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Title: Is religious education possible? : an examination of the logical possibility of teaching for religious understanding without religious belief
Author: Hand, Michael John
ISNI:       0000 0000 6082 1047
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2001
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The present thesis is a contribution to an unresolved debate in philosophy of education about the logical coherence of a particular account of Religious Education. The account of Religious Education at issue, which I call the liberal account, prescribes the teaching of religious understanding without religious belief. It stipulates that the aim of Religious Education is to teach pupils the meaning of religious propositions while leaving open the question of their truth. Underpinning the account are the assumptions that (i) no religious proposition is known to be either true or false and (ii) it is morally objectionable to teach questionable propositions as if they were known to be true. Opponents of the liberal account argue that it is logically incoherent. Their argument rests on two premises: (i) that religious propositions constitute an autonomous epistemological class or 'form of knowledge', and (ii) that understanding a form of knowledge involves holding certain propositions of that form to be true or false. If both premises are sound, it follows that religious understanding necessarily involves religious belief. The aim of the present thesis is to show that this challenge to the logical coherence of the liberal account of Religious Education is unsuccessful. I argue that the second premise is sound but the first is not. The second premise, that understanding a form of knowledge involves holding certain propositions of that form to be true or false, is an extension of an argument about language in general made by Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein claims that 'If language is to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in definitions but also (queer as this may sound) in judgments' (Wittgenstein, 1953, Section 242). That is to say, language-users must reach agreement not only on how words are connected to each other (agreement in definitions) but also on how words are connected to experiences (agreement in judgments). The process of fixing experiential criteria necessarily involves accepting the truth of certain contingent propositions. I contend that Wittgenstein's argument can properly be extended to individual epistemological classes, with the exception of the class of necessary propositions. The validity of the first premise, that there is a religious form of knowledge, turns on the method of verification of religious propositions. I argue that religious propositions are propositions about divine persons and, as such, are verified in exactly the same way as propositions about human persons. Gods, like other persons, comprise minds and bodies (or minds and a relation to the material world analogous to 'having a body'), so religious propositions can be distributed without remainder over the familiar epistemological classes of mental and material propositions. Pupils can be taught what religious propositions mean with reference to other propositions of the same epistemological kinds and without reference to distinctively religious experiences. It follows that the aim of teaching for religious understanding without religious belief is logically coherent.
Supervisor: Pring, Richard Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Religious education ; Philosophy