Dominican Thomist pedagogy for a post-secular society: developing dialogic skills in RE for UK secondary school students

Antony Luby

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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A purpose of this thesis is to reclaim and rehabilitate the word “secular” for the Christian lexicon. In its original conception, society comprises three realms – sacred, secular and profane. The secular realm was the neutral area between the sacred and profane realms and all people are welcome to contribute within this public sphere. Today, “secular” is couched in terms that are oppositional to Christianity. There is much, though, in secularity to admire – and given that its liberal values have Christian roots – this should be unsurprising.
The main purpose of this thesis is to determine how, in UK secondary school classrooms, within the subject domain of religious education – this secular realm can be reclaimed. Viewing the classroom as a microcosm of society a Dominican Thomist pedagogy is mooted. Such pedagogy is Thomist with regard to its focus on reasoning and it is Dominican with respect to its engagement with the secular spirit of the age. To prepare secondary school students to become enabled to fortify the secular realm they are encouraged to develop two dialogic skills: consensus building through cumulative talk and constructive criticism through exploratory talk.
With a stimulus of two texts – one based on science and the supernatural and the other on New Testament scholarship – sixty-five students from ten UK secondary schools engage with paired conversations. Their conversations are recorded and transcribed and subsequently analysed for quality through word counts for both cumulative talk and exploratory talk. The students completed a questionnaire survey for adopting a deep approach to learning and the ten test items are analysed for statistical significance through medium of a Chi Square Test. They also wrote a one sentence comment reflecting upon their experience and the perceived value – pedagogical or social – of this dialogic RE intervention.
The results indicate high levels of student engagement with paired conversations as demonstrated with thirty-nine of the sixty-two conversations graded as high quality, thirteen as mid-quality, and ten as low quality. To a statistically significant degree, the students’ self- reporting questionnaire survey indicates that they adopt a deep approach to learning. Their written comments furnish ample evidence that the students enjoy the experience of paired conversations and they cite, in the main, pedagogical reasons for their beliefs.
In conclusion, there is sound evidence to indicate to schools and RE teachers that this dialogic intervention promotes quality conversations based on cumulative talk and exploratory talk. It is recommended that further research and curriculum development is undertaken with respect to new technologies to help embed these two types of talk within RE classrooms. Given that the two types of talk bear the Dominican Thomist hallmarks of reasoning, truth and engagement with secularity and that these hallmarks are found within the hermeneutical-communicative RE and critical RE pedagogies; then it is recommended that further research and curriculum development is undertaken here. Further, given the leading role of University of Glasgow scholars in advocacy of such pedagogies; then it is recommended that they liaise with the Catholic University of Leuven which houses the Continent’s leading exponents of hermeneutical-communicative RE. Such a partnership could prove fruitful in realising a vision whereby paired conversations within the safe space of a school prepare students to fortify the public sphere within a post-secular society.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Glasgow
  • Conroy, James, Supervisor, External person
  • Davis, Robert, Supervisor, External person
Award date10 Dec 2018
Place of PublicationGlasgow
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


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