Texts and Teachers


This project was a collaboration between Professor Bob Bowie and Ms Katie Clemmey of the National Institute for Christian Education Research (NICER) and the Centre for Research Evaluation in Muslim Education with Dr. Farid Panjwani at University College London (now the Centre for the Study of Education in Muslim Contexts (CEMC). It sought to support teachers in seven contrasting secondary schools, teach RE more hermeneutical.

This section of the NICER website is for teachers, curriculum leaders, curriculum designers and examination boards to help relate the findings and insights of project to practice, and find out more about hermeneutical RE.

Research by Bowie and others (for instance see here with Coles, and, by Panjwani and Revell, see here, and the work of Carswell here and here) shows that the use of sacred texts in RE classrooms is and has been an ongoing problem, especially at secondary school level, and not just in the UK. This problem is found in resources and the structures of exams which do not draw on good scholarly ways of engaging texts.

It was inspired by the thought that a more hermeneutical approach in the subject might help both the transition to Religion and Worldviews education and also the development of a stronger disciplinary knowledge base. It was grant funded by Culham St Gabriel’s Trust and supported by Bible Society.

The professional facing outputs of the project include two main documents:

  1. Opening the Door to Hermeneutical RE: The Findings Report outlines the project, its findings and conclusions.
  2. The Practice Guide: Classroom Tools for Sacred Text Scholarship contains some of the professional development materials developed for the project. It is written to support teachers and curriculum designers teach RE with a focus on Sacred Text Scholarship

Who is the report for?

The report is for teachers, curriculum leaders, curriculum designers and examination boards.

Summary of Findings

  1. The teachers described a sense of agency that hermeneutical tools gave students in activities around the interpretation of sacred text.
  2. The teachers reported that pupils were positive about engaging with longer extracts of sacred text including students who they had thought would struggle or lack motivation in such activities.
  3. Hermeneutical approaches in these cases led to a deeper quality of conversation in lessons about texts.
  4. Hermeneutics was seen as a valuable dimension in curriculum design allowing for progression through multi-religious study.
  5. Almost all of the teachers developed competent hermeneutical lessons, some with excellent examples of student work.
  6. From their key stage 3 changes, several teachers thought that hermeneutics would lead to better GCSE responses, particularly in explaining differences within religions. They also felt that a better space for hermeneutics could be included in exams.

In conclusion, we thought:

  • “Sacred text scholarship allows students to investigate the layers of meaning that people find significant. In making the hermeneutical process more explicit teachers help students become conscious of the process of reading sacred texts, and the place of the reader in making sense of a text, as well as the senses held by communities, and those held at different times and places. “
  • “There is a greater possibility for change and for reform of religious education if the idea of inhabiting the place of a sacred text scholar becomes part of Religion and Worldviews in schools. It offers one pathway to unlocking a disciplinary study of how people find significance and read meaning through worldviews.”

Associated Academic Publications

Bowie, Panjwani and Clemmey, 2022 'A 'meta' approach to texts in Religious Education: Researching teachers’ engagement with sacred text scholarship in English secondary schools' British Journal of Religious Education Published online: 24 Mar 2022

Bowie, R 2021 'Multidimensional competence and the space between faith formation and Scripture study' In G. Byrne and S. Whittle (Eds)Catholic Education: A Lifelong Journey.Dublin: Veritas, pp.261-276.

Bowie R. 2021 The implicit knowledge structure preferred by questions in English Religious Studies public exams. In G Biesta, P Hannam (Eds)Religion and education: The forgotten dimensions of religious education? Leiden: Brill | Sense, pp.112-123.

Bowie, R 2020 The collective consciousness of an RE department during curriculum change: scripture, representation, science, fear and anger. Journal of Religious Education. 2020, 68(3), 305-313; doi:10.1007/s40839-020-00111-9. [The seed corn funded project that led to the T&T project]

Bowie, R and Coles, R 2018 We reap what we ‘sew’: perpetuating biblical illiteracy in new English Religious Studies exams and the proof text binary question British Journal of Religious Education 2018, 40(3), 277-287

Bowie, R 2017/18 ‘Interpreting Texts More Wisely: A Review of Research and the Case for Change in English Religious Education’ In Christian Faith, Formation and Education, edited by R Stuart-Buttle, Ros and J Shortt. Palgrave (sole-authored chapter in a peer-reviewed academic book) 

Bowie, R. 2017  ‘Stepping into sacred texts: How the Jesuits taught me to read the Bible’. In Reenchanting the Academy, edited by A Voss and S. Wilson, Rubedo Press. (sole-authored chapter in an edited academic book)