Religion and Belief Literacy: Reconnecting a Chain of Learning

Dinham, Adam. 2020. Religion and Belief Literacy: Reconnecting a Chain of Learning. Bristol: Policy Press. ISBN 9781447344650 [Book]

No full text available

Abstract or Description

This book picks up on Hervieu-Leger’s ‘chain of memory’ to consider a different sort of chain in relation to religion and belief – a chain of learning - which might also be needed as the secular or post-secular wrestle with the reality of a religiously pervaded world. This addresses horizontal connections in the here and now, as well as vertical ones, to past and future. What we know about religion and belief is based on what we learn about them, and we do that learning in a variety of spaces and settings which are contested, and which compete. In formal educational spaces, like schools, colleges and universities this takes place in ‘subjects’ or disciplines, like Religious Studies, Theology, Philosophy and Citizenship. These present a muddled mix of Christian socialisation, personal and spiritual formation, empirical study of religion and belief phenomena, and preoccupations with public policy anxieties about cohesion and extremism. The content, structure and purposes are unclear. More recently we might add subjects with little sense of a direct or past connection to religion or belief, like Geography and Law (see Baker and Dinham 2017) which focus on how diverse publics mix, and how this plays out in debates or disputes. Outside of them are mid-formal learning spaces, especially professions and workplaces, which emphasise religion and belief in relation to service provision and employment practices. Likewise learning takes place in informal spaces which we often call ‘communities’. These emphasise faith-based volunteering and cohesive citizenship. They each reflect varying perspectives on religion and belief from which we learn to think about what, if anything, to do about them.

Each learning space is itself shaped by what policy is seeking. Welfare might frame religion and belief in terms of their contributions to care (Dinham 2015; Putnam 2000). Security and foreign affairs might emphasise religion in terms of extremism and sectarianism (Francis and Eck Duymaer, 2015). Education might think of the importance of socialising young people in schools for a Christian and multi-faith society (Dinham and Shaw, 2017; Clarke and Woodhead, 2016), while University and jobs policy might emphasise workplace readiness for religion and belief diversity and inclusion (Aune et al, 2017; Crisp, 2016). Each of these framings has its own inner logic, including normativities, which variously construct religion and belief broadly as both positive (contributing to society) and negative (a threat to it). But do these ‘logics’ line up? Are they sufficiently in touch with each other as at least to be capable of coherent disagreement? As individuals pass through these spaces of learning, what messages are they taking in at different times and places, and are they cogent?

At the core of this book is the suggestion that publics struggle with religion and belief, and that this is at least in part because of the competing, sometimes conflicting, messages we get about them. Why should we know about religion and belief, and where? How should we think about them, and who are the religious and believers anyway? Is there a chain of learning about religion and belief which could give an overall sense of the religion and belief landscape and how to think about it - a series of links, each of which makes sense in relation to the others, even where they contest? Can this be bought in to focus, or are the messages inherent in each destined to remain a muddle, at odds with the others, breaking the chain and leaving us bewildered and confused?

Item Type:


Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS) > Faiths and Civil Society


4 November 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

07 Nov 2019 12:42

Last Modified:

03 Jun 2021 09:37


Edit Record Edit Record (login required)