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'Christian Britain' has always been imaginary

Following David Cameron’s recent description of Britain as a ‘Christian country’, Professor Stephen Parker looks at the history of school worship, and how the idea of ‘Christian Britain’ remains entangled with the history of religious education.

Read the full opinion by Professor Stephen G Parker

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  • 'Christian Britain' has always been imaginary

    Following David Cameron’s recent description of Britain as a ‘Christian country’, Professor Stephen Parker looks at the history of school worship, and how the idea of ‘Christian Britain’ remains entangled with the history of religious education.

    Writing at www.theconversation.com, Professor Parker states: “In the context of World War II, it somehow made sense to assert:

    “It will be of little use to fight, as we are fighting today, for the preservation of Christian principles, if Christianity itself is to have no future, or at immense cost to safeguard religion against attack from without if we allow it by neglect to be from within.

    “It was oft-repeated rhetoric like this which fuelled the imagination of a “Christian Britain”, and enabled a direct link between the national cause in war, Christianity, and British identity. Soon afterwards the BBC began its long-running Religious Service for Schools, as well as a religious epilogue to its Children’s Hour. Ultimately, such rhetorical optimism led to the religious clauses of the 1944 Education Act, which included making collective worship in maintained schools the obligatory beginning to every school day.”

    He goes on to say: “School worship has been made a feature of the totem that is the British identity and values debate. Fears of its erosion are implicated in a sense of loss of an imagined past. If Britain were ever Christian, it was not so in any straightforward and uncomplicated way, whether by measures of churchgoing, popular sentiment or demonstrations of civil religiosity.

    “If the “Christian” requirement were to be removed, following a recent call by the National Governors’ Association, and now the Bishop of Oxford, what (if anything) would fill the void? What would children be required to “worship” instead? Perhaps the very thing protecting the current collective worship slot from being appropriated for alternative tub-thumping political purposes is that it remains of the character of a spiritual religious practice.”

    Read Professor Parker’s full piece at http://theconversation.com/christian-britain-has-always-been-imaginary-its-time-to-teach-children-that-28696.

    Professor Stephen G Parker Professor of the History of Religion and Education; MPhil/PhD Course Leader | 09 July 2014

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