Dominant public view of religious persons as less intelligent is lamentable

Sharing wisdom: Have your say about faith development in DCU online survey

Cherishing a faith or worldview, and feeling free to do so, is amongst the biggest challenges facing adults today. If you hold a belief, you are often called upon to justify it. But are we equipped with the insight and language to explore and explain ourselves?

We ought to be, both for our own self-understanding, and also to avoid misunderstanding and the often consequential conflict in the public arena.

The lack of opportunities for adults to explore religion and faith is one reason for such misunderstanding between people of different perspectives. Not everyone grew up in a faith, but a substantial proportion of us did.

However, not many of us have had the chance to return to the ideas and beliefs that we encountered as children, and honestly assess them, and appropriate them to the people we have grown to be, and to our lives now.


It is lamentable that the dominant public opinion is that a religious person is somehow less intelligent than a non-religious person; that a person of faith is not “informed and rational”; that to have a faith is infantile and based on superstition.

To honour the rights of every person to live according to their values, beliefs and ethical code, they deserve the opportunity to reflect on and assess the relevance of such beliefs in their present day lives.

Our research team at the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at Dublin City University is conducting a research project on Adult Religious Education and Faith Development.

Over the coming three years, Dr Gareth Byrne and I will work with many different groups of adults across Ireland, enhancing public awareness of the great work already happening in some communities, parishes and groups and also helping to set up new opportunities for adults to explore.

Religious education

The aim will be to learn from and contribute to adult religious education across the variety of contexts, faiths and belief systems in 21st century Ireland.

It will be not just research and theory, but real practical input and, hopefully, impact.

As adults, we need to be there for our young people, and in a particular way, when they reach adulthood with responsibilities of their own

Most of us probably associate the term "religious education" with young people: helping young people "develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable them to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world" (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2018).

Don’t adults also need all this too? Be it in the everyday moments of our lives, or in those milestones such as parenthood, or bereavement, we regularly experience times of faith as well as doubt; times of celebration as well as loss.

As adults, we need to be there for our young people, and in a particular way, when they reach adulthood with responsibilities of their own. However, we cannot pour from an empty cup. We need to be constantly nourished ourselves.

We need the space in, and skills through which, we can explore the big questions of life.

Various groups and communities are involved in different types of formal and informal activities that in some way are aimed at helping adults achieve a greater self-understanding, make sense of their lives and find joy.

Some may be clearly connected with church. Some may be more broadly spiritual. Over time, we can feel different levels of connection to the church, whichever church that might be, and to our faith. We may hold different views and look at life from varying perspectives, depending on our life experiences.

Rich human canvas

What a rich human canvas that is, when all voices are heard and respected.

We are inviting all adults over 18, of all worldviews and faiths, to have their say about adult religious education and faith development in Ireland in an online survey, which is open until next Sunday, June 30th.

This listening phase of our project will shape the practical phases that will follow. The impact of this study really depends on you sharing your wisdom with us. You can read more about the project, listen to a podcast, or watch a short video clip on our website, Have your say.

Dr Bernadette Sweetman is a post-doctoral researcher in adult religious education and faith development at the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education, Dublin City University