Aston University (UK) Nativity plays and school prayers: religious practice or cultural heritage?
According to the old saying, it is best to avoid discussing religion in public. And yet, talking about religion is compulsory in every state-funded school in the country. And it’s not just Religious Education classes that are compulsory, but it’s also acts of collective worship – which are most likely to take place during assemblies. If you grew up in England or Wales, you may recollect going to assemblies and maybe singing hymns, reciting a school prayer, or taking part in religious celebration such as the Nativity. How do you look back on those experiences? Conversely, if you’re from abroad, you may wonder what the deal is with the nativity scene in the film Love Actually and why there is a giant lobster on stage.
As most primary schools are busy getting ready for their next Nativity shows, we will take some time to reflect on the place religion occupies in today’s multicultural society. Why is religion, which is often considered a taboo topic in the public sphere, compulsory in state schools? What do pupils and teachers think about it? And why do these questions really matter?
Dr Céline Benoit will spend some time reflecting on each of these questions, explaining why we need to pay attention to what children and young people are saying. She will show how pupils and teachers do not share the same understandings of religion, and will reflect on how culture can become conflated with religion. She will reflect on why many children find it difficult to relate to the content that is taught in Religious Education, and will share insightful quotes from pupils and teachers, proposing possible ways forward. She will also discuss how religion in schools can serve to foster a sense of belonging, or on the contrary, can serve to alienate the ‘Other’. But who is the ‘Other’? And how has the ‘Other’ changed over time?
Come and share your own experiences – either as a former pupil, a parent, or a teacher – and join the conversation at Café Artum on 24 November.