Members of the faith
By Elizabeth Wayne and Judith Everington, with Dilip Kadodwala and Eleanor Nestbitt
By S C Mercier
Heinemann Pounds 5.25 each
JUST A THOUGHT. EXPLORING RELIGIOUS IDEAS
By Dave Francis
Student's Book Pounds 5.99
Teacher's Handbook Pounds 19.99
Most teachers of 11 to 14-year-olds will be able to use the latest publications from the Warwick Project, an important initiative which sets an ethnographic study in the West Midlands against the backdrop of national and international images of the religions under investigation.
Both books interpret the religion through the words of young members of the faith, the group they belong to (sect or denomination), and then the "tradition" - the religion in its broadest sense.
They provide the teacher with opportunities to examine the religious beliefs and activities with the pupils, and to help them relate these to their lives - an interesting contrast to materials which present religion through the eyes of adults.
The layout is superb, with clear illustrations including photographs of people, artefacts and places, and maps and diagrams. Powerful use is made of quotations from scriptures.
I have some minor reservations. The ethical dimension of using identifiable individuals who may have entered the research willingly, and with parental support, but who will "live" in the texts for some years to come is one. I expect the materials will date quickly. There are also potentially confusing anomalies between what individuals say about their faith, and what the traditions say. But this is an important aspect of the research, and it shows religion as dynamic and open to interpretation.
Just a Thought illustrates perfectly the current debates about the nature, intentions and ownership of the RE curriculum. The thematic approach, justified by the author, is bound to upset some people.
It is essential that the textbook is used with the teacher's handbook. Together, they contain creative ideas, schemes of work, lesson plans, and a full range of artistic and literary source material. They tackle adolescent scepticism about religious phenomena, while recognising the almost illogical concurrent interest in "non-religious" supernatural activity. Issues related to educational spiritual development are addressed and there are examples of the more elusive and personal side of RE which is a useful balance to the "study of religions" approach.
Dave Francis provides a sound framework for the development of skills for teaching RE, but his case for the thematic approach is not helped by the muddled presentation of material, especially in the textbook. Some of the cartoons seem unnecessarily violent, and there is a lack of sources, titles, and explanations to accompany the illustrations. Bearing in mind the reflective nature of the experiential approach advocated in the materials, this is a problem. Insensitive juxtapositions such as a Jekyll and Hyde movie still on the same page as a meditation exercise undermine the author's aims and best intentions.