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Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education

AREFD

The AREFD project

Welcome to the Adult Religious Education and Faith Development (AREFD) research project.

Researchers at the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education (MDCCE) at Dublin City University are working on an exciting three-year project which explores the nature, scope and potential of religious education and faith development for adults in Ireland.  Funded by the Presentation Sisters North East Province, it is hoped that the project isl enhancing public awareness of the great work already happening in communities, parishes and groups.  Giving affirmation and recognition to those already actively engaged in adult religious education and faith development, the research team will work with many different groups across Ireland in setting up new opportunities for adults to explore. All queries in relation to this project please email bernadette.sweetman@dcu.ie

What is the AREFD project about?

Religious education: two words which conjure up many questions in contemporary Irish society.  Perhaps we think of the school subject and debates about whether or not it even belongs in schools.  The recently published Junior Cycle Religious Education Specification helps to clarify the term ‘religious education’ at second-level.  It is based on an understanding of religious education as ‘developing knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world.’ (NCCA, 2018). 

So what about adults?  Don’t adults also need to reflect on and develop their knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values in this area?  Aren’t adults also seeking to deepen their self-awareness, to improve their relationships, and understand their contribution to society?  Be it in the everyday moments of their lives, or in those milestones such as parenthood, career changes or bereavement, adults are regularly experiencing times of faith as well as doubt; times of celebration as well as loss.  Adults reflect on and question their identity, how they belong and what their purpose is in life. To where can adults turn, we might ask, to address the big questions? 

In Ireland, various groups and communities are involved in different types of formal and informal activities that in some way are aimed at helping adults achieve a greater self-understanding, make sense of their lives and find joy.  Some may have an explicit religious focus and belong within a denominational expression.  Some may be more broadly spiritual.  No doubt however, across Ireland, there are adults in search of such opportunities for development but they might not know where to look or how to get started.  How do we find out about such models of best practice and make the connections so that more adults become engaged?

Researchers at the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education (MDCCE) at Dublin City University are working on an exciting three-year project which explores the nature, scope and potential of religious education and faith development for adults in Ireland.  Funded by the Presentation Sisters North East Province, it is hoped that the project is enhancing public awareness of the great work already happening with adults in some communities, parishes and groups.  Giving affirmation and recognition to those already actively engaged in adult religious education and faith development, the research team will work with many different groups across Ireland setting up new opportunities for adults to explore.  Based at MDCCE, the research will not, however, be confined to Catholic communities.  Rather, the aim will be to learn from and contribute to adult religious education across the variety of contexts in 21st century Ireland. 

The first phase of the project (an online survey) was live on the MDCCE website from May to June 2019. It invited adults to explore their understanding and experiences of religious education when they were at school but also bring them beyond that, to what matters to them today.  In particularly, it encouraged adults to reflect on their how they express their beliefs and values; the opportunities (or lack thereof) for religious education /faith development at various stages of life; and, ultimately, what would Irish adults like to see happening in the future to engage them in ongoing religious education and faith development. 

For optimum results, the team depends on the Irish public’s engagement and cooperation. Although the survey is now closed,  please join the conversation on adult religious education and faith development in Ireland.   If you wish to contact the research team directly, please email bernadette.sweetman@dcu.ie and stay tuned for more updates and events!

Why is this research important?

Adult religious education and faith development in Ireland has traditionally been conceived of as a process whereby faith communities/parishes provide talks or workshops usually delivered by outside experts.  Such input is often more focused on those who already committed, and are actively involved in ministry.  A range of possibilities which encourage adults generally to explore and deepen their faith experience and grow more fully into their faith community is desirable.

A culture of provision can be observed, locally and nationally, with little emphasis on review, evaluation and organisational learning.  There is a tendency to continue to do the same things without gaining much insight into how effectively initiatives contribute to supporting adults in learning about their faith and living a faith-filled life. 

At the same time, emerging forms of spirituality and popular piety continue to capture the adult imagination.  A spiritual sensibility remains but there can be a deficit of religious language through which people engage with each other in deepening their experience within a faith community.

The AREFD project will focus on all these issues and seek to facilitate a re-energising of adult religious education and faith development in Ireland. 

The AREFD survey

This survey was phase one of the Adult Religious Education and Faith Development (AREFD) research project.  Adults (over 18) living in Ireland were invited to complete this online survey.  738 adults responded.  These hailed from all 32 counties and from all age groups. In this survey, respondents indicated their understanding of religious education and faith development.  They articulated their beliefs and values and provided information on both the positive influences to date, and the possible future avenues they would like to explore in this area.  

Initial insights into the rich and diverse data obtained in this survey will be the content of Dr. Sweetman's keynote lecture at the Network for Researchers in Catholic Education 2019 Conference, which takes place at Dublin City University on the 17th / 18th October 2019. 

An article entitled 'What might a religious or spiritual adult look like?' was published on the RTE Brainstorm website in September 2019 and this also drew from the survey data.