Social Theory, Secularisation and the changing educational paradigm as factors in the emergence of Philosophy in schools. Reflections on a pilot study of Religious Education in one local authority.

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paperpeer-review


The nature of the subject variously described in Scotland as Religious Education, Religious and Moral Education, and Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies has changed radically over the last four decades. This paper seeks to examine possible reasons for the move to non-confessional, multi-religious and philosophical approaches, both set against the wider social climate and also as evidenced in survey data. This hypothesis of this paper is that changes within Religious Education can be understood against the background of societal change (as described by diverse social theorists), secularization and the adoption of more democratic educational approaches. It is hoped to evidence this claim with reference to key documents in the development of Religious Education, as well as the content of Religious Education curricula. Empirical data also informs this discussion, principally from a survey of 9 Religious Education departments in a particular local authority.

Religious Education (RE) in Scotland has changed dramatically since 1972 and the publication of Malcolm Millar’s pivotal report into Religious and Moral Education. Millar’s report arose out of a crisis in the RE classroom. The confessional Religious Instruction approach delivered previously by well-meaning non-specialists was failing to meet the needs of an increasingly secular, globally aware and multi-cultural pupil population (Millar 1972). As a result of the recommendations outlined by Millar’s committee RE became a non-confessional “personal quest”, allowing pupils to explore their own responses to the need for “meaning, value and purpose.” This was to be delivered by specialist teachers. In time certification and HMIE inspections would aim to add further credibility to what had been the Aunt Sally of the Scottish curriculum. The latest changes in the subject include an increasingly philosophical approach and content within the subject now refers explicitly to Philosophical positions and traditions.
This paper intends to put forward a three-pronged hypothesis for these changes, namely that Social Theory, Educational Change and Secularisation can explain the emergence of Philosophy and philosophical approaches within Religious Education in Scotland. The relationships between these areas are complex and in many ways are a-symmetrical. Social Theory, which maps and attempts to explain significant changes in societies (principally in the West) is, in many ways, foundational to understanding the move to less heteronymous educational practice and a more secular approach to Religious Education. Nevertheless, it is perhaps helpful to distinguish these areas, particularly, as we shall see, as they have emerged as separate reasons for change within Religious Education in the responses of teachers to survey and interview.
This paper intends to outline briefly what each of these areas entails, before evidencing them in data from a sample of policy documents, curricular content and questionnaire responses
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2007
EventScottish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2007 - Perth, Perth, United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Nov 200716 Nov 2007


ConferenceScottish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2007
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Religious Education
  • Philosophy


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