Approaches to critical thinking in religious education in Scotland: analysis of teachers' accounts and curriculum documents in non-denominational and Roman Catholic sectors
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Mir Eslami, Raheleh
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This comparative qualitative research aimed to explore critical thinking in teachers’ accounts and curriculum documents of religious education in two different sectors in Scottish Education: non-denominational and Roman Catholic. While previous research examined critical thinking in different curriculum areas and there are empirical studies on religious education from different perspectives, there was a lack of research on critical thinking in religious education particularly in the Scottish context. What makes exploring critical thinking in religious education particularly interesting is the complex relationship between faith and reason, and the importance attached to personal beliefs within the subject, unlike in other curriculum areas. My research consists of three different studies to answer the research questions. In the first study, I designed a framework of critical thinking drawing on analysis and synthesis of critical thinking definitions and frameworks dominant in the literature. Having investigated the most-cited taxonomies and frameworks of thinking skills and critical thinking such as those presented by Bloom, Ennis, Halpern and Paul, I designed a hierarchical framework of critical thinking. This conceptual framework covers lower level thinking skills, higher level (cognitive and meta-cognitive) thinking skills and dispositions. In the second study I used this framework to analyse and compare the explicit and implicit incorporation of critical thinking and its elements in RE curriculum documents in the two education sectors. The purpose was to identify different types of critical thinking in these documents. The third study focused on teachers’ understanding of critical thinking in religious education by conducting semi-structured interviews with RE teachers in secondary schools in Scotland: 5 in 5 non-denominational schools and 4 in 3 Roman Catholic schools. Analysis of curriculum documents and teachers’ interviews based on the framework of critical thinking revealed the workability and originality of this designed framework. One of the key findings of this study is that although the elements of critical thinking evident in RE curriculum documents of both sectors and the terminology used in them is the same, different approaches to religion and truth results in different approaches to critical thinking being implicit in those documents: critical thinking within religion, critical thinking between religions and critical thinking concerning religion. Moreover the study shows the vagueness of all RE curriculum documents in defining the term critical thinking and its development, and the lack of comprehensive knowledge amongst teachers of critical thinking integrated in these documents. Another finding of this research is that although there is some similarity in RE teachers’ explicit approaches to critical thinking, teachers have individual perceptions of critical thinking which does not seem to be influenced by the sector in which they worked. I suggest that this is due to their different personal and social backgrounds shaping their understanding, combined with the absence of clear definition of critical thinking in RE curriculum documents. Regarding the intertwined relation between critical thinking and religious education, the study suggests that it would be beneficial to include a clear definition of critical thinking and the methods by which it can be developed in curriculum documents.