Comparative Analysis And Research In Religious Education: A Response To Professors English,


The aim of this article is to respond to Professor English, Professor D'Souza, and Dr. Chartrands comparative review of research in the British Journal of Religious Education and Religious Education over the ten-year period from 1992-2002. Their analysis is for the most part extended and complemented, although critical questions are also raised and pursued. The article concludes with the identification of research trajectories in religious education and some personal comments on the direction future research should take.

Comparative Analysis And Research In Religious Education: A Response To Professors English,Professors Leona M. English, Mario O. D'Souza, and Dr. Leon Chartrand are to be applauded for their comparative analysis and review (this issue) of the contents and contributors to the British Journal of Religious Education (UK) and Religious Education (North America) for the 10-year period beginning in 1992 and ending in 2002. This extends their earlier and similarly structured but separate reviews of both journals (English et al. 2003 and 2005). The comparative element in this review will undoubtedly prove useful to researchers and religious educators, even if the terms of the comparison are limited to some extent (see what follows).

The aim of my response to Professor English, Professor D'Souza, and Dr. Chartrand is to interact with their comparative review, for the most part by way of extending and complementing their analysis, but also by raising some critical questions and by pursuing a different perspective on things. In this way I hope to press through to a more nuanced and sophisticated interpretation of recent, original research in religious education, as this is revealed in the articles published in British journal of Religious Education and Religious Education over the decade beginning in 1992. My discussion of issues will follow their order, although not commenting on every issue they cover. Toward the end of my response, I will endeavor to extrapolate from the nature and subject-matter of the articles published in the two journals over the period they review to identify the themes and issues that are coming to the fore in religious education and are likely to become the focus for sustained research in the future. I will conclude on a more personal note by identifying the issues that I believe deserve further critical attention and discussion by religious educators.


After providing some background information on the history, aims, and format of both journals, English et al. address the issue of collaborative research, by which they mean co-authored articles. They voice the complaint that not enough jointly authored papers are published in either journal and suggest that initiatives should be introduced to improve the situation (198).1 This seems an innocuous proposal, initially at least. No one denies that collaborative research can be innovative and fruitful. One thinks immediately of Friedrich Schweitzer and Richard R. Osmer s recent study of religious education in Germany and in the United States (2003). Their collaboration has done much to illustrate the fruitful nature of comparative research on the role of religion in education and to reinforce the growing recognition that religious education in different national contexts is increasingly subject to the same influences. But to move from the potential gains of collaborative research to the conclusion that the "low rate of collaborative work" (208) in the two journals is a situation that must be remedied and to which editors need to give attention raises a number of critical issues. First, articles and submissions to both journals should be judged on their merits, not on the basis of how many hands were involved in the writing. It is on the basis of such criteria as quality and depth of argument, relevance and originality that article submissions should be judged. secondly, we can acknowledge that there are scholars who collaborate and write well together (obvious examples in the field of religious education are Peter R. Hobson and John S. Edwards 1999), and it may be that such people produce material and articles that are higher in quality than would otherwise be the case if they wrote individually. But to suggest that editors need to publish more multi-authored articles, as English et al. do, is to assume that such works are necessarily superior in quality to single-authored papers. This is a somewhat exaggerated view of the benefits of collaborative research and joint publications. Alongside the collaboration of Schweitzer and Osmer, we can place the single-authored and equally impressive recent works of Thomas Groome (2001), Robert Jackson (2004), Elmer John Thiessen (2001), and Andrew Wright (2004), for example. In point of fact, Robert Jackson has collaborated with others in articles, but it is probably fair to say that his best and most original work has not resulted from such collaborations. Collaboration does not always result in synergy. Collaborative work is positive and useful when it brings people together with different talents and abilities. The strength of each researcher contributes to the whole. Collaborative research in itself, however, does not guarantee a higher standard than that which may be achieved by a single researcher and author. Good research requires ability and competence, and a commitment of time and energy. These variables may be combined in a single individual just as readily as in a group. It is the quality of the final piece of work that matters, not the process of its production.

Positively, we can say that it is good for academics and researchers to work together and to view themselves as members of a community who share ideas and insights in the quest for new knowledge and understandings. There may even be projects that are best advanced by a group of collaborators and researchers-cross-cultural research, for example. All of us are indebted to the achievements of other teachers and writers. This is how knowledge and understanding accumulates as we build on the work of others. In my view, it is more important for religious educators to come to appreciate that we can learn from each other and from each others' situations, despite national, historical, and cultural differences (as exemplified in Hull 2005; Meyer 1999; Moran 1989, 87-113), than we come together in the production of jointly authored papers.

The conviction that the comments and conclusion of English et al. on the issue of collaborative research need greater depth and some qualification equally attaches to their complaint that there should be more articles by graduate students published in the journal. Of course, if graduate students produce material of quality and excellence on religious education, then it should be published. There might even be a case for extending a special invitation to graduate students to submit their work to blind review with the possibility of publication; and perhaps supervisors of good research students should encourage them to disseminate their work through both journals. But, again, it is the issue of quality of material rather than individual status that should determine the issue of publication or not. In fact, the strategy of blind review, which is followed by both journals, is intended precisely to ensure that articles are judged on their individual merits and not on the basis of irrelevant factors, such as the authors gender, academic affiliation, or seniority of position.