21st April 2000 at 01:00
SPIRITUALITY AND THE CURRICULUM. Edited by Adrian Thatcher. ENGLISH LITERATURE,THEOLOGY AND THE CURRICULUM. Edited by Liam Gearon. SOCIOLOGY, THEOLOGY AND THE CURRICULUM. Edited by Leslie Francis. Cassell Theology in Dialogue series pound;14.99 each.

Together these three volumes contain 56 individual essays. The opening sentence on the cover blurb of the first volume reveals the debate into which these contributions from the Theology in Dialogue series slot. "In the postmodern world", it states, "spirituality has floated free from religion."

"Not so", many would retort. Spirituality has floated free from theology, which is desperately trying to recapture it in order to re-engage with areas it once influenced - not least education.

Mary Grey provides the key essay to which all the others respond. As befits the spiritual, she deals in verbs rather than abstract nouns. She wants to listen to voices such as those of children, women and the disinherited which, "are silent because they have been silenced".

Children's voices also provide the source of Clive and Jane Erricker's structures and strategies. This is too much for Ian Markham, who, while acknowledging that belonging rather than believing is in decline, and while seeking to create an "engaged diversity model" is forced back into a vocabulary of good old abstract nouns, consisting largely of "isms" (Sufism, Judaism, Buddhism and so on).

Employing Mary Grey's apt metaphor of "cut flowers", Adrian Thatcher provides a powerful critique of the old School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's National Forum for Values, with its separation of facts from values, of past from present, of common from uncommon and of religious from secular, realising too late that secular values often have religious roots. Roots may shoot again - cut flowers wilt and die.

A truly prophetic, non-conformist polemic pours forth from Andrew Bolton on the church of education replacing the established Church in controlling what is heard and read. When you stop laughing at images of the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority as an Erastian Archbishop and the chief inspector as Inquisitor General, you suddenly realise it isn't actually funny. Only RE remains outside national control, Bolton suggests.But surely he has heard of model syllabuses and national schemes of work - only examples, of course.

Paul Grosch puts the current concern with the spiritual dimension of education into a deep historical perspective. It was the medieval severing of the link between philosophia (love of wisdom) and theologia (talk of God) which located the spiritual only within the latter in Western minds. During the Enlightenment, theology went in pursuit of scientific acceptability, leaving its spiritual elements with the poets, such as Coleridge, Keble and Newman, until more holistic Eastern religions revealed the vacuum. Grosch also suggests adding "reading" to Mary Grey's list of key verbs.

This is the theme of David Jasper's introductory essay in Liam Gearon's superbly rich collection. We have never read the Bible, argues Jasper. It has always been read to us, transmitted under theological control. The post-modern movement has made reading a more religious activity than ever before, something which preachers find hard to accept. The 23 essays which follow, from some highly authoritative voices in the world of literature, are case studies and commentaries on this point.

For overall consistency this is probably the best of the three volumes. It should be as valuable to those involved in literary studies as to theologians. It breathes life and real engagement.

Accommodation and co-existence are more the hallmarks of Sociology, Theology and the Curriculum, edited by The Revd Canon Professor Leslie Francis. Titles are important to this editor and, I suspect, significant. There are two lead essays. Another Revd Canon Professor, Ronald Preston, gives a theological response to The Revd Professor David Martin's keynote chapter, "Christian Foundations, Sociological Fundamentals", in which he discusses how "sociology might be pursued in colleges with a Christian foundation".

Of the remaining 14 responding contributors, six are also revved up. Here at least theology still appears as queen of the sciences - unless there's a good sociological explanation.

Jack Priestley.

Previously a church college principal, Jack Priestley is a university research fellow attached to the research support unit of Exeter university's school of education

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