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Who's afraid of secularisation? Reframing the debate between Gearon and Jackson

Lewin, David (2017) Who's afraid of secularisation? Reframing the debate between Gearon and Jackson. British Journal of Educational Studies, 65 (4). pp. 445-461. ISSN 0007-1005

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This paper examines the debate between Liam Gearon and Robert Jackson concerning the politicisation of religious education. The debate concerns the extent to which secularisation frames religious education by inculcating politically motivated commitments to tolerance, respect, and human rights. Gearon is critical of a supposed ‘counter-secularisation’ narrative that, he argues, underpins a major international research project into the contribution of religious education known as REDCo (Religion in Education. A Contribution to Dialogue or a Factor of Conflict in Transforming Societies of European Countries), suggesting that the politicising assumptions behind the project extend rather than counter secularisation. Although Jackson’s rejoinder to Gearon is robust and largely accurate, I suggest that it misses the basic challenge that religious education serves political ends. I argue that both Gearon and Jackson are enframed at a more fundamental level by a particular notion of religious identity. The problem of pluralism is not, as Gearon supposes, a consequence of the secular framing of religion in terms of tolerance and respect, but predicated on a propositional view of religion that places competing truth claims in opposition. Nothing less than a transformed view of religion itself is the presupposition and the aim of religious education.