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The Art of Narrative Theology in Religious Education

7 April 2011 - 31 May 2014

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Rob Freathy

Research partners: with Dr Esther Reed, College of Humanities

Funding awarded: £ 30,000

Sponsor(s): Bible Society

About the research

'The Art of Narrative Theology in Religious Education' is a collaborative research project that is funded by Bible Society and co-directed by Dr Rob Freathy (Graduate School of Education) and Professor Esther Reed (Department of Theology and Religion). The project team includes Dr Anna Davis (Associate Research Fellow, 2012-2014) and previously Dr Susannah Cornwall (Associate Research Fellow, 2011). The aim of the project is to develop an approach to teaching the Bible to Key Stage 3 school pupils (11-14 year olds) based on a theoretical framework provided by narrative philosophy and narrative theology. Narrative philosophy understands the identities of all individuals and communities as being formed through reading, sharing and living within stories and traditions; narrative theology, informed by this, puts forward a narrative understanding of both Christian communities and of the biblical stories that form the foundations for their shared beliefs.

With this theoretical framework in mind, the project team have designed a series of curriculum materials that enable pupils to understand the Bible as a set of stories that are particularly important for Christians and which have authority for them, to understand Christians as a storied people whose sense of community and ethical commitments are shaped not by moral rules but by participation in shared narratives of faith, to consider their own interpretations of the texts, and to reflect upon those stories – religious, non-religious or both – that contribute to formation of their own narrative identities.

Over the course of 12 lessons, pupils are introduced to the Bible and explore a selection of eight significant biblical narratives. They also consider the single, over-arching narrative – the story of creation, fall and redemption – that runs through the Bible as a whole, and to which each of the individual narratives contributes. Each narrative is accompanied by a painting of the same text by Devon artist Brian J. Turner, whose images show biblical scenes in a quirky, contemporary style that is both engaging and thought-provoking. This use of art serves to bring the idea of interpretation to life for pupils, giving license to their own, personal interpretations of the narratives, and introducing the concept of participation in respectful dialogue with the beliefs and interpretations of others.

The curriculum materials therefore move away from the ‘proof-texting’ approach to the Bible evident within the vast majority of existing publications used for teaching Christianity at this level, and in which the Bible comes to be treated simply as a sourcebook for short, decontextualized, ethical principles to guide Christians in making correct moral decisions. Instead, our curriculum materials seek to contextualize the selected texts within the overarching Bible story and in relation to the Christian communities that are shaped by it, and to encourage pupils to think about the significance of biblical narratives for themselves. This process is undertaken in four phases of learning: encountering narrative; interpreting narrative; understanding narrative in community contexts; and reflecting on narratives of self and others.

In this film, Rob Freathy, Esther D. Reed, Anna Davis and Brian J. Turner introduce you to their narrative approach to Religious Education in schools.