Study Materials for Religious Education

Section 05: Issues with the language for religious education in normative Catholic writings and in the writings of theorists.
The words that authorities use to talk about religious education are passed on to practitioners through diocesan Catholic religious education authorities.  The words used and the background and intentions loaded into the words can have a significant bearing on the way that educators understand the nature and purposes of classroom religious education.  In particular, it affects their expectations of what should be the outcomes of religious education.  This section looks at problems that appear to have arisen from the excessive use of ecclesiastical terms at the expense of more educational language for religious education.
A study that extends educators' background in key issues for religious education that helps with the critical evaluation of contemporary theory and practice

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After introducing the language problem in religious education, which has a lot to do with jargon (a problem in a number of professions, but especially in education), the unit looks into historically what has been the most significant issue – the relationship between, and the distinctions between, catechesis and religious education. This is explained through looking at the story of how the term catechesis originated in the catechumenate in the early Christian church and how the term became associated with teaching the catechism; and eventually in the 1930s the catechetical movement helped recover the original meaning of catechesis as the faith-sharing dialogue between committed believers in a voluntary group that was steering catechumens towards formal initiation into the Christian church at the Easter vigil (now referred to as the RCIA, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

The section then looks at a range of ecclesiastical terms that have been used for talking about the meaning and purpose of Catholic school religious education. Often, the terms are not always defined by those who use them and this causes difficulties because no one knows precisely just what is intended through vague use of ecclesiastical terms.

After looking briefly, but more precisely, at the core, original meanings of the various ecclesiastical terms, participants are led into a discussion of potential problems with the excessive use of ecclesiastical terms. This can inhibit attention given to what is regarded as the most valuable term – religious education – and what it means to educate young people spiritually, morally and religiously.

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1.1 Ambiguity about the nature and purposes of classroom religious education
1.2 Problems with the language of religious education

1.3 Clarifying the language of religious education: A brief historical sketch of the use of the term 'catechesis'
1.4 The need for both catechesis and religious education: it is not a case of "either" "or"
1.5 implications for further study of the place of evangelisation/new evangelisation in the Catholic school and classroom religious education
How this approach to studying the relationships between catechesis and religious education might be used to address other issues/problems in theories of religious education
1.7 Ecclesiastical terms used for describing Catholic school religious education
1.8 Issues with the use of ecclesiastical language coming from the history of Catholic school religious education
1.9 Issues related to the use of the term "faith development"
1.10 Special attention to the use of the term "faith formation"
1.11 Educating young people's personal faith and educating them in the Catholic faith tradition
1.12 Icons or symbols of different 'big picture' models for classroom religious education: Which one is appropriate for contemporary Catholic school religious education

1.1 Ambiguity about the nature and purposes of classroom religious education

What are the problems posed about the purposes and expectations of Religious Education that are hinted at in the cartoons below?



Three dabs of CATECHESIS, a splash of SHARED PRAXIS, throw in a bit of INCULTURATION, a dash of MISSION, a smattering of TYPOLOGY, a dollop of EVANGELISATION, a wisp of WITNESS!!! Sure to taste like CATHOLIC IDENTITY and sure to improve FAITH FORMATION.

Man, this curriculum will be a potent mixture.


And Jesus said,

Do you see yourself as a CATECHIST,

And how much are you influenced by the John the Baptist's methodology?

And above all, will your teaching increase the numbers of young people attending Synagogue?


Listening in on a conversation about how to make religion teaching personal!

"How can you teach religion in an academic way and attend to the personal domain?"

"Easy! Teach them English!!"

The problems identified above, and similar ones noted in the literature of Religious Education, have had a shaping influence on contemporary understandings of classroom Religious Education. These problems need to be understood in historical perspective.

How did Religious Education theorists see the situation in the 1970s and the 1980s?

Professor Mary Boys, a Catholic Religious Educator from the United States, made the following observation about the aims for religious education in 1980.

The widespread uncertainty about the purposes of religious education accounts in some measure for its image as an endeavour prone to bandwagons, band aids and gimmicks, a field without much historical sense, self definition or reputation as a scholarly discipline. In short, it reflects the lack of consensus about the very nature of religious education (Mary Boys, 1980, Biblical Interpretation and Religious Education)

A few years later, another religious educator from the United States, James Di Giacomo, commented about his impression of Catholic religious education in Australia.

In Australia, as elsewhere in the world, religious educators labour under a crisis of identity which afflicts even those who do not advert to it. Some confusion is inevitable when administrators and instructors operate from different philosophies and with different methodologies. To some extent, this diversity can be enriching, as long as it reflects a healthy pluralism within a school department. But sometimes it results in people working at cross purposes, to the confusion of students, the loss of academic respectability in the eyes of the school community and reduced effectiveness in sharing the message of Christ (J. Di Giacomo, Religious Education in Australian Secondary Schools, Australasian Catholic Record, 1984, 6l, 4, 396).

In 1970, Gabriel Moran, a prominent U.S. Catholic Religious Education scholar, and still today a prolific writer in the field, wrote an article called Catechetics R.I. P. in the Catholic journal Commonweal. It pointed out how this ecclesiastical word was confusing and not helpful for clarifying just what religious education involved. Religious authorities did not like this and this affected his status in those circles, even though at the levels of scholars and practitioners he was always, and still is, held in the highest regard. He has had a significant affect on thinking about religious education since 1966.

It became clear that many of the problems faced by religion teachers arose initially from the way they thought about religious education. Their theory was not doing its job; the words they were given for talking about religious education did not do the job well; it should give purpose, direction and confidence to teachers both in their planning of a religion curriculum and in their classroom teaching.

Part of the problem had to do with the language of religious education. The concepts and words used to describe the classroom teaching of religion were somehow inappropriate, creating a mismatch between the theory (teachers' ideas about what they were trying to achieve) and the real situation in the classroom.

The following looks into problems with the language of Religious Education and it seeks a clarification that will give a more realistic picture of the endeavour for teachers. This in turn can help them be more clear, more purposeful and effective practice.

1.2 Illustration of problems with the language used for religious education

The theory underpinning religious education in Catholic schools does not always deal adequately with the realities teachers face in the classroom. This was particularly the case in the 1970s. It needed a critical review and, above all, a simplification.

The following statement, which includes most of the key words used in the theory of religious education, illustrates some of the problems to be addressed. What are your first reactions when you read it? What problems can you identify?

A statement of religious education theory

The Church documents and religious education theorists have many important things to say about making catechesis more effective and life relevant. This contributes to the Ministry of the Word. By making use of Groome's present dialectical hermeneutics (an aspect of shared praxis) together with Moore's typological phenomenology, and taking into account developmental theory, it is possible to facilitate the faith development of pupils from an intuitive-projective stage to a synthetic-conventional stage. There may also be options for individuating-reflexive or paradoxical-consolidative faith. However, this does not resolve the question: To what extent can an education in religion contribute to an education in faith? The use of Grimmitt's dimensional and existential approaches (that is, covering explicit and implicit religion respectively), may serve as a pre-catechesis and also as a pre-evangelisation. Furthermore, the initiation of young people into the evangelising interpersonal interactions of the faith community would constitute the catechumenal dimension of the R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). These same processes would effect a degree of secondary religious socialisation, and no doubt this would serve the purposes of inculturation into the faith. This would invariably be a faith formation and it would reinforce Catholic identity. It is also suggested that a liberational approach will help with the process of conscientisation, or raising of critical consciousness. This will challenge young people to be Christian witnesses and will effectively provide a dimension of mission which is more effective than that of a Kerygmatic approach or of a life-situation catechesis (Anon. 1983).

How very complicated it all seems. Religion teachers might wonder: Does it have to be like that? Does it have to be mystifying and confusing? Is there any need for so much jargon?

Perhaps it is only when all the terms appear together in one paragraph that the overwhelming -- but unnecessary -- complexity becomes evident. Even though this statement is an artificial collection of terms from the theory of religious education, it shows how religion teachers can be overburdened by the very concepts and language that should be helping them clarify and define their role.

When already self-conscious about their poor theological background, religion teachers could feel even more inadequate when the theory of religious education is made to appear complex, esoteric and impenetrable. Language of this type reinforces the idea that religious education must be very different from other subjects. Is that desirable or useful?

Teachers who are creative and enthusiastic in other curriculum areas can be diffident and ineffective when it comes to teaching religion. Often the problem lies in their expectations of religious education and ultimately in the theory and language that has influenced their expectations. If so, then the theory and the language need changing. The theory and the language for religious education should be simple enough and clear enough to give teachers confidence; it should give them a good understanding of their role; it should be realistic and show that the task is not too difficult; it should help teachers realise that with a reasonable effort they can be effective.

It is proposed that the theory for religious education in Catholic schools is too dominated by ecclesiastical terms -- for example: catechesis, evangelisation, inculturation, mission, witness, faith development, faith formation, Catholic identity etc. Language that is concerned with the Church's comprehensive ministry to Catholics of all ages, from all nations, in different situations, through a wide variety of agencies may be applied uncritically to classroom religious education. The classroom is part of one agency (the school) which deals with a part of an individual's life. If the language to be used for talking about religious education is so heavily ecclesiastical and oriented towards the ministry of the Church, there is a danger of overestimating what religious education can achieve. Religion teachers may mistakenly think of the classroom as the main place where the Church's ministry is offered to young people. Teachers may think so much about religious education in terms that are more appropriate to the roles of Church and home that they neglect the distinctive educational role of the school. Through being too concerned about the communication of religious faith they may neglect the valuable contribution that the classroom can make to the teaching of religion.

Authorities and theorists in education have an influential 'language-making' role. They create the language which will be used by the practitioners. Even where teachers do not read much theory they can still be influenced by the images and ideas that percolate through the system. Inevitably, the language of religious education structures the discussion of the subject. In effect, it determines many of the possibilities that will emerge; it has a formative influence on teachers' expectations and on what and how they teach; it influences presumptions about the types of responses they will seek from students; it provides criteria for judging what has been achieved; it influences teachers' perception and interpretation of problems in religious education; it even influences the way teachers feel about their work -- "Am I a success or a failure?" This language can be oppressive if it restricts religion teachers to limited or unrealistic ways of thinking and talking about their work. Official jargon in education can have an intimidating effect on teachers; it can be even more threatening to parents by excluding them from the discussion.

Yet another problem created by jargon in education and particularly in religious education is the way that it 'camouflages' what is actually happening in the classroom. If teachers talk with the 'rhetoric' of religious education, then many of the real issues in the classroom may remain unarticulated; many current practices may remain relatively unchallenged. Where theory and practice are not easily accessible to criticism there is little scope for improvement.

An important question that needs resolution in the theory and language of religious education is the way in which teachers should interpret and make use of the ecclesiastical language that has a bearing on their work in Catholic schools. The problems created by ecclesiastical language need to be addressed without rejecting it as irrelevant.

What is needed is an account of the historical development of the language of Church ministry to show how it has influenced thinking about religious education in Catholic schools. There is also a need for simple educational language to describe religious education. It is not just a Church activity. There must be a balance between ecclesiastical and educational expectations, otherwise the contribution that classroom religious education makes to the Church's ministry will remain vague, inflated and ambiguous; and the contribution that the teaching of religion makes to a young person's education will be overlooked.

The development of the Church's language about concepts such as catechesis, education in faith, evangelisation, inculturation and mission over the past sixty years represents an advance and a refinement of thinking about the Church's ministry in the world. While this has been valuable for Church ministry in general, it has posed special problems for religion teachers. This is because classroom religious education has not been satisfactorily delineated from a comprehensive Church ministry. Too often what is written about the Church's ministry is read by religion teachers as if it must all be achieved in the classroom.

This thinking will also be relevant to studies in religious education that ar concerned with the Catholic Church Documents underpinning Church ministry and religious education (studied in another section). They need to be read selectively and carefully because not all that is written about Church ministry and catechesis will apply to the classroom teaching of religion.

1.3 Clarifying the language of religious education: Issues with the use of the term 'catechesis' in relation to religious education

If the language of religious education is to be clarified and simplified, special attention must be given to the term 'catechesis'. Religious education in Catholic schools has long been regarded as catechesis, and the theory underpinning religious education has been heavily dependent on what is called 'catechetical' theory. Although there has been change over the last thirty years, there is still some tendency to use the words catechesis and religious education interchangeably in Church documents and religious education guidelines.

Catechesis means a dialogue or sharing of religious faith between believers. The etymology of the term suggests an 'echoing of the faith' -- the meaning given to the word when first used in the early Church.

To help clarify the problem with the use of the term catechesis in place of religious education, it is helpful to look through the history of the term catechesis. This covers how it arose within the early Christian catechumenate where committed believers shared their faith commitment and were instructed in the Christian tradition before they were formally initiated into the Christian community at the Easter vigil.

Sub section on on story of catechesis and religious education.

With the origins of the catechism, catechesis tended to be associated almost exclusively with teaching catechism. This changed in the 1930s in what has become known as the catechetical movement in the Catholic church. But the association with catechism remained. And it was not until after the second Vatican Council that the current meaning of catechesis as a voluntary, adult, faith sharing, pastoral activity came to the fore. To understand how this eventually led to a distinction between catechesis and religious education, have a look through the webpage about the story of catechesis in relation to Catholic school religious education.

Click the icon or here for the separate webpage on story of catechesis and religious education.

1.4 The need for both catechesis and religious education: it is not a case of "either" "or"

This material follows up the sub-webpage telling the story about how catechesis and religious education were related.

If the term 'catechesis' is retained to mean an adult, voluntary, faith-sharing dialogue in pastoral ministry and if the term 'teaching religion' is used to refer to the processes in classroom religious education, then the Catholic school is not confronted with an 'either or' choice between the two. There is a need for both catechesis and the teaching of religion. However, so that both aspects will be effective and not confused, it is necessary to differentiate the two sets of purposes, the different styles of interactions and the different contexts.

It is interesting to note that the Roman Church documents now make a clear distinction between "catechesis" and "religious education".

This thinking was first evident in a statement by the Roman Congregation for Catholic Education, quoting Pope John Paul II.

The teaching of religion, distinct from and at the same time complementary to catechesis properly so called, ought to form a part of the curriculum of every school (Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, 1982, para. 56). (This distinction was quoted again in the 1988 document the Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School)

Catechesis and the teaching of religion are complementary. The classroom religion period is the place for the teaching of religion (or religious education in the narrow sense). Catechesis is more appropriately taken up in voluntary commitment groups and at retreats. Classroom religious education complements and prepares for catechesis. The differentiation also applies to other structures such as a parish. To have a parish catechumenate is not enough; there is also a need for adult religious education where theology, Scripture and spirituality can be 'studied'.

Another way of looking at these two aspects of religion in the life of the school is taken up in an article by Marlette Black entitled "The Catholic School and Religious Education: Critical Questions for School Administrators" ( Catholic School Studies, 1984, 57, 2, 12-15). She considered that 'schooling' and 'community' were the two complementary learning forms in a total religious education which should be developed in Catholic schools. They should be separated, giving each learning form due emphasis in its own appropriate environment -- 'schooling' in the religion classroom and 'community' in pastoral care structures, liturgy, retreats and the values implicit in the school's social life. The article also showed how a Religious Education Coordinator and an Administrative Team could implement such a policy.

It may seem surprising that voluntary religious youth groups are rarely recognised as the most appropriate and effective structures for catechesis in Catholic schools. It is ironic that while the notion of catechesis has been highly prized in Catholic schools, the best catechetical structure remains undervalued and underdeveloped. Perhaps the neglect of voluntary groups has been influenced by the thought that there was sufficient scope for catechesis in the classroom. Recognition that it is not the case should encourage those concerned with Catholic schools to reconsider the potential value of voluntary commitment groups.

Religion teachers will find that a differentiation between catechesis and the teaching of religion is a satisfying one. It will encourage them to teach religion creatively without being disappointed or feeling guilty if the classroom interactions are not like those expected of a voluntary prayer group.

On the other hand, some may feel that the differentiation takes 'faith' out of the classroom. They may consider that if religious education is not equivalent to catechesis, 'faith responses' and 'faith-sharing' are excluded. This is not the case. The nature of religious faith is so personal that no words by the teacher could include or exclude faith from religious education by the teacher's intentions. Neither could it be consciously included or excluded from any other subject by changing the purposes and activities of the teacher. Clearly, the place for 'faith' in classroom religious education needs more detailed consideration.

The following table is a useful way of summarising the ideas of Michael Warren about the distinctions between Catechesis and Religious education.













Despite this clarification of a prominent difference between catechesis and religious education, there still remains some difficulty in interpreting the extent to which catechesis might apply within the classrooms of Catholic schools. The General Directory of Catechesis (GDC) which was published by the Roman congregation for the clergy in 1997, added somewhat to the problem because it used the term catechesis extensively and referred to a number of different types of catechesis. Nevertheless, the principal distinction remains as that between:-

  • Catechesis: A Church Ministry to a voluntary assembly of committed believers
  • Classroom Religious Education in schools: An educational study of religion in the classroom.

1.5 Implications from this study topic for understanding the place of Evangelisation / New Evangelisation in the Catholic school and classroom religious education

Just as ambiguity about the meaning of the term catechesis can cause problems for classroom religious education, similar difficulties arise with regard to ambiguity about the use of the word 'evangelisation' -- and more recently the 'new evangelisation'.

The work that has been done on catechesis could well be replicated on the construct evangelisation. There is a need to understand what the word 'evangelisation' originally meant in the early Christian tradition; and to understand how this evolved over many centuries. In particular, there is a need to understand the distinctive emphases in evangelisation that have come into Catholic thinking since the promulgation of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelisation in the modern world) in 1976.

Then there is a need to see how use of the construct 'evangelisation' has both possibilities and limitations when applied to the school and classroom contexts.

One of the difficulties here is that sometimes the Catholic school can be regarded, almost exclusively, as if it were an ecclesiastical institution -- like a mini-seminary; and that, therefore, its purpose can be defined almost exclusively in religious terms (E.g. handing on the faith, producing church going Catholics, etc.) In reality, Catholic schools in Australia are semi-state schools. They are funded through both Federal and State governments with community money. The money contributed by parents to their children's school fees is not Church money; primarily it is 'educational' money; if there were no Catholic schools, that same money would not be contributed to Church collections (but probably to some other independent school). Hence, there is a need to see the school not as an exclusively ecclesiastical institution but as a 'joint partnership educational institution', with partnership between church and state. This gives the church school the right to a distinctive religious flavour to its educational programs; but this is not the sole purpose of the schools and their success cannot be measured solely in religious terms. Catholic schools have an important 'civic' role and civic responsibility. An unrealistic emphasis on its ecclesiastical role may actually jeopardise the church-state partnership that is the basis for state funding of the church schools.

Also, application of the construct evangelisation to Catholic schools needs to acknowledge that many of the pupils are from families that are not part of a local parish; and it is unlikely that many of these will ever be part of a parish. From this point of view, providing access to the Catholic religious heritage is regarded as an unconditional offer of service to the community, whether or not the pupils respond by becoming regular churchgoers.

The place for evangelisation in the Catholic school also needs to take into account the increasing numbers of children from faiths other than the Catholic tradition -- and children from no particular religious tradition at all. They may still be able to benefit from a religious education from a Catholic perspective.

One of the key implications for classroom religious education is to understand its contribution to evangelisation as the opportunity to resource the spirituality of children and young people by providing them with access to the Catholic religious tradition, with experience of Catholic religious spirituality, and with the learning of skills for interpreting and evaluating spiritual and moral issues in the culture. If this is done well, then whatever the outcome in terms of church attendance, the pupils in Catholic schools will be well educated religiously and hence they will be appropriately 'evangelised'.

1.6 How the approach to studying the problem of relationships between catechesis and religious education might be used to address other issues/problems in theories of religious education

The work done in looking at how catechesis and religious education are related has illustrated an example of how the inherited theory for religious education can cause problems for teachers understanding of the nature and purposes of religious education -- especially in the classroom context of church-related (E.g, Catholic) schools.

The approach taken here can often be applied to other questions about different estimates of what religious education involves and different estimates of what effects it should have on students. It looked carefully into the origins and history of the key words and ideas. And it sought to evaluate expectations in a realistic fashion, taking care not to expect the school to perform miracles in terms of changing pupils personally. It takes special account of what the classroom can do best -- helping pupils to become well informed and to learn how to think critically. This approach also encourages educators to be 'critical' in their evaluation of 'given' education theory that is supposed to work well for them.

The work done in studying catechesis and its relationship with religious education has illustrated one example of how the inherited theory for religious education can cause problems for teachers understanding of the nature and purposes of religious education -- especially in the classroom context of church-related schools. The analytical/historical approach to clarification of the problem could also be applied to the following key issues in theory for religious education.

  1. The role of the Catholic school in the Church's mission of evangelisation
  2. The contribution of classroom religious education to young people's spiritual and moral development (including 'faith development')
  3. The place for theology in religious education
  4. The extent to which the Catholic school is a community of faith
  5. The place for a social justice emphasis in Catholic school religious education
  6. The contribution of religious education to ongoing conversion
  7. To what extent can and should classroom religious education be concerned with bringing about personal change in pupils
  8. The extent to which religious education should be like other formal subjects in the curriculum
  9. To what extent should 'personal sharing' and personal disclosures have a place in religious education
  10. Modifying religious education content and method to take into account of the contemporary spirituality of many young people
  11. What adjustments need to be made in religious education to account for pupils from traditions other than the Catholic faith
  12. How does the theory for a live-in retreat differ from the theory for classroom religious education
  13. How should classroom religious education relate to values and moral education
  14. How should classroom religious education be modified to take into account developments in the following areas:- hermeneutics, cultural postmodernity, secularisation etc.
  15. To what extent is the 'industry' related to outcomes/quality control/economic efficiency/documentation in schooling having negative effects on school and religious education,

1.7 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.

A brief definition will be given for each term 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?

1.8 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.

1.9 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.

1.10 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?

1.11 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.

1.12 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
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