Irish Centre for Religious Education
Gareth Byrne, Sandra Cullen, Bernadette Sweetman, Leslie Francis, Jeff Astley, Andrew McGrady, Anne Looney
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Celebrating Research in RE

The Voices of Young People on Religion and Education Conference convened by the Irish Centre for Religious Education in association with the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education was a great success. The Conference at DCU Institute of Education attracted more than 80 people over Friday evening 8th and Sat 9th June 2018.

Working together on a number of large datasets, the most recent from a survey conducted between 2013 and 2015 among 2nd and 3rd Years in the variety of school types across the Republic of Ireland, the speakers provided a comparative analysis of the attitudes of young people in Ireland to religion, beliefs and values over a period of fifty years. The interrogation of this data makes a vital contribution to informing our understanding of the religiosity and spirituality of young people in contemporary Ireland, North and South, and their engagement with religious education in schools. Sr. Anne Neylon commented after the Conference: ‘It was very enlightening to hear all the presenters and the amount of research that has been conducted. It is surely invaluable to the future trends of Religious Education.’

Speakers included Professor Leslie J. Francis and Professor Jeff Astley from the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, University of Warwick who presented on the Greer Tradition focused on a survey taken initially in 1968 with sixth-form religion within Protestant schools in Northern Ireland. The survey was replicated in 1978, 1988, and 1998 and extended to Catholic schools as well. In 2011 the survey was replicated again and this time extended to the Republic of Ireland. Professor Francis pointed out that careful replication and extension of research is unusual within the field of religious education.

Professor Andrew McGrady presented his work on data gathered within the Catholic school sector in the Republic of Ireland from what has been called the millennial generation. Research was carried out into the religiosity of school leavers and parental expectations of a Catholic Voluntary Secondary School in 81 schools under various forms of Catholic trusteeship in 2003.

Dr. Gareth Byrne and Dr. Bernadette Sweetman, and Professor Francis, presented a variety of papers on the findings gathered through the Religious Diversity and Young People survey administered by the ICRE within the variety of school types in the Republic of Ireland, between 2013 and 2015. The material presented focused on what 13- to 15- year-old students in Ireland are saying about churchgoing, atheism and belief, religious diversity and religious education.

As well as providing participants with breakout sessions to discuss the impact of what they were hearing for their own contexts, the Conference concluded with a reflection by Dr. Sandra Cullen highlighting key learning emerging from what had been presented, asking what we can hear from what young people are saying and how can we become conversation partners with them in imagining appropriate forms of religious education for contemporary and future contexts.

Sr. Anne concluded her comments by adding: ‘I have been reflecting a lot on all that I heard and continue to urge young teachers as I visit schools to consider some further studies.’