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Critical issues in religious education

30 November, 1999

A wider view of religious education shows it can make a major contribution to establishing right relations among peoples within nations and between the nations of the world. Three contributors, Oliver Brennan, Finola Cunnane and  Kieran Scott explore the context and the vision of this wider view of religious education.

124 pp, Veritas, 2005. To purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie .


1. The cultural context for religious education today – Oliver Brennan
2. Issues of identity in religious education – Finola Cunnane
3. The schoolteacher’s dilemma: to teach religion or not to teach religion – Kieran Scott
4. Continuity and change in religious education: building on the past, re-imaging the future – Kieran Scott
5. Practising the trinity in the local church: the symbol as icon and lure – Kieran Scott


The narrow understanding of the aim of religious education which confines it to that of nurturing faith is no longer viable. The exploration of the wider meaning of religious education can contribute to the establishment of right relations among people within nations and between the nations of the world themselves. There have been radical changes in the Irish cultural landscape over the last number of decades. The manner in which young people experience reality is culture bound and, therefore, it is critical to understand the culture of our time and place if we are to be effective religious educators.


This publication explores the meaning and identity of religious education within the cultural context of today.  As a life-long process, religious education involves both the teaching of religion and the teaching of a religious way of life, thereby involving family, school and parish.  An international perspective on some key issues curently confronting the teaching of religion in the classroom is also examined along with the future challenge for religious education of getting beyond (but not leaving behind) the schooling paradigm.

Chapter 1 The Cultural Context for Religious Education Today

It is my conviction that the better we understand the culture of our time and our place the more effective we will be in whatever role we have in life. This chapter takes a brief look at the changing shape of culture and how best to respond and interact with this new reality as a community of faith. A key factor hampering the influence and effectiveness of religious institutions today is their failure to pay attention to, and deepen their understanding of, contemporary culture. The importance of this is highlighted in the words of a young person arising out of recent research.

During my time at the university in Dublin, my perception of religion became increasingly negative. I was now immersed in a whole new culture that bore little or no similarity to the culture of my childhood and adolescence (1).

If our parenting, teaching and pastoral ministry is to have a significant influence on culture, its forms and directions, and on the individual’s response to one’s ambient culture, we need to gain some understanding of the history, conclusions and attitudes of the new sciences, as well as contemporary philosophical understandings and perspectives. The work of sociologists and anthropologists make it clear that people’s beliefs, values and attitudes have influential social origins. As Doyle McCarthy points out, ‘Social life provides the stuff (words, gestures, attitudes) out of which conscious life develops’ (2). Groome also acknowledges the shaping tendency of society, but notes, following Hegel, that the process of socialisation involves a dialectic between a person and his or her social context’ (3).

When economic and social changes occur, they inevitably bring about significant cultural shifts and since culture impacts powerfully on people’s lives, it is essential to understand its nature in order to appreciate how it affects religious belief and practice. In particular, as Michael Warren notes, ‘the situation of young people cannot be properly understood without attention to how social and cultural forces affect them’ (4). Indeed, according to Tom Beaudoin there is a profound symbiosis between young people and popular culture: young people cannot be understood apart from popular culture, and much of popular culture cannot be interpreted without attention to [young people]’ (5). Contemporary lived culture shapes the meaning systems and values of the rising generation. An important dimension of religious education concerns meanings and values.

What is Culture?
When one examines literature on the topic of culture over the past century and a half it becomes clear that the understanding of this concept has changed dramatically during that period of time. The classical notion of culture is best defined by Matthew Arnold in the middle of the nineteenth century. For him, culture was the preserve of the elite. A ‘cultured person’ was one who leaned towards the aesthetic and strived for excellence. He or she rose above the mechanical and material civilisation of the industrial age. These people were usually found in the world of academia and the arts. During and after Arnold’s time the concept of culture began to expand, but it was not until the first half of the twentieth century that the term ‘culture’ was given a much wider meaning by anthropologists and sociologists. Instead of the strong or almost exclusive association of this concept with the artistic and the intellectual, the idea of culture was becoming synonymous with a way of life. Today it is generally accepted that ‘culture constitutes a total context that shapes us all’ (6). We create our culture and our own creation influences us deeply. In this regard, Clifford Geertz makes an apt comment. The human being is ‘an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun’ (7). These webs of significance constitute culture. Geertz’s understanding of culture includes the crucial roles of symbols as carriers of culture and this is of particular significance in regard to the dynamic interplay of culture and religious faith.

This brief outline of the evolution in the understanding of culture shows that the definition of the concept has changed significantly in the past century, paralleling in its evolution the increasing importance ascribed by sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers and other scholars to culture as the dominant factor in the internal and external relationships of any society. The findings of critical history put an end to the classical assumptions that understood culture in a narrow, unitarian manner, a normative view of culture that, according to Shorter, ‘inhibited the Church’s missionary activity’ and ‘distorted the Church’s own understanding of itself’ (8). It is now generally accepted that the manner in which people experience reality, especially the young, is culture-bound. Since culture is a developing process rather than a static entity and since authentic religious faith can only exist in a cultural form, there needs to be continuous dialogue between religious faith and culture.

In considering the impact of culture on religious belief and practice, it is important to note its historical dimension, one of the six categories identified by Kroeber and Kluckhohn (9).  In this regard, Alyward Shorter comments that ‘culture is… essentially a transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a pattern capable of development and change, and it belongs to the concept of humanness itself’ (l0).  It follows that since religion is a divine-human phenomenon, it inevitably affects, and is affected by, culture. Because of the historical dimension and because by its nature culture seeks to pass on its cumulative wisdom from one generation to the next, an inherited culture can be severely challenged during a period of rapid social change. What has occurred in Ireland in recent decades is a good illustration of this phenomenon.

The Nature of Contemporary Culture
The cultural context in which we live today is variously described as high modernity, late modernity, post-modernity, and, most recently, the era of globalisation. Before examining the reality in which we live and work today it is valuable to examine briefly the causes of cultural change. Cultural change begins with economic change, that is, change in the ways and means of production. What has happened in Ireland over the last few decades is a microcosm of what has happened, and will happen, anywhere in the world. The economic changes that have occurred in Ireland in a period of two decades spanned one hundred years in Great Britain, Western Europe and the United States. An examination of the Irish reality, therefore, sets out in sharp relief the effects of this phenomenon wherever it may occur.

In 1958, when the programme for economic expansion was launched, few people could have imagined the extraordinary impact it would have on a small island perched in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Europe. The end result of this change is that the Republic of Ireland is now one of the largest exporters of information technology in the world, followed closely by the United States and is ranked as the most ‘globalised’ country among sixty-two states included in the annual A T Kearney Foreign Policy Magazine Survey (11).

Economic change always leads to social change, that is, change in the ways in which people live, an example of which is the revolution in the ways of communication. The change from a predominantly rural population to a largely urban-based concentration of people brings huge demographic shifts with all the social consequences that follow: The result is that the urban nuclear family becomes estranged from its rural roots in family and community.

Cultural change always follows economic and social change, but whereas the latter two forms of change can be measured in GNP, GDP or demographic shifts, the former cannot be so easily understood or perceived. Economic and social change occur at the level of observable data, whereas cultural change occurs beneath the surface of what can be seen and measured. Cultural change concerns meanings and values and it is this type of change (not economic and social change per se) that affects both religious beliefs and values.

The movement through economic, social and cultural change parallels the progression from pre-modernity to modernity and finally into post-modernity. This phenomenon becomes clear by briefly examining it in microcosmic form in the Irish context. As one moves through the latter decades of the last century Ireland progressed from pre-modernity, rapidly through modernity into a post-modern culture.

The pre-modern world is characterised by a very hierarchical society where authority is respected, especially religious authority. Metaphysically, it is characterised by an adherence to universals and absolutes: a particular truth is always and everywhere true, irrespective of what an individual feels or thinks. Pre-modern morality emphasises duty and obligation in order to reproduce the established order. Church language betrays this, for example, in the use of the term ‘holydays of obligation’. This is reflected in the comments of a contemporary young man who is committed to the Church:

Young people of my age tend to think that what is right or wrong depends on each person. I would have a certain sympathy for their point of view; but I believe that there are certain moral standards to be upheld and that there is an actual right or wrong irrespective of what individual people think. I would not go along with the old idea that ‘black is black’ and ‘white is white’, but I do believe in holding on to certain objective standards (12).

Modernity is characterised by individualism. This has replaced the strong sense of community that was characteristic of the pre-modern world: ‘I’ll do my own thing in my own way irrespective of what anyone else thinks or says’. According to Charles Taylor, the individualism of modernity is mainly characterised by the permissive society, narcissism and the ‘me’ generation. He says that the atomism of the self-absorbed individual militates against participation in different levels of government as well as in voluntary organisations. Another strong feature of modernity concerns the primacy of instrumental reason, that is ‘the kind of rationality we draw on when we calculate the most economical application of means to a given end’ (l3) without also taking into account the moral implications. This is demonstrated in the closing down of profitable industries in order to maximise profit. Instrumental reason can also be used in a manner that can be highly destructive, for example, the failure to prevent global warming resulting in the destruction of the ozone layer.

Taylor says that the moral ideal of self-fulfilment or authenticity, which is at the heart of modernity, should not be implicitly discredited because of its debased and deviant forms. However, I believe that a purely personal understanding of self-fulfilment has a significant negative impact on Christian faith. Life in community is central to the understanding of discipleship. This is a core dimension of Christian faith. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God’s self-communicating revelation was always to a community or to an individual-in-community and it invited a community response. The early Church was particularly conscious of Christian faith lived-in-community as is evidenced in the Acts of the Apostles and other writings. Because the culture of authenticity; which is a constituent part of modernity, encourages a very personal understanding of self-fulfilment, it is, according to Taylor, ‘antithetical to any strong commitment to community’ (14).  When one does enter into community it tends to be for instrumental reasons. This mentality has been a particular challenge to a religious belief system built around community.

High Modernity, Late Modernity, Post-Modernity or Globalisation
How can the culture of our time and place best be described? It is essential to name contemporary reality in order to better understand it. Much discussion has taken place around this question over the past number of years. Some commentators argue that we are still in the era of modernity. However, most philosophers, theologians, sociologists, anthropologists and educators believe that humankind has moved beyond the strictly modern era. Michael Paul Gallagher, for example, traces the death of modernity and the birth of post-modernity to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It seems to me that while this may be true in an ideological sense, one cannot easily ascribe an exact date to this cultural shift. While one recognises that this event symbolised the end of one cultural epoch, contemporary Western culture continues to be characterised by elements of modernity as well as post-modernity. While there was a clean break between the cultural realities of pre-modernity and that of modernity; this was not the case regarding the movement from modernity to post-modernity. A major dyke arose between the river of pre-modernity and modernity whereas the river of modernity flows freely into the sea of post-modernity.

Most religious educators across North America and Canada date the origins of post-modernity to the early 1960s, particularly as it affects young people. There is general agreement that Western culture is passing through a paradigm shift and this cultural movement is generally referred to as ‘post-modernism’ or ‘post-modernity’. Leuze suggests that since we live in a transitional, developing period, the term ‘post-modern’, though nebulous, is appropriate ‘since that which has not yet happened can only be descried by what has happened’ (15).

Nancy Murphy states that a holistic epistemology, which is characteristic of post-modernism has no foundational element, so that ‘justification of a problematic belief involves showing connections with beliefs held to be unproblematic’ (16). Whereas the philosophy of modernism depended on a foundational statement for validity, a holistic epistemology discovers its strength in the relationship between beliefs. Gill gives further clarification to this perspective by stating that in the modern context ‘knowledge is… an essentially static relationship between the knower’s mind and the outside world’ (l7). Sorri and Gill also point out that ‘knowledge has almost always been construed exclusively in terms of the mind, as if those who engage in cognitive activity do so completely apart from bodily activity’ (18). In other words, a non-contextualised, disembodied epistemology was characteristic of modernism. Gill states that in post-modern epistemology ‘knowing is something persons do There is no knowledge apart from knowers’ (19). Truth is a dynamic process which human beings experience. It is contextualised and embodied in particular situations by particular people.

Modern knowledge is understood in an atomistic manner in the sense that there is a foundational belief from which other beliefs may infer justification. In considering knowledge holistically, post-modern epistemology, as Leuze points out, either ‘does not address individual beliefs or it does so with the recognition that they are interrelated with other beliefs and that the system is not reducible. The focus is on the system of beliefs rather than on individual tenets of belief’ (20).

The implications of this epistemological understanding for religious education, according to Leuze, are that ‘the resulting model either will be constructed of consistent parts (a systemic model) or there will be an awareness of the tensions between inconsistent parts’ (21). Another characteristic of modern and post-modern epistemologies that has significant implications for Christian faith, particularly in its Catholic embodiment, is the relationship of a belief system to varying viewpoints. For the modern epistemologist there are absolutes, since truth can exist apart from the knower, and the holding of differing viewpoints suggests error. In contrast, post-modern epistemology lauds diversity as a reflection of the diversity of contexts rather than viewing it as an indicator of erroneous viewpoints. Aronowitz and Giroux support an epistemology ‘in which different voices and traditions exist and flourish to the degree that they listen to the voices of others… and maintain those conditions in which the act of communicating and living extends rather than restricts the creation of democratic public life’ (22).

In seeking uniformity of belief with its attendant view of disembodied truth, modern epistemology had a comfortable home in the Catholic Church and in other established religious systems. Post-modern epistemology, with its affirmation of diversity, presents a new challenge.

The post-modern philosophical understanding of language as a communal achievement contrasts with that of modernism which saw it, rather, in terms of a collection of individuals’ achievements. This is similar to Vygotsky’s psychological explanation of the acquisition of language, wherein thought and language are first socially shaped and then individually possessed (23). In the view of Leuze ‘the import of this for religious language is also a communal task rather than an individual task’ (24).

Murphy says that a post-modern ‘non-individualist or “corporate” view of community’ is replacing the individualism and atomism of modernism (25). However, post-modern belief in what Murphy calls a ‘renewed sense of the importance and irreducibility of community’ does not deny the significance of the individual; rather, the conception is that the individual cannot be understood apart from his or her role in the community (26). Bronfenbrenner’s ecological psychology would extend this thinking by claiming that the individual can only be understood in terms of the complex network of microsystems and ecosystems of which he or she is part within macrosystems (27). Since post-modernists understand community interactively and organically, Leuze says that ‘an implication of this characteristic for religious education is the recognition that the religious community (like a holistic epistemology) is a web of interrelated elements’ (28). While affirming individual significance, this is to be understood in relationship with other community members.

The post-modernist appreciation of the importance of the irreducibility of community stands in stark contrast to Taylor’s description of atomistic modernism. While not engaging this dimension of post-modern thought, it is important to keep in mind that contemporary culture is still characterised by an individualism that tends to see fulfilment as just of the self, ‘neglecting or delegitimating the demands that come from beyond our own desires or aspirations, be they from history, tradition, society, nature or God’, leading to a radical anthropocentrism and social atomism(29).

As post-modernism’s fresh understanding of, and emphasis on, community filters down to lived contemporary culture, it appears to augur well for a religious faith that is community based. Thus, Christian Churches and other community-based religious faiths should benefit greatly from this dimension of post-modernity. However, this will be determined by the model of Church or religious institution that is operative. As Leuze points out, ‘in the post-modern perspective, hierarchies are levelled and power is distributed more evenly. A plurality of viewpoints is appreciated and differences are celebrated’ (30). If the post-modernist understanding of community becomes fully embedded in contemporary culture, the issue will not be whether one is in or out of community; rather, it will be a matter of which community one chooses to belong to. According to Leuze, ‘communities which are open to diversity and hold a dynamic view of knowledge and language will be more conducive to post-modern perspectives,’ whereas ‘communities which seek to be homogenous, which maintain a static understanding of knowledge and a literalist interpretation of language will be closed to the diversity which is inherent in post-modern thought’ (31). While the latter perspective may be consciously employed in order to halt the advance of post-modern thought, this may have an adverse effect on a community, since changing perspectives are inevitable. History appears to teach this lesson in the case of the Catholic Church.

A challenge facing religious institutions at the beginning of a new millennium is whether they can critically embrace the post-modernist perspective and its attending culture of post-modernity; whether they can embrace unity-in-diversity, allowing all viewpoints to be accorded value, while at the same time preserving the essential parameters of belief, structure and practice.

The most recent term used to name the cultural reality of our day among religious educators is that of globalisation. This reflects the use of this as a key term among economists, social scientists and politicians, who believe that we have entered the age of supranational and global unification. Friedrich Schweitzer argues that the concept of globalisation should replace earlier interpretations of the contemporary cultural reality. In his view, ‘we should now speak of globalisation or of the “global age” rather than of modernisation or post-modernity’ (32) and religious educators should adopt this key perspective offered by social scientists for the human journey into the third millennium. He cites many authors who go beyond the popular understanding of globalisation as that of a worldwide open market and just another step within the development of capitalist economy. In their understanding, the concept of globalisation includes a cultural process that may deeply change people’s lives, ‘and it must be considered a social force that may influence our religious beliefs and deepest loyalties’ (33). Consequently, the dawning ‘global age’ is a fundamental challenge for religious education.

I disagree with Schweitzer’s position in regard to replacing the concept of post-modernity with that of globalisation, not least because one loses the philosophical dimension inherent in post-modernism, which is essential for a comprehensive understanding of our contemporary culture. I would rather view globalisation as a central element in post-modernity. With that in mind, I offer some thoughts regarding the effects of the globalisation element of post-modernity on religious values and its challenge to religious education.

It is possible to isolate three key elements in the challenge of globalisation to religious education. The first and main effect of the ‘global age’ is that it brings about a thorough relativisation of religion. Peter Beyer points out that when cultures are brought closer together the worldviews or grand narratives that could formerly be taken for granted ‘appear to be to a significant extent arbitrary’ (34). The celebration of diversity that is characteristic of post-modern thinking is seen more sharply on a global level and the issue of religious truth becomes an increasingly subjective matter.

A second effect of globalisation results in the privatisation of religion. Schweitzer remarks that ‘if everyday life functions without religious authority and without existential questions, such authority and such questions become more and more removed from public life’ (35). If they do have a place it is only in the private sphere.

Fundamentalism is now regarded as a third effect of globalisation. This is really counter-globalisation as it attempts to confront the ‘global age’ by upholding traditional authority. Fundamentalism is often regarded as a psychological aberration, but it may also stem from the fear of losing one’s personal or religious identity.

The Opportunities and Challenges of a Post-Modern Millennium
While globalisation encompasses a significant dimension of post-modernity and requires close scrutiny, I will now turn to the broader dimensions of our contemporary cultural reality. David Tracy points out that the challenge of post-modernity to Christian faith differs from that of modernity. He views post-modernity as a new sensibility, which is more open to Christian faith than modernity (36). Many commentators agree with this position, while others believe that contemporary culture is undermining not only Church-related faith, but also the requisite openness that is necessary for believing. I would rather view contemporary culture from the perspective of David Tracy, particularly because of its new openness to the mystical, the spiritual and to new forms of interactive community.

New Openness to the Spiritual
It is my experience that while the majority of young people either reject, or are indifferent to, institutionalised religion they are very open to the religious or spiritual dimension of life. The most recent statistics show that the vast majority of young people also believe in God, however this Being is conceived. As one young person put it, ‘even though I have moved away from a Church that I consider to be a very non-flexible, rigid institution with a rigid set of values, belief in God is still very important to me. The image I have of God is that of a very creative energy, an energy that exists all around us, a life-force… I believe that all life-forces have a unity and that God is in the connection of all that has life – all human life, animal and plant life, the air, the rivers, the seas, the mountains – God is in absolutely everything around US’ (37). In reference to two surveys of Irish Catholics (1981 and 1990), which demonstrated a twenty per cent decrease in belief in a personal God and a fifty per cent increase in belief in God as ‘some sort of Spirit’ or ‘Life-Force’, Joseph Dunne remarked that ‘there certainly seems to be a marked shift in the nature of what counts as “religion” – a shift away from faith in a historically specific revelation, articulated theologically in doctrines such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, towards a more diffuse form of what might be called spirituality’ (38).

Many young people today are searching for what they name as experiential religious encounters which, in their experience, the traditional religious institutions are unable to provide. Some of them even want to recover a Jesus who is ‘real’ and connected to them rather than to the highly suspect religious body. Tom Beaudoin believes that as well as living religiously in and through popular culture, the rising generation in North America has taken religion into its own hands in two specific ways. ‘First’, he says, ‘they have a widespread regard for paganism – however vaguely defined? This is evidenced in popular books and record store offerings as well as in the profusion of internet information on paganism. The second way in which young people personalise or de-institutionalise religion, according to Beaudoin, is ‘through a growing enchantment with mysticism’ (40). Again, this can be witnessed in book shops, music stores and in popular discussion. ‘As practiced by [young people]’, he says, ‘mysticism is defined as broadly as paganism and is often expressed as religious eclecticism. [Young people] take symbols, values and rituals from various religious traditions and combine them into their personal spirituality’ (41).

The results of an in-depth interview process among Irish youth revealed similar characteristics. These young people, like their North American counterparts, prized diversity and tolerance for various points of view and ways of life, saying that ‘there is not anyone particular set of beliefs that fits who you. are’ (42). One had joined a ‘rainbow church’. Others appreciated a plurality of viewpoints and celebrated differences. ‘Many elements of Buddhism as well as many of those in the Christian tradition’ were also valued (43).

The appeal of mysticism to the rising generation may well be a symptom of a strong reaction against the rationality of modernity and not just a fanciful flight from traditional (inherited) religious practice. David Tracy argues that delving into the mystical dimension of life is a way of being prophetic, reacting against the ‘drive to sameness, the modern western scientific, technological, culture’ (44). Beaudoin expresses a similar view when he points out that the youth of today ‘may feel that our culture’s untrammelled trust in reason is not enough, that grand narratives (about power or patriarchy) swallow our individuality (45). Challenging the modern world in this way places today’s youth in a post-modern context. Tracy suggests that ‘the recovery of mystical readings of the prophetic core of Judaism and Christianity is one of the surest signs of a post modern sensibility’ (46).

The renewed openness to the spiritual dimension of life among the rising generation, in whatever form it takes, provides an opportunity for religious educators to build on an existing foundation. Indeed, the penchant for the spiritual which is evident today does not always find expression in pagan forms; very often it is Christian or Jewish at its core, as those who minister to young people can attest. Michael Paul Gallagher wonders if ‘a post-modern spirituality can be born that does justice both to the core relationship of faith, the radical concreteness of Christ and its prophetic challenges to our broken world… and to re-open the conversation about the ultimate goals for life’ (47). I believe that the search for wholeness and for a meaningful spirituality, which is evident among increasing numbers of contemporary youth, is at least open to, and offers the possibility of, dialogue with the Christian story in its institutionalised, symbolic and liturgical expression.

Indifference Towards Institutionalised Religion
One of the themes that characterises the spirituality of post-modern youth is that organised religion and other institutions are suspect. In this context, it is important to point out that the apathy towards inherited religious institutions reflects an indifference towards institutions in general, this being a hallmark of post-modernity. In other words, institutional religious faith is a victim of a post-modern culture.

The Catholic theologian, Robert Ludwig, while acknowledging that new spiritual opportunities are emerging as young people ‘become more and more open to the experiences that lie at the core of [Catholic] tradition’, points out that the new generation is ‘increasingly alienated from the institutional Church’ (48). The analysis of in-depth interviews with young people certainly reveals a de-emphasis on, and in some cases a rejection of, organised religion. One young Irish woman had this to say: ‘Right now I would see myself as having a loose affiliation with the Catholic Church… I have my own beliefs and my own faith and I am quite happy with that’ (49). A young man from a socially deprived area commented: ‘The Church as an institution is very middle class and therefore excludes people of my class. The young people with whom I work, the so-called underclass, all feel alienated from the Church and not only from the Church, but from all institutions of the State’ (50) After interviewing young people from all over the United States, Cohen discovered some diversity in religious attitudes, but a response typical of many young people was expressed in the words of one respondent who explained that ‘one of the reasons I don’t go to Church like I should [is that] they’re just hypocrites’ (51). Beaudoin concurs in saying that this is the most common charge that he has heard from young people about religion. ‘The perception of hypocrisy’, he says, ‘is one reason religion is not a security blanket but a wet blanket to so many’ (52). Howe and Strauss report that ‘religion ranks behind friends, home, school, music and television as factors [young people] believe are having the greatest influence on their generation’. (53) However, when one looks at the broader picture in the results of Cohen’s research across the United States, it is clear that more than criticism is afoot. In the book, Twentysomething American Dream, one of those interviewed, Lavona, expresses another common attitude among young people: ‘What the hell’s going to church for? These days you’ve got to take religion in your own hands’ (54).

New Openness to Community
One feature of the philosophy of post-modernism that appears to augur well for a community-based religious faith such as our own is the new non-individualistic attitude that is replacing the individualism of modernism. As one young person put it: ‘Many young people today are moving away from the individualism that was characteristic of the era that we seem to be leaving behind, the kind of individualism you see in modern Irish society. . . ‘ (55).

This renewed sense of the importance of community does not deny the significance of the individual; rather, the conception is that the individual cannot be understood apart from his or her role in the community. From the post-modern perspective communities that are open to diversity will be more attractive to the post-modern sensibility, whereas communities that strive to be homogeneous (where we all think and believe the same thing) will close themselves off from the diversity that is inherent in the post-modern thought and way of life.

Rejection of Absolutes
This is probably the characteristic of post-modern culture with which we are all most familiar. Personal experience is of singular importance to young people today. When it comes to making decisions about beliefs, values and how best to live, personal experience overrides any other factor. As one young person put it: ‘My life becomes meaningful by paying really close attention to everything that I do, and I ascertain what is important by looking at how things feel inside, by reflecting on how something affects me spiritually and emotionally’ (56). She goes on to say: ‘I believe there is no absolute right or wrong, apart from, perhaps, hurting a child’ (57). Another young person had this to say: ‘I do not think that there are any absolute truths, any absolute right or wrong. It depends on each person whatever is true for them’ (58).

Culture: The Key Issue
The analysis of my empirical research supports the view widely held in the literature on cultural influence, namely, the manner in which people experience reality, especially the young, is culturebound, and their ideas, values and general attitudes to life are largely determined by the type of culture to which they are exposed. Metaphorically speaking, culture is a matter of life or death, and sometimes literally so. Thus any educational or religious educational endeavour that does not take account of the contemporary cultural milieu in which all age groups, especially the young, are immersed is destined to be less than adequate. In this regard, it is important for the adult members of a faith community, especially those who are ‘official’ teachers, to remember that their ideas, values and attitudes are culture-bound too, even if from a different cultural experience. This recognition will encourage intercultural dialogue between student and teacher.

The relationship between religious nurture and religious education needs to be reconsidered. In a sense, there is no more room for simple nurture in religion. This points to the vital importance of the questions raised and views expressed by the authors of the following chapters. If religious education is going to play its indispensable role in future right relations within nations and among the nations of the world, the nature, purpose and aim of religious education needs to be carefully explored.

1. O. Brennan, Cultures Apart? (Dublin: Veritas Publications, 2001), p. 13.
2. E. Doyle McCarthy, Knowledge as Culture: The New Sociology of Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 5.
3. T. H. Groome, Christian Religious Education: Sharing our Story and Vision (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980).
4. M. Warren, Communications and Cultural Analysis (Westport CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1992) p. 6.
5. T. Beaudoin, Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1998) p. 22.
6. M. P. Gallagher, Clashing Symbols: An Introduction to Faith and Culture (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1997) p. 13.
7. C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973) p.89.
8. A. Shorter, Towards a Theology of Inculturation (New York: Orbis Books, 1988) p. 5
9. L. Kroeber and D. Kluckhohn, Culture, A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (New York: Vintage Books, 1983).
10. Shorter, op.cit., p. 20.
11. Irish Times 8 January 2003.
12. Brennan, op.cit., p. 29.
13. C. Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).
14. Ibid, p. 120.
15. T. E. Leuze, Is Shared Christian Praxis Postmodern? An Anglo-American  Post-modern Consideration. Paper presented at the APRRE Annual Meeting (Orlando, Florida, 1998).
16. N. Murphy, Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning, Cornell Studies in the Philosophy
of Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990) p. 20l.
17. Gill, Learning to Learn: Towards a Philosophy of Education (Atlantic Highlands, NJ, Humanities Press International, 1993) p. 48.
18. M. Sorri and J. H. Gill, A Postmodern Epistemology: Language, Truth and Body (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellin Press, 1989) p. l.
19. Gill, op.cit., p. 48.
20. Leuze, op.cit., p. 15l.
21. Ibid.
22. S. Aronowitz and H. A. Giroux, Postmodern Education: Politics, Culture and Social Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991) pp. 188-189.
23. L. Vygotsky, Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, ed. M. Cole    et al; (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1978) pp. 88-90.
24. Leuze, op.cit., p. 147.
25. Murphy, op.cit.
26. Ibid.
27. U. Bronfenbrenner, The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1979).
28. Leuze, op.cit.
29. Taylor, op.cit., p. 58.
30. Leuze, op.cit., p. 155.
31. Ibid., p. 154.
32. F. Schweitzer, The Fourth R for the Third Millenium, ed. Leslie J. Francis, Jeff Astley; Mandy Robbins (Dublin: Lindisfarne Books, 2001) p. 159.
33. Ibid., p. 160.
34. P. Beyer, Religion and Globalisation (London: Sage, 1994) p. 2.
35. Schweitzer, op.cit., p. 163.
36. D. Tracy, Theology and the Many Faces of Postmodernity, Theology Today 51, (1994) pp. 104-114.
37. Brennan, ibid., p. 16.
38. J. Dunne, ‘Religion and Modernity: Reading the Signs’, in Faith and Culture in the Irish Context, ed E. G. Cassidy (Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1996) p. 53.
39. Beaudoin, Virtual Faith, p. 25.
40. Ibid., p. 25.
41. Ibid., p. 25.
42. Brennan, op.dt., p. 163.
43. Ibid.
44. Tracy, op.dt.
45. Beaudoin, op.dt., p. 26.
46. Tracy, op.dt., p. 114.
47. Gallagher, op.dt., p. 52.
48. R. Ludwig, Reconstructing Catholicism: for a New Generation, (NY: Crossroad, 1995) p. 9.
49. Brennan, op.dt., p. 22.
50. Ibid., p. 37.
51. M. L. Cohen, The Twentysomething American Dream: A Cross-Country Quest for a Generation, (NY: Dutton, 1993) p. 97.
52. Beaudoin, op.dt., p. 25.
53. N. Howe and B. Strauss, Thirteenth Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? (NY: Vintage Books, 1993)p. 187.
54. Cohen, op.dt., p. 183.
55. Brennan, op.dt., p. 16.
56. Ibid., p. 15. 57. Ibid., p. 15. 58. Ibid., p. 23.

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