New Challenges facing Religious Education: Personal Reflection

Reflection  on ‘The Changing Cultural Context of Religious Education’ by Dermot Lane, ‘Challenges Facing

Religious Education in Contemporary Ireland,’ (Dublin, Veritas, 2008) pg 11-22

The above book by Dermot Lane analyses the changing culture of modern Ireland in which Religious Education must take place. In the chapter mentioned above Lane identifies six cultural changes that as he says ‘have real significance for Religious Education’.[1] This blog will reflect on these cultural changes and discuss briefly while drawing from my own experience as a teacher the implications they have for Religious Education today.

The first change that Lane discusses is the concept of modern society where the emphasis is on the individual as an autonomous and self-sufficient person. This in turn he writes has impacted on how religion is practiced. Faith he says has become privatised and removed from the domain of public discourse.[2] A second development that he contributes to making the teaching of religious education difficult in Ireland is the increase in scientific method and ‘the emerging dominance of scientific rationality.’[3]

He continues by reflecting briefly on the scandal within the Irish Church that came to light in the 1990s that we are all too aware of that have done serious damage to the Catholic Church. This scandal within the Church became an obstacle with students in the classroom. From personal experience teenagers are looking for an answer to such a difficult and huge scandal within the Catholic Church. It has called many young people to question their faith and the leaders of their faith community. As a religious educator searching for the right answer proved difficult and simply dismissing the questions asked by students is not the correct response. Through my own personal research as an educator I found an article entitled ‘The Judas Syndrome’. It allowed me to use scripture, the story of Judas betraying Jesus to explain to the students about the recent scandals within the Church. It gives students a chance to reflect on the current situation in the Church from a faith perspective. Judas, chosen by Jesus betrayed him.

We are confronted by the same scandalous reality today. We can focus on those who have betrayed the Lord, those who abused rather than loved the people whom they were called to serve. Or we can focus, as did the early Church, on those who have remained faithful, those priests who are still offering their lives to serve Christ and you out of love. The secular media almost never focuses on the good “eleven,” the ones whom Jesus has chosen who remain faithful, who live lives of quiet holiness. But we the Church must keep the terrible scandal that we are witnessing in its true and full perspective.[4]

Thirdly, he highlights the era of the Celtic Tiger that was marked by ‘a frenzied consumerism, and the demise of ethical values.’[5] An interesting point that Lane makes here is that during this period education’s priority is to benefit education rather than the student, where the focus is on educating students for the work force rather than on educating the whole person. During my studies and teaching practise, many of the mission statements that I have read advocate a holistic approach. That is to say that the development of the individual is central in education and this involves providing pastoral care and an appropriate and balanced curriculum and being aware of the whole person (body, mind and spirit). At the same time it is important to be conscious that the school is also a living community. I whole heartedly agree with Lane that Religious Education can play a pivotal role and in my experience is playing that role already in expanding on an education that ‘creates an information society and a knowledge economy,’[6] to impart ‘religious values and wisdom.’[7]

Lane proceeds by discussing the fact that another changing face of religion is the effect that violent acts have had on how religion is perceived. He makes reference here to 9/11 and that countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East that are at War have religious connections.[8]

Lane also writes that it is not only violence that has brought a re-emergence in religion other developments such as migration due to easier and more relaxed movement between countries, and new technologies in media have created what many say is that the world has become a ‘global village.’

As a result of migration, many countries worldwide are now accommodating people from many different cultures. While countries like United States and Great Britain have been multi- cultural for many generations now, Ireland has only become multi- cultural in the last twenty years or so.

As a teacher it is very evident in the classroom that students can come from many different backgrounds and cultures. Even within the native Irish student community there can be elements of cultural differences. This aspect of multiculturalism is challenging for the teacher and she needs to be creative, knowledgeable as well as flexible in the classroom. It is a challenging area for the religious educator as culture is not always easy to define. However, I do concur with Lane that religious education has a role to play in promoting interculturalism, as religious beliefs can have a significant influence on a group’s cultural ways.[9] Some advances in recent years have been successful, such as the National Directory of Catechesis. Also during my own years as both a second level and third level student learning about other faiths and religions made me consider my own religious beliefs on a deeper level, but more importantly I now have more respect for others values and their beliefs.

Finally Lane discusses the term ‘Spiritually’ which has become increasing popular. He writes that this is rather a vague term and that some describe ‘spirituality as the emergence of a ‘vague religiosity’[10] but he also acknowledges that spirituality has a place within religious education, but needs to ‘addressed explicitly by theology and Religious Education’ so that it can remain connected to Christianity.[11]

In conclusion, Lane presents a structured and thought provoking chapter that gives the religious educator an outlook into the reality of religious education in our current climate. Our society is changing and our subject content must change with it. As a faith community we are constantly questioning and changing our beliefs. In a economic driven world education has drifted towards preparing young adults for the work place yet as Lane highlights we need to remain focused on a holistic approach to education. He reminds people how religion as a subject, although quite often moved aside and labelled as a subject of no value, can contribute to this holistic education of young people today. In a world of terrorism, in a community with no religious dialogue where religion is associated with violence religious educators must move forward to promote inter religious dialogue and foster a new awareness and understanding for students own faiths and others in the world around them.


[1] Dermot Lane, Challenges Facing Religious Education in Contemporary Ireland, (Dublin, Veritas ,2008) p. 11

[2][2] See page 12

[3] Lane, Challenges Facing Religious Education in Contemporary Ireland page 12

[4] Fr Roger Landry, A Crisis of Saints, Catholic Answers, http://www.catholic.com/documents/a-crisis-of-saints accessed 20th March 2013.

[5] Lane, Challenges Facing Religious Education in Contemporary Ireland page 14.

[6] Lane, Challenges Facing Religious Education in Contemporary Ireland page 15.

[7] Lane, Challenges Facing Religious Education in Contemporary Ireland page 15

[8] See page 16.

[9] See page 19

[10] Lane, Challenges Facing Religious Education in Contemporary Ireland page 21

[11] Lane, Challenges Facing Religious Education in Contemporary Ireland page 22

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