A balancing act…

Recently I compared the purpose of RE to a three legged stool! This was at the #REamIbother’d? conference near Bedford. My short five minute input was one of many contributions on the purpose of RE. My own contribution was based on the paper ‘Rethinking RE’ that I have worked on with other colleagues. You can view the full paper here:


When we have a meaningful conversation with someone it is usually (although not always) when we are sitting down. We need a stool or a chair. If the purpose of RE is to enable children to hold an informed conversation about religion and belief, then they need to have a chair to sit on to hold this conversation that does not tip over or wobble…. they need a chair which has legs which are balanced and stable. The easiest way to create balance is to have a three legged chair or stool. Three legs provides a stable equilibrium because mathematically three points determine a plane.

In our ‘Rethinking RE’ paper we suggest that the three legs of the stool are:

three legged stool

The theological

The philosophical

The social


Our paper focuses primarily on the ‘theological’ leg, because at the moment we do not think this leg is long enough. In fact we think it is pretty non existent in lots of RE that we see. So the chair falls over. The ‘theological’ ( I take a broad understanding of this term – see previous blogs) means children engage with the big concepts of religion and belief such as God. Issues of authority and diversity in terms of interpretation of truth or doctrine are grappled and wrestled with. The reason why people do the things they do is at the heart of this. It is about meaning and understanding. I think we rarely see this in schools. So my stool is not very balanced.

The philosophical (and perhaps the ethical sits well here too) is about questions of meaning, purpose and truth; issues such as why am I here? Is morality important? Does happiness exist?…. I think we see this in some schools, but it is not rigorous or challenging, it often descends into what pupils think. This leg definitely exists in schools, but I think it might have wood worm as it is not very strong and robust at all.

The sociological ( and the anthropological) is about the lived reality of beliefs in the 21st Century; issues of plurality and diversity are explored. This aspect is seen more in schools, but is often not actually about the lived reality of religion, but the ‘construct’ of religion or a ‘textbook’ or ‘chocolate box’ approach. There is no engagement with plurality within or between expressions of belief. This leg is exists but is perhaps from the wrong chair! It is too short and the wrong shape.

I like analogies and pictures, and I know this one has flaws. However, in order that our religious education is effective we need to ensure that it is balanced. Our ‘Rethinking RE’ paper is one contribution to helping rebalance the stool again by ‘firming up the theological leg’. However, my concern remains that the stool is still currently unbalanced…