The sky is not a cow: interpreting religion beyond the propositional frame

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How does our understanding of religion frame discourse about the place of religion in education? Debates between Michael Hand and Trevor Cooling illustrate a tendency within philosophy of education: religion is understood in terms of what I characterize as the ‘propositional frame’. The propositional frame involves a reductive identification of religion with truth claims, belief systems or worldviews. Drawing on philosophers and theologians such as Charles Taylor, Rowan Williams and Wilfred Cantwell Smith, I argue that the ‘problem’ of religion and education is not best understood as involving competing and irreconcilable worldviews. The propositional frame tends to draw the discussion towards questions of indoctrination, or competing rights between parents and children, or parents and the state. In order to move beyond this propositional framing of religion, I suggest we need to see the religion embodied and embedded in practices that James Smith calls ‘cultural liturgies’. Those liturgies – whether religious or secular – are formative and therefore educational. The dangers of leaving formation to the liturgies of secular culture will be briefly explored. The wider context of the paper is to show the sense in which there is no such thing as secular education.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusUnpublished - Mar 2016
EventPhilosophy of Education Society of Great Britain - Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 1 Apr 20163 Apr 2016


ConferencePhilosophy of Education Society of Great Britain
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • religion and education
  • secular education
  • philosophy of education
  • religious studies


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