Study Materials for Religious Education

Section 02: Religious faith and educating young people in the faith tradition
This section examines the nature of personal religious faith and it considers firstly what it means to educate young people in the religious faith tradition, and secondly at what might be done to ‘educate' their personal faith. It also raises questions about the constructive use of terminology for religious education that helps and does not hinder the classroom religion teacher.

As for all sections, view the introductory video. Then listen to the content lecture audio while attending to the main text file on this page. Arrange to have the audio file and the text page open together so you can work your way through both in an integrated fashion. To have both the text and audio files working simultaneously, either (A) open a second window with the same web address to start the audio file and for pausing/playing the audio. OR (B) right click the icon and using the "save link" option, download the audio file completely and it can then be played/paused in the separate audio app, while the text file remans open in the browser.

Introductory video mp4 to this section

1. Introductory video giving an introduction to the content covered in this section. Click the icon or here to view the introductory video in streaming mp4 format. Or right click if you want to download the video using the "save link" option.

Brief overview of content of this section

This this section looks at Christian interpretations of religious faith dating back to new Testament times. It is interesting to note that the word faith came from the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish religious tradition. This tradition suggests that the core of religious faith is a personal relationship of faithful commitment between the individual and God. For faith, the importance of 'fidelity' or steadfastness in one's commitment and trust goes back to the conviction of the Hebrew people that God was eternally faithful in his covenant. Hence being 'faithful' was to be God - like.

A thoughtful understanding of religious faith is a pre-requisite for interpreting the ecclesiastical purposes for religious education that have made use of words like faith development and faith formation.

Brief attention will be given to the range of ecclesiastical terms that have been applied to religious education like evangelisation and catechesis etc. It is considered that most of these terms are primarily relevant to the the quality of interpersonal human relationships -- in other words to an interpersonal sphere, and not to a formal educational setting. If this is the case, then there will be some natural problems if they are applied to the context of the classroom which is a public forum.

Some of the potential difficulties with the use of these terms are discussed.


Audio lecture file mp3 for this section

2. The audio file lecture
Click the icon or here to listen to the mp3 audio lecture or to download the complete file, right click and use the "save link" option.
This presents the content for this section -- the main presentation and principal source of information on the topic. The audio lecture ( 46 minutes) will refer every now and again to particular parts of the accompanying text below that will easily be identified -- here you will need to pause the audio and look at the pertinent parts of the text. At times you will also need to pause the audio to look at particular sub-presentations such as video clips and powerpoint presentations. The audio lecture and the text go together.

The written text for this section (Study the text in conjunction with the audio lecture)

Religious faith: Christian theological perspectives
What is Religious Faith?
An introductory summary of some Christian understandings of faith
Some critical questions to keep in mind when studying this section and when thinking about the meaning and psychological function of faith today
How does personal faith relate to spirituality?
Different styles of spirituality and believing
What are the relationships between faith, beliefs and theology ( and some further ideas about religious faith in additional reading)
Ecclesiastical terms used for describing and interpreting religious education
Some insight into the issues about the use of ecclesiastical language coming from the history of Catholic school religious education
Some points about the use of the term faith development
Special attention to the use of the term 'faith formation'
Educating young people's personal faith and educating them in the Catholic faith tradition

Icons or symbols of different models for classroom religious education: Which one is appropriate for contemporary Catholic school religious education?

Religious faith: Christian theological perspectives

This first part of the section is about religious faith, mainly from a Christian theological perspective. It focuses on the Christian view of faith as a personal relationship of trust in God.

Special attention will be given to how faith might be understood in the present, westernised culture which is so individualistic and self-reliant, and where there is not much interest in a formally religious dimension to living. Hopefully, it will be possible to see relationships between religious faith and the term spirituality which will also be given special attention later -- helping give educators a better perspective for seeing how educating young people spiritually and religiously can enhance the personal faith of young people.

What is Religious Faith?

George Michael wrote a very popular song called Faith. However, if you look at the lyrics, they do not give you much help in understanding what faith means for people

Because I've got to have faith
I've got to have faith
Because I've got to have faith - faith - faith
I've got to have faith - faith - faith.

Oh but I need some time off from that emotion
Time to pick my heart up off the floor.
Oh when that love comes down with-out devotion
Etc. Etc.

Similarly, you can see how a popular Hollywood musical used the word 'believing'.

Click here or the photograph for a few seconds clip showing how the idea of believing is celebrated in a Hollywood movie.

An introductory summary of some Christian understandings of faith

The word faith ranges in meaning from being a description of a general religious attitude, through to a personal relationship in commitment, to specific beliefs, as well as to a general term for a religion.

The notion of faith was not present in Greek or Roman culture; its direct and single origin was in the Hebrew Scriptures. The word faith comes from a Hebrew root word that has to do with firmness, fidelity, reliability, and trustworthiness – which were essentially ascribed to God's own self revelation to the Hebrew people as one who was powerful, and loving, but above all, faithful to his covenant. The same Hebrew word has given rise to the affirmation Amen.

The human dimension of religious faith focused on the way in which the human response to God's promises should mirror the same qualities in God such as fidelity and truthfulness. In addition, the notion of faith in the Hebrew Scriptures included the element of being a creative force that constantly moved people to commitments and bold action in the light of an unshakeable conviction that God is utterly faithful.

In the New Testament , one of the principal qualities ascribed to Jesus was his godlike fidelity to his commitments both to God as father and to the little people. Above all Jesus was a person of fidelity.

Up to and including New Testament times, the emphasis in faith was on the trustworthiness of God. Then followed the development of the idea that it is through faith that the individual is saved by Jesus. This was an interpretation in the teaching of St Paul.

The early Church Fathers began to draw distinctions between human knowledge and faith – they did not see them as antagonistic. But essential to faith, in their view, was God's self revelation which could not be known by human power on its own. The idea of faith as a gift from God developed particularly during the Middle Ages. St Thomas Aquinas defined faith one of the three core virtues (along with hope and charity). Thomas said:

The virtue of faith causes the mind to assent to a truth which, transcending human understanding, is held in divine knowledge. Men (people) accept God's knowledge by faith and are thereby joined to him. Faith's principal object is God himself; other things are subsidiary and dependent ( de Veritate XIV, 8)

The Reformation emphasised scripture as the grounds for the credibility of faith. For the early reformers, faith was first and foremost confidence in God. But they considered that there was an intellectual content in faith to be believed. Also prominent was the notion of justification by faith and the Calvinist notion of predestination.

Philosophers like John Locke highlighted the distinction between reason and faith.

Faith is the assent to any proposition, not made up by deductions of reason, but upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God in some extraordinary way of communication. (from An essay concerning human understanding ).

The Second Vatican Council emphasised the dynamic nature of faith as a continuing personal relationship with God. "The obedience of faith must be given to God who reveals, and obedience by which man entrusts his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals".

What does the Catechism of the Catholic church emphasise in its discussion of faith?

“Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and all that he has revealed to us and that the Church proposes for our belief because God is Truth itself. By faith the human person freely commits himself to God. Therefore, the believer seeks to know and do the will of God because “faith works through charity” (Galatians 5:6).

Some of the key points in Christian understanding of faith are:-

  • A gift from God; An invitation from God to believe in him.
  • Sustained by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
  • Requires a free decision and personal response from the individual.
  • Faith can be lost.
  • Faith has a strong relational dimension – a personal relationship with God; just as for human faith in another human person – it involves a relationship.
  • Faith involves trust in God; at times, an individual retains faith even when there is uncertainty, or some reasons for not believing; some believe and trust without question; others believe with lots of questions and uncertainty.
  • Faith has a commitment dimension – that is it motivates individuals to take a stand on particular beliefs and values and to follow through on those beliefs and commitments even when this is difficult.
    Fidelity is a key dimension to faith. That is, the faithfulness with which the individual keeps the commitments of faith. The faithful person does not waver even in time of adversity.
  • Faith has a content – beliefs – which are usually articulated in theological statements.

Some critical questions to keep in mind when studying this section and when thinking about the meaning and psychological function of faith today

The difference between belief in some one (a relationship and commitment dimension) and belief that (a knowledge of beliefs dimension). Having beliefs is not necessarily sufficient for the ideal of a healthy or mature faith which requires belief in someone and commitments flowing from that belief. As one Christian writer said “The devil believes in God – is that faith?”. It is the response that makes the difference.

To have religious faith, is not contrary to reason: Faith transcends reason in a sense that there is a personal revelation from God and a personal relationship between individuals and God. But it is not opposed to reason. Some theologians think that if faith strongly contradicted reason (or common sense) then there was probably something wrong in the faith (E.g. immature not responsible etc.).

The notion of blind faith – which is open to delusion and also to manipulation by others and by religious authorities – needs clarification and should not be proposed as an ideal for mature faith, without qualification.

Examples of the problems with faith when it is 'blind' and where the fundamentalist theology in which the faith is clothed needs to be questioned. These are also cases where common sense clashes with faith. Is faith healthy and mature if it clashes strongly with common sense? Some literalist and fundamentalist beliefs also give special attention to miracles and the miraculous. One wonders to what extent should belief in, and hope for, miracles be a central component of an individual's faith?

Fundamentalist sect: Example of the beliefs of a small, exclusive fundamentalist Christian cult -- it can be surprising what people can believe. Click here or the photo. Video of the fundamentalist Christian sect in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia where the handling of venomous snakes is part of their religious ritual.

Television faith healers. James Randi (formerly an escape artist) exposed some television faith healers as charlatans. Click here or the photo.The video showing how James Randi exposed some of the faith healers who were part of the television evangelist group. The video is old and a little scratchy.

To what extent does belief in God coincide with belief in the church? To what extent would obedience to the authorities in the church be the same as obedience to the authority of God?

Need for more attention to the fidelity dimension to faith. Fidelity is a very valuable notion that covers the extent of the faithfulness of the individual to his/her beliefs and commitments. The notion of Fidelity is evident in the marriage vows which said “. . . for richer for poorer; for better or worse – until death do us part”. Fidelity was a central quality of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels – fidelity to God and fidelity in commitments to the ‘little people', especially those oppressed by the religio/cultural/political system.

How do individuals know whether god is calling them to a particular action or belief? How can they be sure? What are the criteria for such a judgment? What are the possibilities for delusion in the notion that you are being called by God to do something in particular? Note examples like David Koresh and James Jones. Note the extent to which religious authorities could use individuals in this way. Note the use of Muslims as suicide bombers for political purposes.

What is the relationship between organised religion and personal faith? What should it be? Which should be subservient to the other?

What do you do when your common sense and education inclines you not to believe a particular religious doctrine? To what extent should you believe contrary to your common sense?

How do you describe or characterise the quality of faith? Deep faith versus shallow faith; how would you describe examples? Strong faith and weak faith ; how would you describe the difference?

What does the notion of the development of faith mean? If the Christian view of faith sees it primarily as a personal relationship of trust in God, then if we use the word 'development' applied to Christian faith, then 'faith development' would be a very complex and mysterious process because it has to do with the maturing of a personal relationship. It would not be something where changes in faith could be easily measured after any event in life -- even less so at the end of a religion lesson.
The psychologist
James Fowler was interested in the notion of developing faith; he focused on faith as a verb – that is, the operations that are going on during the believing process; and he tried to map changes in the profile of operations and level of operational activity that appeared to occur in individuals across the life cycle.

Given the Christian notions of what constitutes faith, how does one understand say the faith of a Muslim in Allah? What are the similarities and differences? This brings up the theological question of the uniqueness of Christ as regards human salvation.

What is the appropriate relationship between religious education and personal religious faith? How does the classroom teaching of religion actually impact on pupils' faith?.

As you can see, this is an important topic for Christians and for religious education.

* * * * * * * * * * *

How does faith relate relate to spirituality?

Faith is concerned particularly with the personal relationship between the individual and God. Or at a human level, faith in another individual has to do with the commitment and fidelity in the relationship between the people.

Spirituality, although difficult to define, has been looked at within this unit as an expression of the way that individuals attend to, make sense of, and express their sense of a spiritual dimension to life.

So you could say that spirituality will be an expression of the individual's engagement with the spiritual dimension, and for religious people, this will also include expression of their personal religious faith. From this point of view, spirituality is like the way in which a spiritual and the faith dimension are going to be expressed in the individual.

The faith, the beliefs of the individual, and the theology informing the beliefs will have a distinctive colouring effect on what an individual's spirituality is like and how it is going to be expressed. Later in the Unit what is known as secular spirituality will be explored. It means being spiritual without being religious. It is important to understand because this now reflects the spirituality of most of the people in Westernised countries -- including perhaps most of the teachers and students in Catholic schools. The next two sections focus on the 'changing landscape' of contemporary spirituality and after that there is a section on children's spirituality.

Different styles of spirituality and believing

The two examples below highlight Pentecostal styles of theology and spirituality that are not too prominent in Catholicism, and therefore provide an interesting contrast with what would come across as the expressions of Catholic spirituality in Catholic schools in Australia today.

Examples from the early 1980s show the style in Pentecostal church services. If you check out contemporary pentecostal services (Christian cable channel) you will find that they are very similar to what they were in the 1980s. What does the pentecostal approach to spirituality appeal to? Why has this style not changed much much since then?.

Television evangelists from the early 1980s. A program that looked at some examples called the Electronic Church -- note an old recording with some background noise in the sound.
. Television evangelists from the early 1980s. Phil Pringle at the Christian City Church in Sydney. He is still the pastor of this church (2016).

Out of interest, search Peter Popoff ministries on Google. Has he changed focus from being the charlatan whose so-called faith healing was exposed in the 1980s which eventually put his Miracle Crusades off the air? What is his pitch now?

What are the relationships between faith, beliefs and theology?

For religious education it is important to understand relationships between personal faith, the faith tradition of the church, personal beliefs and theology.

Additional reading

Some additional reading about Christian religious faith -- including Pope Francis' comments about the need for contemporary faith to have a natural level of uncertainty. Click here or click the icon for the reading html file.

Optional additional reading

To help clarify understandings of the relationships between faith, beliefs and theology, have a look at the material here by theologian Richard McBrien. click here or click the icon for the PDF file.

Ecclesiastical terms used for describing Catholic School Religious Education

This part of Section 2 looks at a number of ecclesiastical terms that have been applied to religious education in Catholic schools. A critical evaluation of the issues is important here because there is a need to determine whether the use of multiple ecclesiastical constructs does in practice bring about confusion and ambiguity in the minds of religious educators. They can also be confusing for parents. The little research on this question indicates that the terms are confusing for both parents and teachers (E.g. doctoral research study of Catholic teachers and parents by A Finn, 2010).

Also, there is the problem where excessive use of ecclesiastical terms creates unrealistic expectations of classroom religious education to bring about changes in the personal faith of students. It will be argued that what religious education can do very well is educate young people's personal faith and inform them well about their religious faith tradition. But educational processes are not really able to change the quality of the personal relationship between individuals and God. Only individuals themselves can do this.

While a number of participants in this unit may well have looked at various ecclesiastical constructs in the unit EDRU800, a brief definition will be given for each here with the main observation being about the type of activity and where it is primarily based – within interpersonal activity or within a formal educational process.

Summary of ecclesiastical terms that have been applied to religious education


Catholic identity

There are various dimensions to religious identity both personal and institutional:-  formal church membership, moral identity (how good the person or the institution really is in the way they treat others), prayer/spirituality identity, liturgical identity, level of religious practices, curriculum identity (for an educational institution).  Articulated Catholic identity: this means the precise words used by the institution to define what it believes is its meaning and purpose.  Actual identity: This includes the way that organisation members and others think about its identity according to the ways they are treated;  popular identity: what people in the general community think about the organisation. 


Faith formation


An activity that intentionally sets out to change the personal beliefs and commitments of individuals.  A problematic term because those who use it rarely give a definition.  The best meaning for faith formation is probably catechesis, where the notions of voluntary and adult come into the picture.

some education

Faith development


This is a process in which an individual's faith becomes ‘better'.  A problematic term because those who use it do not define what they mean;  and the word ‘development' tends to have overtones of an economic discourse where ‘growth' is the key term referring to wealth.  Sometimes referred to as ‘faith growth'. 

some education



This is the activity where committed, adult, believers voluntarily engage in a process of articulating, sharing and trying to enhance their own personal faith and commitment to God.  It may involve some educative processes.  Catholic Church documents (GCDE, 1971) says that catechesis is an adult activity and that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCFIA) is to be the principal model for catechesis.

some education



By treating and relating to people as Jesus would – through actions, words and commitments – this ‘announces' the good news of Jesus or the evangelion.  If this is what Jesus was like, then such care for others implies an invitation to consider following Jesus.  It also involves critiquing the culture from the perspective of Christian values. In Section 6 on critical pedagogy, the views of Pope Francis about the critical/evaluative dimension to evangelisation will be noted.


New evangelisation


Pope John Paul II instituted this word to mean the second or new attempt to love and care for people so that they see this as an example of the good news of Jesus Christ – which is a renewed invitation to consider faith in Jesus.  May be interpreted as efforts to get people back into engagement with the church.




The principal work or mission of the Catholic Church is to treat people as Christ would have treated them – to be Christ for them.  While individuals exercise a personal mission through their own actions, some aspects of the Church's mission are carried by various organisations and institutions. E.g. Aged care, care for the homeless, hospitals, healthcare, education, youth work etc.




Ministry is a religious interpretation of how one respects and cares for others – individuals may see their work with others as motivated by personal faith.  An area of work or activity is regarded as a ministry by those who see it as religiously motivated – E.g. ministry in nursing, health care, the legal profession, education et cetera.  The idea of the "ministry of the word" refers to the way the church is committed to evangelisation and announcing the good news of Christ and to furthering knowledge of the word of God in the Scriptures.


Being a Jesus Christ exemplar.  Christ- like in one's personal relationships – caring for, and loving others in an unconditional way.  Through their actions and relationships individuals try to exhibit the Christian qualities to which they are publicly committed.  Witnessing goes on all the time (E.g. teachers both inside and outside the classroom).  The quality or the goodness of the human person is the measure of healthy witness.


Contrast with education in schools: How natural or how much 'at home' are these processes in a semi-state Catholic owned school where most of the students are not practising Catholics?

Education: In a formal classroom setting which is a public forum, education is informing young people about culture, especially its intellectual tradition, and helping them learn to become critical thinkers.

Religious education: Education within a religious faith tradition, including some study of other religious traditions and spiritual/moral issues in culture.

So the question arises as to how relevant are the ecclesiastical terms for describing and thinking about religious education, and if there is a problem where the use of these terms create expectations in terms of religious change in pupils that are not realistic.

Do Catholic schools, and religion teachers in particular, have a problematic perspective on religious education by thinking about and talking about it almost exclusively in ecclesiastical terms?

Some insight into the issues about the use of ecclesiastical language coming from the history of Catholic school religious education

The 1960s

The 1960s Catholic school religion teachers were almost all members of religious orders. They had committed their lives to the service of the church, so no one could question their commitment to its welfare or to the promotion of its mission. Nevertheless, these same religion teachers never saw religious education as an exclusively ecclesiastical activity . In other words, of course they hoped that religious education would educate their students well in the Catholic faith tradition and hopefully too, this might leave them favourably disposed towards a long term engagement with the church; but this hope was held in creative tension with efforts to help young people make sense of life, to negotiate the perils of adolescence in what was becoming a more complex and challenging culture . I think that these dual commitments were so strong, so embedded and held in creative tension, that they were taken for granted and not articulated as they have been here. In my experience of that period, I never met a religion teacher who thought that getting the students to Sunday mass was the central aim of religious education – even though there were some vocal groups like Catholics Concerned for the Faith who felt that faulty religious education was responsible for declining mass attendance. Religion teachers thought that a good religious education would benefit young people whether or not they chose to be regular church goers.

I think that a crucial lesson to be learned from the is history is that healthy Catholic school religious education needs to retain a creative tension between ecclesiastical concerns and teachers' views about the spiritual/moral needs of pupils . Where there is no creative tension, religious education could more readily be perceived as being authoritarian and more or less exclusively about ‘telling students about Catholicism'. This is because there is a natural tendency for ecclesiastical interests in religious education to be too concerned about promoting engagement with the church and regular mass attendance. From the teachers and students' points of view, ecclesiastical expectations can appear to be unrealistic and to some extent illusory. Naturally, ecclesiastical expectations of religious education will be conservative. In the sense of conserving and handing on the religious tradition these are valuable, justified purposes. But if this perspective predominates to the extent of extinguishing other more personal-development and educational purposes and practices, then religious education runs the risk of being perceived increasingly as irrelevant to the lives of students .

The history of Catholic school religious education shows that there has been considerable evolutionary change in approaches since the 1960s. There were many differences in purposes, content and pedagogy. But one could judge that by the 1990s a general consensus emerged in what might be best described as a ‘subject-oriented' approach. This meant that religion was treated as a core learning area in the school curriculum, aspiring to be as challenging as any other learning area, with content and pedagogy that did not suffer by comparison with what was being done in other areas of the core curriculum. This included all the protocols and procedures of the established academic subjects/learning areas – with a normative curriculum, objectives, performance indicators, varied student-centred pedagogies and appropriate assessment and reporting. In many secondary schools, in years 11-12, religious education took on the form of a state board-determined course in Religion Studies (or Studies of Religion) which has the same academic status as regular subjects for tertiary entrance scores.

For many religion teachers subject-oriented religious education was about educating pupils religiously and spiritually – it was an educational investigation of religion and not a religious experience as such. There still remains, however, some variation in the views of teachers about how devotional and religious the activity should be. This ambiguity is also related to language problems in religious education – especially related to the terms ‘faith development', ‘faith formation' and ‘Catholic identity'.

It took many years for a subject-oriented religious education to take hold in Australian Catholic schools. The need for more centralised normative curricula was both desirable and inevitable. But at the same time as the subject was acquiring more academic status and respectability in the school curriculum, there was the danger of its becoming perceived more as a purely ecclesiastical activity than an educational one. And such perceptions eventually run counter to the academic and authentically educational character of religious education. Also, the more centralised and fixed the religion curriculum, the less freedom there was for adapting religious education to meet contemporary needs.

The comments above suggest that there has been a subtle change in the character of Catholic school religious education from having a creative tension between educational and ecclesiastical concerns to a situation dominated more by the ecclesiastical. This development was linked with changes in the language of religious education where the ecclesiastical terms tended to be the only ones used to talk about religious education. The conclusion I draw from this discussion is the need to restore the creative tension between educational and ecclesiastical concerns; this is needed to promote research, creativity, imagination and innovation in religious education.

Some points about the use of the term Faith Development

The work of psychologist James Fowler triggered the popularity of the term faith development in the early 1980s.  Fowler's idea of ‘human faith' was not change in religious beliefs, but changes in the psychological processes involved in humans believing in anything, where he mapped ‘stages of development' paralleling the stages in the development of moral reasoning as proposed by Kohlberg (or like Piaget's stages of cognition).  Often it appears that getting people to ‘higher stages' is the main idea in faith development.

 Does faith development mean:-  more beliefs?  believing with less questioning? what does deeper faith mean?  If faith is primarily an ongoing personal relationship with God, then by comparison with people's relationships with spouse or a child – then faith development is a process of change in a fundamentally important relationship  -- one of great complexity – and hence a number of metaphors other than ‘development' would be needed to understand changes in the quality of such a relationship.  Human faith (or what is called in this unit basic human spirituality) for Fowler was about stage development within the psychological and sociological dynamics of the human process of believing.  A measure of psychological skills capacities and behaviours could be measured and scaled to fit into a number of developmental stages.  But can religious faith be so readily broken up into stages?

For those who are interested, chapter 18 of the book Reasons for living entitled "The centrality of the construct faith development in Catholic school religious education" is linked at the end of this section if they would like to look into this particular topic in more detail.

Special attention given to the use of the term ‘faith formation'

One of my earliest encounters with the problematic term faith formation was in 1987, when the priest Diocesan Director of one Catholic school system said “What we need is a faith formation and not religious education”. Then and subsequently I found that those who used the term rarely if ever defined what they meant. It appeared to be used with the connotation that somehow faith formation was more important and influential than religious education – as if the intention to form faith made the activity more effective in changing the quality of the individual's personal relationship with God. Education was apparently considered inferior to formation. No indication was given about how an objective observer could look at activities and clearly see why one was faith formation and others were ‘merely' religious education. Also apparent in the connotation was its focus on recruitment to regular mass attendance; this seemed to be the criterion of successful faith formation that ‘works'. This language trend devalues religious education and distracts from giving attention to what it means to educate young people religiously.

Faith formation has etymological roots in the use of the words ‘houses of formation' in first half twentieth century religious order practice in Australia (and elsewhere). Formation was like a ‘religious Marine boot camp'. The emphases in the term were:- conformity, ‘marching in formation', uniformity, obedience, being 1`4 and changed personally according to a desired model. Faith formation tends to become something of an oxymoron when this connotation is associated with a comprehensive view of Christian faith as a committed personal relationship with God, and as a gift from God freely accepted; authentic faith is a voluntary, free activity.

On the other hand, education today tends to connote being informed, critical thinking and personal autonomy. It may be that fear of such potential could foster a negative view of religious education and a more positive valuation of faith formation because it seemed to better serve ecclesiastical purposes.

Faith formation tends to be used more with reference to voluntary religious ministry programs than with reference to formal religious education. Ministry and religious education are complementary. But its increasing prominence in schools is now eclipsing religious education and this will in turn devalue its place in the school curriculum and its status as a challenging academic subject.

A division between ‘educational' and ‘faith formation/faith development' aspects of the school's overall religious education can make a useful distinction but it uses the wrong language to do so. It makes possible long term outcomes, or more accurately ‘hopes', take the place of the main process word. It gives an impression that the educational engagement with religion in the classroom does not actually contribute to the development of the individual's personal faith – and this is not the case. The classroom study of religion can make a vital contribution to the understanding and deepening of the individual's faith. This would be the one aspect of the overall development of an individual's faith that is in tune with what schools do best – educate.

The points made above are also pertinent to interpreting problems with the use of the other ecclesiastical terms faith development and Catholic identity, and these have been discussed elsewhere. What surprises me in the new focus on Catholic identity is an absence of any substantial ideas about what it means to educate young people in identity – this is a topic that is in my opinion a crucial one for religious education.

A corollary to the problems considered above is the emergence of new religious leadership positions in Catholic schools. Originally there was the Religious Education Coordinator (REC) or Assistant Principal Religious Education (APRE). Now there is a great variety of alternative positions with names like:- Director of Catholic Identity, Dean of Mission, Coordinator of Mission and Catholic identity, Director of Evangelisation, Faith Development Coordinator. Anecdotal evidence suggests that apart from changing the language patterns, this development has had no appreciable impact on the quality of religious education and pastoral care in Catholic schools. Again this is an issue that merits investigation through research. It must be noted that these comments are about language and new role descriptions and not about any evaluation of the Enhancing Catholic Schools Identity Project that has been conducted in Catholic schools across the country, and especially in Victoria.

One postgraduate student told me that over a few years, across 2-3 schools, her leadership position changed from Religious Education Coordinator to Dean of Mission, then to Director of Faith and Mission and finally to Director of Catholic identity. She noted: “It would be difficult to find large discrepancies between these role descriptions. . . . There needs to b e a lot more thought put into decisions made related to the titles of Positions of Leadership in the area of Religious Education.” The current preoccupation with the construct Catholic identity seems to have influenced some schools that have changed the name of the college to include the word Catholic.

Also, the scope of the ecclesiastical terms covers not just what pupils might learn in religion lessons, but they also refers to expansive areas like the students' personal relationship with God, their religious beliefs and morality, how their personal faith might mature, their operational spirituality, and their levels of religious practice, identification and engagement with the Catholic church. These may well reflect valuable ‘hopes' for the future, but they are not useful operational objectives for classroom religion lessons because they are so large scale. They go beyond what it means to educate religiously by referring to the whole lives of young people, and they tend to presume that the practice of religion will be central part of their lives. The discourse of no other curriculum area is like this; for example: the success of science education is not assessed in terms of numbers of students who become scientists or on how good the students become as citizens – and so on for education in English, maths, languages, history etc. This, I consider, is a major problem with contemporary Catholic school religious education that needs to be addressed.

What about the possibility of Educating people's faith? E.g. More detailed knowledge of theology and scripture? Skills in identifying and interpreting spiritual/moral issues?

Educating young people's personal faith and educating them in the Catholic faith tradition

Religious faith, primarily as a core personal relationship with God, is such a personal process where much individual freedom is involved, that no one can say for sure what process will automatically, or on cue, change the personal faith of individuals. Because Christian faith is regarded as a personal gift from God, any change in faith would have to come from within the individual and be free if that change was to be considered authentic. It therefore appears somewhat unrealistic, and a matter of presumption, to talk about processes, including educational processes as if they might somehow automatically bring about changes in personal faith in individuals. It is also more likely that the sorts of experience in life that will have an influence on the individual's personal faith will be personal experiences in family, religious experiences that have more impact than an educational process.

However, one thing that you might expect a school to be able to do reasonably well is to educate young people's faith . While it may not change the quality of the personal relationship with God, the beliefs of the individual can be better educated through a knowledge of theology and culture etc. And in particular, religious education can help them become well informed about their own religious faith tradition. In addition, they can learn about issues to do with faith and beliefs. An educated faith is less likely to be manipulated by unscrupulous people (refer back to the video segments that show examples of such manipulation). Research suggests that those who know the theology of their tradition reasonably well (be it Catholic, Jewish, Anglican etc.) are less likely to be recruited to bizarre religious cults or sects.

Also, there are elements in culture that tend to function like a religion – for some people their real God may be money or status or power or an exotic lifestyle. An educated faith is one that can be well-informed and able to think critically about belief issues in contemporary culture.

So one might conclude that the most significant things that classroom religious education can do for the personal faith of individuals is to help them become well informed about their religious faith tradition and able to think critically about issues to do with beliefs and personal faith. This should include a capacity to discern how culture might have a shaping influence on people's beliefs and values. This special and valuable critical function of religious education will be taken up in more detail in section 6 on a critical, inquiring approach to studying religion.

Icons or symbols of different models for classroom religious education: Which one is appropriate for contemporary Catholic school religious education?

The following diagram provides two symbols of religious education that might be applied to classroom religious education in Catholic schools. Firstly there is the model of the priest at the pulpit. This is an entirely satisfactory symbol for the homily in the liturgy. Those present are all believers and practitioners of the faith. It is a voluntary community of faith. The priest can presume that they are there to celebrate and share their communal faith. The Scriptures are like the community's text -- the agreed background and context to the homily that makes the homiletic discourse relevant and meaningful. The homily tries to relate the message of the Scripture to daily life. The activity is not primarily education, but the 'living out' of faith in the liturgy. When all of the words and constructs used for describing Catholic school religious education tend to be ecclesiastical, as considered earlier, there is an natural tendency for this picture to become the symbol of religious education -- because it is primarily ecclesiastical. I am suggesting that this is an entirely inappropriate model for classroom religious education in Catholic schools today.

The second symbol is the model of dialogue in the ancient Greek Agora. The photographs show firstly the site of the Agora in Athens. The Agora was a place of commerce for the local people. But in addition, it was a community meeting place where there was dialogue about politics, about values, and about the meaning of life and religion etc. Here, on the rock of the Areopagus, the Acts of the Apostles tells of the way that St Paul entered into dialogue with the local people, where there was much discussion about the 'unknown God'. In the context of this dialogue, St Paul proposed that the ideal of human life imaged in Jesus the Christ would be the most fulfilling way in which people in Greco-Roman culture might become fully human. It was an open forum. There was no presumption of committed religious faith to the Christian tradition. There was an open, inquiring exploration of the life issues of the time; and for St Paul, it was an opportunity to show how the emerging Christian faith tradition proposed a religious interpretation of life based on Jesus who was the risen Christ. While not a formal education process like you would have in the classroom, the symbol of the Agora emphasises the need for open inquiry and dialogue within the public forum – and classrooms in Catholic schools are public forums. The other photograph shows temple ruins beside the Agora in the Greek city of Corinth. Here too, St Paul would have dialogued with the local people about meaning in life and about the Christian interpretation. This I propose that the Agora/Areopagus is a more appropriate model for classroom religious education in Catholic schools today. As will be explored in the next three sections, the extensive secularisation that has occurred in westernised countries means that it is unrealistic to have a curriculum and approach that seem to presume that all of the Catholic school students either are, or should be, regular churchgoing Catholics. Many are quite unsure of what their faith actually means to them at this stage. The reality of the context of Catholic schools today is closer to the context in which St Paul worked than the context of a homily in the local parish church.

List of References
Click here for the list of references for this text and for the additional reading with further material on Christian religious faith

Additional Optional Resources for further reading
Click the icon to download the follow-up resource text on: The centrality of the construct "faith development" for Catholic school religious education. This is chapter 18 of the book Reasons for living: Education and young people search for meaning, identity and spirituality -- a handbook.

The introductory video to this section talked about a special bonus question related to describing classroom religious education for parents without any jargon terms to make its purposes crystal clear..
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