate in inclusive theological enquiry

This will depend however on one’s view of theological enquiry!! So here it is… this is what I think theological enquiry means:
going beyond the mere collecting of information about religion and belief
enabling children and young people to encounter and wrestle with fundamental questions about God
engaging children and young people with the core beliefs, ideas and concepts in religions and worldviews ( in my particular context as a Diocesan adviser this often means a focus on the Christian faith)
involving children and young people in exploring inner meanings and interpretation of ‘texts’ and more broadly the meta-narratives of the world of religion and belief

This means going deeper with the learning experience and in my view will involve strategies like:

-interpreting sacred texts
-using different ‘lenses’ to explore ‘big ideas’ and perspectives
-engaging with members of faith and belief communities
-using strategies like close reading and double entry journals
-embracing the tricky issues
-using ‘I wonder’ questions
-encouraging extended writing
-creating a hypothesis and testing it

This understanding of theological enquiry or engaging in theological thinking is represented by the blue circle. It means that anyone can do this kind of theological thinking, most importantly it does not take a perspective from within a faith tradition. It brings together many disciplines, many of which I used when I did my own theology degree.

This form of theological enquiry, in my view, supports religious literacy as the primary purpose of RE.

My thinking does not assume that humans are predisposed to asking theological questions, rather that theological enquiry is about the development of skills to support an in depth knowledge and understanding of religion and belief. It is about effective pedagogy to enable effective learning in RE to take place.

Theology is also done from within a faith or belief tradition.

In my diagram, Christian (or any other religion or worldview) theology sits within the wider understanding of theological enquiry. Every pupil in the class will have a faith or belief perspective, even if it is that they claim to have none. Therefore within the circle of theological enquiry, there are theologies that represent a range of world views- these are in a sense numerous and unlimited. I have represented these by red circles.

When a pupil sits within a particular faith or belief perspective they are in a sense ‘doing theology’ from within. They are bringing their perspective to bear on the larger theological enquiry. This might mean that they bring certain perspectives, perhaps certain skills or approaches to their learning that are grounded in their own belief system. Some might bring for example a particular reading of a scriptural text to their learning experience, or they may bring an experience of attending a certain festival which they ‘interpret’ from within. This is represented by the yellow arrows pointing out of the red circles. Theological perspectives from within, bring a richness and diversity to the RE classroom. Different ‘theologies from within’ may also interact with each other. So that one theological perspective may learn from another….theologies might change, be formed or transformed as a result.

The broader theological enquiry will, by its nature interact with the theologies within the red circles. This means it may comment on the theology, it may challenge it, it may critique it and analyse it. This is the job of theological enquiry. This interaction is represented by the green arrows.

My assertion here is that to ensure theological enquiry in Church of England schools is inclusive, we need to be clear about the interaction of theological enquiry and Christian (and other) theology. The two are not the same. My thinking suggests that Christian theology sits within the wider frame of theological enquiry. My diagram allows for diversity within and between ‘theologies’. This means that Christian theology will be explored, analysed and interpreted within the context of broader theological enquiry. This is what the National Society Statement of Entitlement for RE states as some of the outcomes for pupils in church schools.


The views expressed here are my own and do not represent any organisation that I work for.

Click to access statement%20of%20entitlement%20to%20re%20in%20ce%20schools%20(3).pdf

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I’m an independent Religious Education Consultant. I work mainly in the Eastern Region for the Diocese of Norwich, and also for Culham St Gabriel’s Trust managing their TeachRE course. The views here are my own, and do not represent any of the organisations I work for.

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