Meaning-making in religious education: a critical discourse analysis of RE departments’ web pages

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This paper explores what some have described as a ‘crisis in meaning’ in religious education (RE). One region, Northern Ireland, is chosen as a focus for exploring the question of meaning-making as it provides an example of ‘agreed ambiguity’ - where a common syllabus for RE is believed to be ascribed different meanings by different schools. The webpages of RE departments were used as a data source, and a critical discourse analysis (CDA) method was employed to investigate how a sample of departments construct meaning in RE. The findings identify three dominant discourses in relation to RE in the sample: Christian Community, Cultural Hegemony and Personal Quest. It is noted that when giving meaning to RE, schools show commonality and difference across three key areas: ‘stake and interest’; ‘pupil agency’; and ‘dealing with difference’. In conclusion, it is noted that, where freedom is given to schools to construct meaning in RE, it is possible to sustain a common curriculum across schools with very different views of the subject, however, this flexibility has implications for issues of power, identity, autonomy and difference which may require mitigation. It is suggested critical education may be a valuable partner in this work.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of Religious Education
Early online date08 May 2017
Publication statusEarly online date - 08 May 2017


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