Primary school teaching should include various faiths, study says

Academics argue nature of religious education not sufficiently debated in Ireland

Religious education in state-funded primary schools should include the study of humanism and faiths outside of Christianity, a research paper by academics in Trinity College Dublin argues.

In an essay for the 'British Journal of Religious Education', the authors led by Prof Daniel Faas, Associate Professor in Sociology, said Ireland was not unique in Europe in adopting a denominational approach to religious education where children were taught through the dominant faith "with the opportunity for opt-out".

However, many countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the UK and Estonia, took “a religious studies approach… where religious education is the responsibility of the state”.

Arguing that the nature of religious education has not been sufficiently debated in Ireland today, the sociologists highlight the merits of the religious studies approach at a time of increased migration and diversity.


“Rather than limited to the provision of information about religious and non-religious traditions, the approach should enable students to think critically about religions and to be able to discuss religious and ethical matters in an informed way.”

Citing Department of Education figures, they note: “Each year during the past decade, a minimum of 3,000 new entrants from outside Ireland to mainstream primary schools have been recorded, with a peak of 8,000 per annum around the time of the start of the recession in 2008.”

“As a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society, it is imperative that Ireland continues to strengthen a non-discriminatory perspective in education and promote religious pluralism.”

This should include a form of religious education that did promote one particular religion over others, they argue.

“Religious education in schools has the potential to promote tolerance, teach about human rights and challenge discrimination. Rather than a challenge, religious and moral education (as opposed to indoctrination) should be seen as an opportunity to help younger people to understand and respect the increasingly diverse world and communities around them without compromising their own sense of self and their identity.”

The essay is co-authored by Beata Sokolowska, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Sociology, and Dr Merike Darmody, Adjunct Assistant Professor in Sociology at TCD.

Last month, the Catholic Church, which is patron of over 90 per cent of primary schools, published a new religious education curriculum, Grow in Love, following the approval of the Bishops' Council for Catechetics. It will be rolled out to all primary schools under Catholic patronage over the next four years.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column