Shh – Don’t mention the Christians! An exploration of the potential role of contemporary children’s literature in the RE classroom

Lawrence, Anita (2024) Shh – Don’t mention the Christians! An exploration of the potential role of contemporary children’s literature in the RE classroom. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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A recent focus on the lack of diverse voices in children’s books has cast a long-overdue spotlight on the importance of ensuring children can see themselves reflected in the books they read. The response of authors, publishers and booksellers has ensured a small, but significant, increase in the number of books available which feature diversity as a lived experience rather than as an issue. However, one area of diversity which is rarely mentioned is that of religious affiliation. Described as “fictionally invisible” (Mehmood, 2016), characters in children’s books who belong to faith groups appear to be few and far between, which suggests that religion may be the last taboo in children’s literature.

Positioned at a point in UK history when there are growing concerns about cultural diversity and nationalism, and in the wake of a pandemic which has seen people of faith unable to meet, worship and practice their faith in recognisable ways, this thesis asks whether there is a need for greater religious representation in children’s books as a way of tackling discrimination and intolerance. The research explores the importance of teaching a lived religious experience and the potential for works of fiction to support this area of the curriculum. A broad reading of a wide variety of children’s books is used to identify which genres lend themselves most easily to depictions of the lived religious experience, and a close reading of key texts from the 21st Century provides insights into how religion and religious themes are portrayed in contemporary children’s fiction, and which genres appear to lend themselves best to the portrayal of faith.

The study demonstrates that fiction can offer safe places to explore the lived religious experience of others without risk of offence, and proposes a toolkit for use in the classroom. The review of primary and secondary sources leads to the development of a potential framework which uses a DIPT – Delighting, Informing, Performing, Transforming – approach to support the selection of texts to teach the lived religious experience. The toolkit also offers an analysis tool combining religious, artefactual and critical literacies to enable pupils to probe texts for religious themes and parallels. The recommended approaches aim to provide opportunities for children to explore what it might feel like to believe in something greater than oneself, whilst recognising the potential dangers of misrepresentation and indoctrination when teaching about the lived religious experience. In raising both the importance of teaching what belief and faith mean to individuals, and the potential of contemporary fiction to offer accessible insights into a range of different faiths, the research demonstrates that there is potential to incorporate secular children’s fiction into the classroom in a meaningful way, which informs – and delights.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
L Education > LC Special aspects of education
P Language and Literature > PZ Childrens literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Farrell, Dr. Maureen and Davis, Professor Robert
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84084
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2024 11:06
Last Modified: 13 Feb 2024 11:06
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84084

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