Whilst on holiday earlier this month I read The Naked Diplomat by Tom Fletcher (2017). In this book, Fletcher considers how we (all of us) can survive and thrive in the 21st century and advocates what he calls ‘citizen diplomacy’. This resonated with me, because of his emphasis on conversation (2017, p.266). He argues that everyone will
need to be a diplomat and that our education system should enable young people to think about how humanity has managed to find ways to coexist.
Although Fletcher does not mention RE in his book, the role that the subject can play in promoting this citizen diplomacy seems undeniable. Being able to live together and co-exist means understanding one another amidst diverse and sometimes competing beliefs, traditions and ideologies. Having conversations Fletcher argues, is as, if not more, important than action (2017, p. 266).
I am currently working with the following definition of religious literacy which maintains that:
Being religiously literate is about being able to hold balanced and informed conversations about religion and belief (See for example, http://www.reonline.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/REThinking-RE-A-Midrash-June-2016.pdf)
Some in the RE community have criticised the use of the term ‘conversation’, but in light of my reading of Fletcher’s work, I believe even more strongly that this is the correct term to use when we are defining what it means to be religiously literate. Conversations it seems to me are key to being able to co-exist. They are essential in diplomacy, they allow us to learn from one another, to share one another’s stories, to listen and also be heard. Conversations are about exchange of ideas; conversations can be deep; conversations are made, we have to work at them. This is all part of what it means to be in an RE classroom.
The etymology of the word conversation shows its roots in terms of living among others. It comes from the Latin conversari, or ‘keeping company with’. There is a sense of longevity, of developing a relationship. Becoming religiously literate takes time and can’t be rushed, it is about developing deep understanding of others.
So, let’s have more conversation.
I highly recommend reading Fletcher’s book. He brings together personal insight and professional wisdom, in an often humorous way.
You can also follow Tom Fletcher on Twitter: @TFletcher
Tom’s website is available here: http://tomfletcher.global
Fletcher, T. (2017) The Naked Diplomat. London: William Collins