Professor Leslie J. Francis and Associate Professor Tania ap Siôn
The introduction of a question about religious affiliation in the Census for England and Wales for the first time in 2001 drew attention to the growing complexity of a multifaith society. At the same time, the growing strength of secularisation highlighted the minority status of all faith communities in England and Wales.
The Young People’s Attitudes to Religious Diversity project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council within the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, set out to discover two things: what it felt like to be a young person within a faith community growing up in a largely secular society; what secular young people felt about living alongside these religious minorities (including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs).
Alongside in-depth qualitative research, the Young People’s Attitudes to Religious Diversity project gathered questionnaire data from nearly 12, 000 13- to 15- year-old students. The following core findings influenced the development of the curriculum materials:
An unacceptably high proportion of young people who belonged to a faith community (including Muslims and Christians) reported that they were bullied at school because of their religion. An unacceptably high proportion of young people held prejudiced attitudes against religion and against religious groups. School was shown to be an important factor in offsetting and correcting prejudicial attitudes.
An overview of the books, chapters and articles arising from this research project can be found at: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/ces/research/wreru/research/completed/ahrc/outputs/
The curriculum materials have been designed to help schools create an informed and safe environment for secular and for religious students to appreciate and respect diversity. The following assumptions underpin the content of these materials.
The development of open and positive attitudes towards difference underpins respect for diversity. Foundations for open and positive attitudes need to be put in place during the early years. Open and positive attitudes grow from familiarity with and contact with diverse populations (the so-called contact hypothesis)
The two series Exploring Why and Exploring our World bring contact with young people from a variety of faith backgrounds into the experience of young learners in the classroom. By identifying with the central characters of these books (Aled and Sian) young learners are brought into contact with Aled and Sian’s friends. Aled and Sian themselves have no explicit religious identity. Yet through their friends they are welcomed into the world of young Christians, young Hindus, young Jews, and young Muslims.
The natural curiosity displayed by Aled and Sian as they enter into the diverse worlds of their young friends is infectious and carries us along with them on a journey of discovery. The consequence is that Aled and Sian gain access to deeper friendships and to richer experiences. The consequence is that Aled and Sian’s friends who grow up within religious families may live happier and safer lives.
The two series Exploring Why and Exploring Our World were developed in collaboration with the St Mary’s Centre: http://www.st-marys-centre.org.uk