The nature and status of religious belief in contemporary Britain (with particular reference to the concept of 'truth') as reflected by acts of collective worship in a sample of Luton schools since the 1988 Educational Reform Act
The aim of this study is to produce a critical description and analysis of the understanding
of religious belief (with particular reference to the concept of 'truth') which underlies the
current practice of collective worship in schools.
The research is based on a sample of twelve schools which makes no pretence at being
random, but is broadly representative of state education in Luton between the ages of 5
and 16. The study was conducted primarily within the qualitative, interpretive tradition of
social research, using the method of 'verstehen', and the 'grounded theory' approach of
Glaser and Strauss (1967). The main sources of data were semi-structured interviews
with teachers who lead collective worship, participant observation, and the relevant
official documents. There was also a brief questionnaire.
The research data was, in grounded theory terminology, 'saturated' with four major
themes: inclusivity; freedom of choice and personal integrity; the location of the heart of
collective worship in moral exhortation, individual reflection, personal spirituality, and
'worthship' rather than in traditional worship; and the powerful influence and leeway of
the individual teacher.
A critical analysis of these themes leads to the conclusion that the understanding of
religious belief which underlies the current practice of collective worship in this sample of
schools sees it as an individually chosen, private, practical guide to living - in the
terminology of grounded theory this is the 'core category'. This has the conseqences that
religious belief is also treated as relative and as subjective. It is further argued that the
teachers are operating primarily within a liberal, rationalist understanding of both
education and religious belief. This understanding is coming under attack from several
directions and looks increasingly unlikely to be able to provide an adequate framework for
collective worship in a genuinely plural and postmodern world.