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    ‘Religion in education: Towards division or inspiration?’

    By news editor, on 22 June 2011

    On Wednesday 15 June UCL hosted a vibrant discussion on ‘Religion in education: Towards division or inspiration?’. The event was held to commemorate 140 years since the passage of the University Tests Act, which ended religious discrimination in admissions to universities. Dr Sherrill Stroschein (UCL Political Science) reports on the event.

    Panellists included Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari MBE (Chairman of the East London Mosque), The Rt Hon Charles Clarke (former Education Secretary & current Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University), Mr Andrew Copson (Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association) and Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE (Chair of the Accord Coalition).

    Introduced by Professor Michael Worton (UCL Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs), and chaired by myself, the event was an opportunity for panellists and audience members with a variety of perspectives on religion in education to be able to exchange ideas on this controversial topic.

    In brief remarks at the beginning of the event, the panellists covered a wide range of viewpoints. The notion of religious education as ghettoization was raised by some and contested by others. It was also noted that there is an important difference between education regarding religion and the practice of religion in schools, in the form of religious services in which pupils are expected to participate.

    While the panellists diverged regarding the intensity with which religious topics should constitute part of education, the discussion converged on the positives of an exposure to different religious ideas as part of religious education, rather than simply emphasizing one particular religious view. It was noted that while diverse religions might be a regular part of a religious education curriculum in London, or in other urban areas, schools in more rural areas rarely feature exposure to religions outside of the Anglican or Catholic traditions.

    The questions from the audience provided an opportunity for those present to reflect on important issues that are sometimes deemed too controversial for conversation. Topics included the potential clash between religion and science and the changing nature of demographics in areas with large numbers of immigrants from non-Christian backgrounds.

    Religion was discussed in a range of ways, spanning the view of it as:

    1) a tradition that embodies powerful values and provides a critique of a world in which the poor are ignored by capitalism, and

    2) a divisive element that has emerged in places as diverse as Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

    Conversations on these issues continued late into the night at the subsequent reception, and may perhaps continue at future related events.

    Watch the panel discussion here: