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Projects Undertaken by MPhil/PhD Students

Completed Projects

Damian Breen (PhD)

Field of Research: The influence of status on the promotion of ethos in Islamic schooling: a comparative case study of an Independent and a state-maintained Muslim school

My research aimed to contribute to the largely under-researched area of faith schooling in education. Within this field there has been very little ethnographic sociological research into Muslim schools in England. My thesis comprised ethnographic research methods such as qualitative interviews with staff, participant observation, documentary analysis, visual data etc within an Independent Muslim school and a state-maintained Muslim school. This provided a comparative case study which, through sociological analysis, gave insights into the influence of independent/state-maintained status on the promotion and constitution of 'ethos' in the given schools.

Ann Casson (PhD)

Field of Research: Perceptions of Catholicity in a plural society: an ethnographic case study of Catholic secondary schools in England

The research findings were drawn from an ethnographic study of Catholic secondary schools in England; data was generated through semi-structured focus group interviews and observations. The understanding of religion employed in the thesis was developed from the work of Hervieu-Léger on religion as a chain of memory. The concept of social capital in the form of bonding and bridging, and both religious and spiritual capital, provided a framework to understand the factors within Catholic schools, which were perceived to create a Catholic community and to develop or hinder cohesion in plural society. The students’ understandings of their Catholic identity were diverse and fragmentary, with precarious links to the Catholic Church as an institution. However, there was a valuing of aspects of the Catholic faith tradition, which were used to construct their own understanding of Catholicism, leading to a conclusion that the Catholic school is a source of spiritual capital for its members. The participants perceived their schools to have a Catholic nature, a strong ‘sense of community’. The Catholic schools were good generators of bonding capital, although this was concentrated on the school, rather than the wider Catholic community. Perceptions of the boundaries of the school focused on everyday encounters with outsiders such as ‘the school next door’ rather than members of other faith communities. This research has implications: for the faith school debate and issues concerning social cohesion; for the Catholic school’s role in the transmission of the faith tradition and for an understanding of young people’s Catholic identity.

Lars L. Eriksen (PhD)

Field of Research: Learning to be a Norwegian National identity in Norwegian Religious Education

This study looked at how religion was mobilised in the construction of national identities, using religious education in Norway as a case. It looked specifically at how Norwegian majority identities were done in a country which is becoming increasingly multi-faith. It included analysis of national curricula from 1969 until today, and classroom ethnography in secondary schools.

Supervisor: Professor Robert Jackson is co-supervisor with Dr Bob Carter (Dept of Sociology).

Oddrun Marie Hovde Bråten (PhD)

Field of Research: A comparative study of RE in Norway and England.

The focus was Religious Education (RE) in modern day pluralistic contexts. The main objective was to compare RE in England and Norway in order to find similarities and differences, and through this get a better understanding of RE in both countries, and also of "the phenomena" of multi faith RE.

The thesis also looked at possible interchanges and influences between the two countries' processes towards developing multi faith RE.

Central aims were:

  • To compare the two countries' histories of religious education in schools.
  • To compare the two countries' political strategies for developing RE in relation to meeting the challenge of modern pluralistic societies.
  • To compare elements from the two countries' RE curricula and background documents.
  • To compare different positions and arguments in the debate about RE in the two countries.

A fundamental assumption underlying was that the two countries were comparable, that they did have things in common, especially that they might both be seen as representatives of the modern western society.

Norway and England/Wales are both Western European countries where Religious Education (RE) has gone through a transformation since the 1950s that reflect shifts in society from basically all-Christian to multi religious and multi cultural. Although the processes are parallel, the differences in political strategies are also evident. This study explored how the challenge of this change in Western European cultures was met in RE.

Oddrun's research will contribute to the EU REDCo Project.

Supervisor: Professor Robert Jackson

Nigel Fancourt (PhD)

Field of research: Self-assessment in Religious Education

Nigel was awarded his PhD in 2008.

I am conducting action research into how pupils can use self-assessment to improve in religious education. I am therefore interested in self-assessment as part of assessment for learning. This involves exploring the different demands on self-assessment in 'learning about religion' and in 'learning from religion'. What is of particular concern is the use of self-assessment for 'learning from religion'. Can pupils identify how to improve their evaluative skills? Can they identify how to improve their empathy? Can they identify how to improve their reflection? On the one hand, self-assessment could be more than a mechanical self-marking process, on the other hand it is not clear to what extent pupils really can identify how they need to improve in, for example, self-knowledge. My aim is to clarify these issues, which have implications for assessment generally in religious education, for pedagogy, and for moral and spiritual development.

Nigel is contributing to the EU REDCo project and is contributing his expertise in French language in translating texts from French for WRERU researchers.

Supervisor: Professor Robert Jackson and Dr Val Brooks

Barbara Wintersgill (PhD)

Thesis title: Teenagers' perceptions of spirituality

Barbara's key research questions were: Is secondary school pupils' understanding of 'spiritual development' influenced by variables such as age, gender, religion, ethnicity or ability. In the view of secondary school pupils, how far does their school contribute to their spiritual development? Where do secondary pupils' ideas of spirituality/spiritual development originate? How far do secondary pupils' views of spiritual development coincide with those identified in the literature (including theological/religious literature)? How might secondary pupils' views of spiritual development influence the inspection of SMSC? Barbara has been a pioneer of e-interviewing and her research will contribute to the growing literature in this field.

Supervisor:Professor Robert Jackson and Dr Eleanor Nesbitt

Sissel Østberg (PhD)

Thesis title: Pakistani Children in Oslo: Islamic Nurture in a Secular Context.

Sissel is a leading researcher in religions and education in Norway. She wrote her thesis under Bob Jackson's supervision and she was awarded her PhD in 1999. She is still associated with WRERU and made a study visit in February 2003. She had various 2003 publications stemming from the thesis (two books and a long article already published and a second book in press) and a chapter in an international handbook on religious education in 2006.

Julia Ipgrave (PhD)

Julia was awarded her PhD in January 2003. Her thesis title was 'Inter Faith Encounter and Religious Understanding in an Inner City Primary School'. Julia continues working in WRERU as an honorary research associate.

Julia researched the influence of encounter on the religious understanding of a group of primary age children in inner city Leicester. She was awarded an ESRC postgraduate research studentship for her PhD work. The research focused on a minority of non-Muslim children in a predominantly Muslim area, and is informed by small discussion groups in which the children were free to explore and share their own ideas. The study begins by presenting a view of children as active in the construction of their own lives. The young participants' contributions to the discussions are related to other theoretical positions on children's religion and a cognitive and language-based approach is advocated. A progressive, developmental model of children's religious thinking is rejected in favour of a model that allows multi-directional movement to and fro between different faith styles in response to a number of contextual factors.

Detailed textual analysis of the transcribed conversations reveals the influences of social encounter on the children's understanding. It also recognises the creativity of the children's religious thinking when their perspectives are brought into dialogical relationship with the viewpoints of others. As they assimilate words and discourses from their wider environment, the children adapt them and employ them for their own ends. Their social context of religious plurality supplies a bank of understandings and associations. From this they select and negotiate meanings to suit the requirements of the immediate communicative context of the discussions. The outcome of the process is the children's ongoing engagement with questions of religious identity and belief.

Julia was supervised by Professor Bob Jackson. She is now an Associate Professor at Oxford Brookes University and is contributing to the Warwick branch of the EU REDCo Project.

Vivien Northcote (PhD)

Vivien was awarded her PhD in July 2004.

Field of research: 'The use of Christian imagery in religious education materials by the National Society of the Church of England from 1884 until 1904'

This research looked at the teaching methods and the introduction of illustrated materials into religious education during the last quarter of the Victorian period. It concentrated on a specific group of illustrated books which incorporate twenty-four chromo-lithographs which were copies of original Italian Christian Old Master images from the Renaissance period. These images were all originally produced for use within the liturgy and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. The research indicated the significance of these books being used with pupils in Church of England schools at a time of religious dispute and developing educational techniques. It concluded that these books saw the beginning of an innovative teaching technique.

Supervisors: Professor Robert Jackson and Dr Richard Yeomans





























The text of Lars' presentation at the University of Oslo (May 2007) on 'The role of religion in the construction of national identity in the Norwegian school' is available here