[An Inaugural Lecture  delivered in the School of Education, University of Birmingham on 26th February 1991]


John M. Hull

University of Birmingham, 1991

reprinted Educational Review vol. 43, no. 3, 1991, pp. 347-361

reprinted again in Peter Gordon (ed.) The Study of Education: A Collection of Inaugural Lectures: The End of an Era? Volume 4, London, Woburn Press, 1995, pp. 84-104


I would like to pay tribute to the religious educators who have worked before me in Birmingham. Sixty years ago, in the winter of 1930-31, the then Principal of Westhill College, Dr Basil Yeaxlee, gave a series of lectures to teachers sponsored by the then Extramural Studies Department of the University of Birmingham. These were published in June 1931 in a book called The Approach to Religious Education in Sunday School and Day School (Yeaxlee, 1931). Religious education was here presented as an interdisciplinary study drawing for example upon biology, psychology and theology. Three years later Yeaxlee became the first editor of a new periodical called Religion in Education. The first issue contained an article ‘The Place of Religion in Education’ by Sir Charles Grant Robertson, who was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham from 1920 to 1938. The article was reprinted when the Journal, now called the British Journal of Religious Education, celebrated its golden jubilee in 1984. This marked the fact that the Journal was still associated with the institutions which gave it birth, although it is true that there had been some intervening years of exile in the strange lands of Oxford and London.

In 1955, the year before I trained as a religious education specialist teacher in the University of Melbourne Faculty of Education, the revised edition appeared of a book named after one of the disciples of Socrates, Glaucon (Jeffreys, 1955). This was a philosophy of Christian education written by a professor in the University of Birmingham. The first teachers' conference at which I spoke took place in 1956 and what I tried to say was based on that book. Today, I find myself speaking on a similar subject in the very lecture theatre which carries the name of that great educator M. V.C. Jeffreys.

In 1966 the Hibbert lectures on Christianity in Education were edited by Professor F.H. Hilliard who had recently moved to Birmingham University from London. His Chair was in the theory and practice of teacher education but it was as a religious educator that he was best known (Hilliard, 1966). The same year saw the publication of The Teacher and Christian Belief by another professor of Birmingham University, Ninian Smart of the Theology Department in the Faculty of Arts (Smart, 1966). Finally, in that same year appeared Changing Aims in Religious Education by Edwin Cox, which did so much to inaugurate the contemporary period in this subject (Cox, 1966). Cox was at that time lecturer in religious education here at Birmingham, and I became his successor when he moved to the University of London. I must also mention Dr Kenneth Hyde, who was Research Fellow in Religious Education here in the 1960s and whose monumental review of religious education research, done mainly here in the years which followed his retirement, was published in 1990 (Hyde, 1965, 1990).

These then are some of the leading people who created the religious education tradition in this place: Basil Yeaxlee with his exploration of beliefs and values in education (Yeaxlee, 1925), M. V .C. Jeffreys with his Christian philosophy of education and his wide-ranging interests in culture, F .H. Hilliard who did so much to establish the teaching of world religions in schools (Hilliard, 1961, 1963), Ninian Smart who clarified the distinction between religious commitment and the objective study of religions (Smart, 1968), and Edwin Cox with his pupil-centred approach and his insistence upon educational religious education (Cox, 1971). In their writings, however, there is little trace of the connection between religion, education and madness. They seem to have been remarkably sane people, who believed that there was a connection between religion and harmony. They were rational liberals, emphasising the integration of religion with life, and the contribution of religion to a balanced curriculum. Only, perhaps, in some of the writings of Edwin Cox do we find that sharp awareness of ambiguity in religious faith.


The claim that there is a connection between religious education and mental problems was established well before the earliest publication to which I have referred. Whether this lecture will be taken as an additional proof of the association I must leave to the judgement of my gentle listeners. In his book The Future of an Illusion first published in 1927 Sigmund Freud has this to say: ‘Think of the depressing contrast between the radiant intelligence of a healthy child and the feeble intellectual powers of the average adult. Can we be quite certain that it is not precisely religious education which bears a large share of the blame for this relative atrophy?’ (Freud, 1927, p. 43). Perhaps this quotation from Freud will alert my special education colleagues to a possibly fruitful area of research collaboration between their own field and mine.

On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that some of the more creative founders of the social sciences, including Freud himself, had discovered in their own study of religion something to stimulate intellectual curiosity. Let us go back earlier, to a nineteenth-century social scientist whose work in the area of economic history, cultural criticism and the psychology and sociology of politics remains of great importance. Karl Marx said: ‘The criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism’ ... the ‘criticism of heaven’ will lead into 'the criticism of the earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics’ (Marx, 1963, pp. 43, 44).

As an example of the way in which Karl Marx drew provocative insights from religious parallels, we may take the study of the nature of the commodity which occupies the first part of Volume I of Capital. To understand the nature of Western industrial society, Marx points out, it is necessary to understand the character of the commodity. To do this we must take analogies from the ‘mist-enveloped regions of the religious world’ (Marx, 1957, p. 43). When something comes on the market for sale, its inner nature is changed into money. This becomes its incarnated soul, sighing to be released from its body which is the outward wrapping provided by the packaging industry, a release which takes place every time the cash register rings. Marx describes this as the sacramentalisation of the commodity, as the transubstantiation of money where the external appearances of the object remain the same but the inner essence has been changed. Just as in the world of religion people bow down before the images produced by their own alienated imaginations, so people in consuming societies bow down before the fetish-like qualities of the commodity, the idols which are the work of their own hands although they do not realise this. So it is, concludes the great critic of religion, that the spirituality of the religious world and the spirituality of the commodity culture express a similar structure. They are, indeed, the mirror image of each other. If we see through one, we see through the other; if we are captivated by the one, we are ensnared by the other.

It is the task of religion to veil the true nature of the commodity by providing a spirituality within which the commodity seems natural.

We see then that Marx associated religion with deceit, and regarded religion as a key to the understanding of society in the sense that religion was central to deception. From his studies of anthropology and primal religion Marx takes the concept of the fetish, which is the part mistaken for the whole, and deliriously worshipped as if it were the whole, and so establishes a connection between religion and delirious perception.

In the work of Freud this becomes a connection between religion and madness. The first important contribution made by Freud to the study of religion was his 1907 paper ‘Obsessive Acts and Religious Practices’. Here Freud draws attention to the parallels between the repetitive, compulsive nature of neurotic behaviour and certain features of religious ritual. This leads him to suggest that neurosis is a sort of ‘private religious system’ while ‘religion is a universal obsessional neurosis’. A neurotic symptom is a defensive replacement of an unacceptable and therefore repressed desire with some behaviour which is satisfying because it enables the desire to be fulfilled at least to some extent but in an acceptable way because the behaviour is a disguised form of the unacceptable wish. The neurotic symptom is a deceitful form of a suppressed wish. Similarly, religious ritual represents a sacrifice made to the deity of the free expression of human desire. Religion is necessary to our culture just as the symptoms of neurotic illness are necessary in the personality structure of the neurotic, deceitful and illusory though they may be. They are a defence against something worse, and in some ways they make it possible for the patient and the culture to rise above that which is worse, namely, an outbreak of unrestrained human instinct. No more than the neurotic patient does the religious believer realise the true origin of the compulsion and the guilt which drive forward the repetitive ritual practices. They have been transposed or displaced from the area of forbidden instinct into the area of acceptable practice but this displacement is concealed from consciousness.

Freud was to work out the parallels between religiosity and mental illness in studies from Totem and Tabu (1914) through to the various drafts of Moses and Monotheism in about 1937, two years before his death. During those years his interest in religion extended beyond the original parallel with neurotic symptoms into wider cognitive and symbolic areas of individual thought processes and into the realm of history, culture, mythology and art (Freud, 1946, 1964). It was left to the followers of Freud such as Otto Rank and Theodor Reik to apply the psycho-analytic interpretation of religion to world religions in the larger sense and to the interpretation of theological belief systems (Rank, 1959; Reik, 1973; Abraham, 1955; Jones, 1964).

In their different ways, then, Freud and Marx both believed that religion was a provocation of insight, a stimulus to research. This provocative power lay in the enigmatic or deceptive character of religion, as a mystification or a self-deceiving transposition from an area of truth to an area of illusion. They both believed that in certain respects religion held the key to culture, it was the test case for the interpretation of industrial and cultural phenomena.

Although Marx and Freud believed in and practised the study of religion they were contemptuous of religious education. This fact need not surprise us. The religious education which they knew was little more than a tame, domesticating activity of the religious communities, a mere transmission of religious doctrine, often in the context of repetition and compulsion. It had few of the marks of intellectual penetration and criticism which Marx and Freud themselves brought to religion, and was, indeed, the very epitome of the mystification and obsessiveness which they deplored.

Nevertheless, there are some respects in which we may think of both these great founders of the social sciences as being religious educators. Freud, for example, liked to think of himself as being similar to Moses, leading the Israel of an emancipated humanity forward to the promised land free of inhibitions guided by the laws of psycho-analysis (Meissner, 1984). He was undoubtedly a great teacher, and took some of the models for his teaching activity from his own Jewish background. In the case of Marx, we can at least see how he drew much of his illustrative material from religion. Several times in Capital we find the dry humour of these analogies being used with considerable effect (Marx, 1957, pp. 41,53,75,233,355,737,779).

Religious educators have often been urged to model themselves on Jesus (Hubery, 1965, Jeffreys, 1964). The literature extolling the virtues of Marx and Freud as models for the profession is rather less extensive but perhaps its hour is come (Preiswerk, 1987). For the fact is that while Marx and Freud despised religious education, they at the same time laid the foundations upon which it may be reformulated. The influence of the two masters of suspicion upon the social sciences lies first in their creation of this particular kind of critical approach.

Jurgen Habermas divides the sciences into three groups: the sciences of measurement such as the physical sciences, those of interpretation such as the humanities, history and sociology, and finally the sciences of emancipation. The first group seek for explanation, the second group for understanding, and the third group for liberation. In the third group Habermas places Marxist economics and Freudian psycho-analysis (Habermas, 1971.). It is in this third group I would like to place a reformulated religious education. The place of religious education amongst the disciplines lies within the social sciences, and here it is one of the disciplines of emancipation.

Freud and Marx, of course, believed that religion was that from which one needed to be emancipated. They did not see religion as being in itself an emancipatory discipline, although as we have seen the ground work they laid for the critical study of religion has prepared for this insight. It is religious education which must take up this ambiguity and must proclaim itself as both subject and object of the emancipatory process; it looks upon religion as both disease and antidote, both bane and blessing.

But before developing this in a little more detail, I must pause to consider the mission of religious education. It is time to reclaim the word mission, taken in the first place from the homeland of religion, and made to sit down beside the alien waters of Babylon and sing strange songs in the world of the enterprise culture. The mission of religious education is first, to communicate an understanding of religion to those who are not religious, second, to communicate an understanding of themselves to those who are religious, and finally, to communicate to all its students, both adults and children, the benefits or the gifts of religious studies. In all of these three tasks, which together comprise its mission, religious education can be informed by the disciplines of suspicion. In communicating an understanding of religion, it must point out the ambiguity, the double-edged nature of religion. In communicating a self-understanding to those who are religious, it must cope with the way in which religion both deceives and infantalicises, together with the way in which religion may empower and recreate. In communicating the gifts of the study of religion to everyone, religious education will pass on a wide range of skills and benefits, not all of which need necessarily be in themselves religious (Grimmitt et al., 1.991.).

Let us see how the social sciences may create the foundations of such a religious education within the context of modernity. The work of Karl Marx in understanding the significance of religion for society was brilliant but limited in its scope. Although he

described religion as the 'general theory of the world' that is, the world of human relations, the social world, and as its ‘encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form’ (Marx, 1963, p. 43) religion and the study of religion continued to occupy but a marginal place in his work. This must be attributed to the impact upon his systematic thought of the mystification theory of religion which he adopted from eighteenth-century enlightenment rationalism (Larrain, 1979). He remained influenced by the 'psychology of interest' view of religion which suggested that religion was a cloak serving the interests of a section of society. He never thus advanced to a full-scale sociological understanding of religion, important though his work is as a bridge between the psychology and the sociology of religion. The purpose of religion, in the view of Marx, was precisely to mystify, to numb the consciousness, to veil reality, to offer a consoling hope, a comforting illusion to oppressed people. That oppressed people should need to find such comfort, should look for consolation from such a source, was in the view of Marx highly significant, indeed symptomatic of a whole structure of injustice. Nevertheless, religion itself possessed no particular function in society as a whole. Its role was limited to being a worn blanket which the weary body of suffering humanity could pull up over itself. That religion could be much more than this, that it could become the very foundation for an entire society, that it could be the content for a total ideology of society did not seem to occur to Marx, and this is why it remains somewhat marginal in his thought. It remains a part of his contribution to the psychology of politics, and particularly to the psychology of domination.


We must go on to Emile Durkheim to find a conception of religion which views it as sufficiently powerful to carry the entire weight of a society. Religion consists of ‘beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community all those who adhere to them. Religion is thus an eminently collective thing’ (Durkheim, 1915, p. 47). Durkheim illustrated this by studies of the structure of pre-European Australian society. By studying the nature of religion in primal society we gain an insight into its whole character. The concept of society and that of divinity are different forms of the concept of totality. 

Religion is thus based upon and expressive of the total nature of our lives in society.

Karl Marx was interested in the structure of industrial society and in understanding the causes which had led to it, whereas Durkheim in the work we have been considering was interested in pre-European if not prehistorical society. Marx studied a society which was deeply divided and saw in religion a factor or an aspect of that division; Durkheim studied societies which were totalitarian in their religiosity, societies based upon cult and myth rather than upon economic and occupational distinctions. In these primal societies, religion does not playa role on this side or that because there are no sides, only many complex social institutions all based upon the fundamental distinction between the sacred and the profane. In modern societies religion has lost this integrating force, and the occupational group has taken its place. It would be possible for religion to come down out of the heavens and from the world beyond death so as to occupy again its primal place but that would require criticism of religion, and religion itself would prevent such criticism (Durkheim, 1951, pp. 374 ff.).

In the earlier work of Durkheim we find religion as a sort of tribal collectivity in which there is no access to alternative world-views. Human beings are social. There is no alternative to society and thus no alternative to that religion which is the fibre of society. This is the truth of religion and in this sense every fundamental religion is true (Durkheim, 1915, p. 3). At the same time, such societies are bound together in a sort of collective falsehood, a false consciousness in which believers mistake the essence of their religion (which is society) for something else, something other than society. We may describe this united social/religious world-view as being 'non-dialectical', as possessing no quality which permits a dialectic to take place. Thus the primal religious society as described by Durkheim is the very opposite of the plural societies which characterise modernity.

For Marx, religion is a hindrance to the unification of a just society; it is not only part of the antagonistic structure of society but acts so as to conceal from those who suffer most from the divisions of society the very nature of that antagonism. Religion is thus a manifestation of social division which functions in a way so as to stupefy people. This element of making people slightly mad is also found in Durkheim's description, but the madness does not matter because it is not antagonistic. Everyone is equally slightly mad. No one notices; there is no one outside the group who can take notice. In Marx, on the other hand, the stupefying effect of religious belief upon the masses is all too visible to the discerning critic.

It thus becomes an abomination, an outrage.

We have now seen that Marx, Freud and Durkheim regard religion as having an intrinsic connection with madness, but in different ways. For Marx, religion is a collective mystification, in Durkheim a collective effervescence and in Freud a collective neurosis. These contrasts take on particular relevance when we try to put them together so as to create a theory for an emancipative religious education. The techniques used for the study of religion are often the same but the results are different.

Some of the techniques which Marx used in his study of ideologies are similar to those used by Freud (Freud, 1950). Like ideologies, dreams invert reality, so that what we ourselves have created appears to come to us as a given, from the outside. The creative, constructive factors change places with the superhuman, transcendent factors so that although people believe they have been made by the Gods the truth is that their Gods have been made by them. Interpretative techniques such as condensation and displacement are used by Marx in his analysis of the mystery of the commodity and by Freud in his dream analysis. Freud's interpretation of dreams, however, is unlike Marx’s interpretation of social ideologies in this respect: Freud seems to have little or no interest in how these distortions and fantasies function against the interests of the poor whereas this was the major interest of Karl Marx. So it is that Freud speaks of ‘repression’ whereas Marx speaks of 'alienation'; Freud diagnoses the sickness of the individual whereas Marx diagnoses the function of the illusions held by the poor; Freud deals with the place of religion in the divided life of the guilty individual whereas Marx deals with the place of religion in the divided structure of an oppressive society. Durkheim, on the other hand, deals with religion in a unified society, a society unified by a religion which is false, yet innocent in its falsehood.


We find a similar description of a totalistic religion in its innocent falseness in the work of the modem religion scholar Mircea Eliade. Religious ritual reactivates eternal archetypes (Eliade, 1959). Every priestly act of sacrifice recapitulates the original, primordial sacrificial act. The primal, golden age is reinstated by the ritual, or it creates in anticipation a future Utopian paradise. Religion becomes significant not because it is historical but because it is eternal; religion as described by Eliade never changes anything; it is rather the solemnisation of unchangeability. Historical people and happenings are transmuted on to eternal planes where they are no longer people and happenings but categories, ideal types. Thus religion participates in and builds up a non-dialectical, false consciousness.

Such a religion may well unify primal societies in a state of static innocence. Where an attempt is made to give religion this sort of role in modem, plural societies, it must have our suspicion. The search for a non-precarious sacredness may well have been the heart of1he political theology of ancient Egypt but when Pharaoh set out upon his Mesopotamian campaigns, he could assume the unqualified identity between religion and political power which is characteristic of a unified world-view. All that polytheism did was to change the content. Several pictures could be put into the same frame. We, the successors of Marx, Freud and Durkheim, are not so simple or so unified. For us there are many pictures and no frame. The modern successors of Pharaoh, who try to make a similar use of religion, must be greeted by us with suspicion. The assumptions of primal religion cannot be fitted into modernity with- out loss of innocence. Modern societies and modern religions protect themselves against this loss of innocence by denial, projection, separation, displacement, inversion, in short: by madness. A mild sort of falseness which no one could actually recognise has now become identifiable as a kind of social insanity.

The most interesting examples of what happens to the insights of the founding figures of the social sciences when they are combined in the study of modern and perhaps post-modern society are to be found in contemporary French and German cultural criticism. I am thinking of such scholars as the German social philosopher Jurgen Habermas (Habermas, 1970, 1971, 1975), the Romanian Lucien Goldmann who studied with Piaget in Switzerland and drew upon both Marx and Freud to create a theory of modern cultural consciousness (Goldmann, 1964, 1976), the French political analyst Claude Lefort (Lefort, 1986), the Greek Cornelius Castoriadis (Castoriadis, 1984, 1987) and theologians such as Ernst Bloch (Bloch, 1970) and J. B. Metz (Metz, 1980, 1981).



I am particularly interested in the work of the French cultural critic Joseph Gabel because of the use he makes of the parallel between mad- ness in the individual and in society. Gabel describes his method as socio-pathological parallelism (Gabel, 1975). The parallel. upon which he draws is that between schizophrenia and the behaviour of social groups. When we diagnose schizophrenia, we observe aspects of cognition and behaviour which have the effect of splitting the individual from society. At the same time, however, we are compelled to acknowledge that similar features of perception and behaviour may be found in entire social groups. Whether in the individual or the social group, we are dealing with a form of distorted perception, with knowledge which has gone wrong somehow. To live within this cognitive impairment is to suffer from what Gabel calls false consciousness. In this, he follows the Hegelian neo-Marxist philosophy of consciousness (Lukacs, 1971), which he combines with the phenomenological-existential psycho- therapy of the 1930s and 1940s (Ellenberger, 1958, Binswanger, 1963).

Schizophrenia, in this tradition, is to be understood phenomenologically (that is, from within the actual experience of the patient) as a distortion of perception of space and time. Time is foreshortened or truncated, while space is extended and made absolute. Time, we could say, is spacialised. The patient suffering from schizophrenia has no memory of how the beliefs which now overwhelm him or her had their origin and development. They have no history, unlike the history of the neurotic behaviour which can, with skill and over time, be traced back to its originating trauma. Schizophrenia takes a cognitive rather than an emotional form and results in a false perception of the world. A reality is created which is absolute. Because this reality has no past with which to contrast it and no alternatives with which to oppose it gains a total hold over the mind. It may be described as a ‘non-dialectical’ form of consciousness.

When this kind of knowledge is found in social groups, we may speak of schizophrenia as having gone public. Consciousness is overwhelmed by a single world-view which can no longer be challenged. Such social groups do not have any history of their own, but reify their past into a golden absolute (the Garden of Eden, the early Christian church) or their future into nonprecarious Utopias (paradise, heaven). In these reifications space takes the places of past and future time, and so we have places such as the Garden, the Holy Land, the City of Gold and so on. The spacialisation of time leads to the denial of change, since history is the principle of renewal.

Ideological thought, Gabel suggests, reifies the past whereas Utopian thought reifies the future. Thus when the teaching of history is ideologised, it becomes the study of a golden age, of an imperial splendour, of the expansion of a dominated space around the protection of which battles raged and from which voyages of exploration took place. There is chronology but it is little more than the sequence of an ordered space. A critical sense of the weaving of the web of modernity is lost, and since a web that was not woven cannot be unwoven, the result is a strange kind of inevitability (Frisby, 1985; Bernstein, 1985). In the midst of rapid social change we become changeless, like the soul of the commodity which persists throughout its various transubstantiations.

Gabel illustrates this tendency on the part of social groups to turn time into space in his studies of racism. A phenomenon which is fundamentally social, cultural and economic, which has a specific history is transformed into a natural classification. Social history becomes biology. This is accompanied by the characteristic inversion we saw in both Marx and Freud - instead of social history having created the modem Jew, racism affirms that the Jew has created modem history (Gabel, 1975, p. 13). As history is abolished, space becomes all important and thus racism wants to define territories, set barriers, create homelands.

The one-dimensionality of this perspective, its flatness, its monocular lack of depth gives it a kind of hypnotic quality which Gabel calls ‘delirious perception’. As in a Salvador Dali landscape, everything is the same distance away; there is no difference between background and foreground, the near and the distance are inverted. The result is a strange fascination, an overwhelming sense of reality which is ecstatic and demanding because it is so inhuman. Just as we contrasted the slightly false but essentially healthy totalitarian unity of theology and politics in ancient Egypt with the absurdity of such modem pretensions, so we may contrast the flatness and lack of perspective in early Mediaeval and Byzantine art which although slightly false is not particularly mad with the disturbing flatness of a Dali landscape. To the delirious perception of the racist everything must be classified as being this or that. There is nothing in between. Classification becomes all important. Things must be classified because they are the way they are. Instead of realising that the classifications create the categories, the racist inverts reality and believes that the categories are expressed in the classification. The classifications of Durkeim’s primal societies were somewhat similar, but produced a healthy binding together; the classifications of the modern racist split things apart.

To some extent, this flat perception of the world is inevitable in the formation of any social group. There is a necessary egocentric quality in the outlook of a social group. We must, to some extent, see the world in the same way or we would not be bound together. In times of conflict, especially warfare, this reservoir of tribalistic perception will be heightened into a sort of false consciousness, as the need to defend social identity becomes more sharp in the face of danger. History will be forgotten; space will become all important; diplomacy which depends upon a grasp of the real history of peoples will give way to military calculations of time which are no longer controlled by temporality but by the need to control space. The media must all co-operate in this creation of a tribal world-view since war can only be fought today in a state of delirious perception.

We have seen from the work of Mircea Eliade how religion turns historical time into sacred time and sacred time into sacred place. This is why religion is the natural ally, perhaps the inevitable companion, of such tribalised perception. Religion has a particular contribution to make towards this social madness: it gives it holiness. The clinical literature abounds with descriptions of how the sufferer from schizophrenia has a sense of moral righteousness against the treachery and selfishness of those who would injure or assassinate (Spero, 1985). It is characteristic of non-dialectical thought that it is charged with moral value. Freud would have said that the energies drawn off from suppressed sexuality and aggression were projected on to idealised figures with whom the sick person or the diseased society identify. The cause becomes moral and the territorial opponent immoral. So the holy war of Christianity and the just war of Islam confront each other with the delirious aggression of a threatened identity. In order to maintain this threatened identity an out-group must be constructed. Without black people, white people would no longer be white. They would just be people. All the privilege and sense of superiority which comes from being white would be lost. What would become of our sense of being an advanced civilisation if we had no stereotypes of peoples whom we call Eskimos and Pygmies? In a similar way, threatened religious groups in order to maintain their identity charged with sacred value and fervour need other religions. Through continual evangelisation, a faltering religious identity may be endlessly replenished.

Continuous indeed, because it is no longer sufficient to have a ten-day crusade, or even a month but now we must have a decade. It is characteristic of such non-dialectical processes that the end is always shrouded in mystery, which is another advantage of making it a decade. Why not announce a century or even a thousand years? The goals cannot be described with clarity, because if evangelisation were to succeed completely, there would be no one left to evangelise, and thus no out-group to replenish threatened identity. Perhaps identity would no longer be threatened, but then we would have returned to Durkheim’s innocent falseness in a unified primal society. Such an outcome for our modern world seems unlikely.


Religion, education and madness: so far, we have dealt with the first and the last of the trinity and have shown how they are connected. We must now turn more specifically to education. In conceiving of education as an emancipatory discipline within the social sciences I intend to distance myself from that view of religious education which sees it as little more than the transmission of the religious heritage. We should distinguish between a religion in its mode of reproduction from a religion orientated towards its mission. The mission of a religion is always more than its reproduction. Sometimes reproductive models of religion become so dominant that even mission is absorbed into them, and so mission is conceived as the reproduction of the religion on a vast scale. Such reproductive mission would be what the American Christian educator Horace Bushnell called in a quite literal sense ‘the out-populating power of the Christian stock’ (Bushnell, 1967, p. 165). The mission of the religion is conceived in biological terms; to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, dominating all other species. The reproductive mode of a religion draws attention to its characteristic as a species, but its mission draws attention 10 its contribution not to itself as a pseudo-species but to the true species, humanity as a whole.

Rather than contrasting the role of religious education with the role of religious nurture in a straightforward way (Hull, 1975, p. 109), I would thus prefer to say that religious education does have a contribution to make to the transmission of the religious heritage but must be grounded in the emancipatory social sciences so as to prevent that transmission from becoming mere reproduction and to enable it to serve the mission of religion.

If theology is the self-understanding of a religion, then religious education is the self-instruction of a religion, and is the partner of theology in enabling the religion to realise its destiny. Without this emphasis, religious education will become wholly engaged with reproduction and is likely to become a carrier and a focus of delirious perception in a non-dialectical religious consciousness (Hull, 1991).

I also distance my approach from that which is drawn from the phenomenology of religion, although I acknowledge with gratitude the important contribution which phenomenology has made to British religious education over the past twenty years or so. It remains a fruitful source of curriculum development and pedagogical refinement. This approach is sometimes criticised for its alleged inadequacy in dealing with the life-world of the pupil, for concentrating too much on descriptive phenomenology at the expense of existential phenomenology, and so finding difficulty in achieving pupil relevance and motivation (Grimmitt, 1987, pp. 209 f.). Regardless of the outcome of this discussion, which is still continuing, my own problem with the phenomenological approach lies elsewhere, namely, in its inability to distinguish between true religion and false. The phenomeno- logical approach seeks to bracket out evaluation and sees itself as non-controversial in principle. It is dealing with the appearances, the manifestations of religion and these (given scholarly accuracy) cannot be mistaken. But since primacy is given to the intentionality of the believer as itself a manifestation of the religion which is authoritative (who is a better judge of the religion than the religionist?) there appears to be little scope for the interpretation of self-deceit. The problem with the phenomenology of religion is that the intentionality of the believer may be clouded by false consciousness, and I do not know how this kind of phenomenology can deal with false consciousness without the aid of other emphases within the social sciences (Ricoeur, 1970, pp. 27-36).

When I speak of religion as being true or false, I am not referring to the superior truth content of one religious belief system over another. The determination of the truth or falsehood of religions in this sense is, I suppose, a matter for the philosophy of religion. This enquiry has an important place in the religious education curriculum, but it is a different kind of truth and falsehood which I have in mind as influencing the mission of religious education today.

There is true and false religion just as there is true and false sexuality. Authentic sexuality builds up human life; false or inauthentic sexuality distorts, impoverishes and even destroys it. The reverse relationships also exist, sexuality can become wholesome in the lives of wholesome men and women, and it can become distorted when there is some other distortion in people’s lives. I am less concerned here with the epistemology of sexual experience, its cognitive status, the question about how I know that I love someone, than I am with the practical question: what does sex do to people?

A failure to distinguish in this way between true and false religion has he led in recent years to a sort of delirious fascination with the content of religious belief. The all important thing, to some people, is that the ‘content’ of a religion should be ‘pure’, that it should be ‘respected in its integrity’ and so forth. This fascination with content conceals from view deep questions about the wholesome or unwholesome functioning of religion in our society (Hull, 1991).

The concentration upon content goes with an interest in territory. Content and space tend to be identified, a feature which we have seen to be characteristic of delirious perception. The reference to ‘Great Britain’ as being the area which is to be reflected in religious education curriculum is already beginning to seem a little out of date as closer union with Europe draws near. The association between a one dimensional classroom practice and one dimensional collective worship adds to this way of looking at the religious world, its necessary moral fervour, and its sense of righteousness before God.

Marx and Freud were mainly concerned with the falsity of religion. Durkheim believed that religions were always true, but he meant it in or such a way that it would not have made any difference if they were all equally false. In none of them do we find a critical distinction between religion as true and as false. In this respect I must distance my own vision of religious education from the work of Marx, Freud and Durkheim. The emancipation of which they spoke, particularly the first two, was from religion whereas I speak of a religious education in which to religion itself is an emancipatory discipline, acting both upon itself and upon other aspects of societal and individual deceit. Marx believed that se religion, along with the arts, education and culture in general was part of as the superstructure of society. It was raised above and expressed certain a features of the basic economic foundations. Since economics, art, and education can be set free from ideological enslavement, why should not the same be true of religion? A wide range of contemporary theological se thought draws upon Marxian inspiration, using the superstructural theory as a way of purging religion (Fierro, 1977). I have already se mentioned J. B. Metz and, from the previous generation, Ernst Bloch.

Religious imagery can be the inspiration for social change, and Bloch has developed a view of religion which emphasises its role in change, just as Mircea Eliade has emphasised in his own studies of religion that aspect of religion which deals with changelessness.

As for Freud, his understanding of the connection between religion and madness was based upon his contacts with his own patients. This does not mean, however, that Freud believed that all religion is pathological. On the contrary, Freud made it clear that his scepticism about religion was his personal view. Psycho-analysis as such, he believed, was no more linked to the abandonment of religious faith than is any other science (Freud, 1963, p. 117). A group of contemporary psychoanalysts has been exploring the power of the discipline to purge religious faith, and the power of religious imagery to sustain creative human life. Erik H. Erikson, for example, in his biographies of great religious leaders has suggested that the religions may be looked upon as resources for the promotion of human growth (Erikson, 1962, 1969). More recently, such psychoanalysts as the Argentinean Catholic Ana-Maria Rizzuto and the Jesuit American W. W. Meissner have contributed to this work (Rizzuto, 1979, Meissner, 1984). These and others have helped us to distinguish between religion which binds adults into regressive and dependent forms of fetish-like faith from that which gives adults courage and creativity for realistic and mature living.

There is a growing research literature on religious experience which draws attention to a significant positive correlation between reports of religious experience and high levels of creativity, happiness, social responsibility and mental health (Hay, 1990).

The whole question of the relationship between religion and madness is reviewed most recently by John Schumaker who deals particularly with the inter-cultural aspects of the problem (Schumaker, 1990). Japan seems to have the lowest percentage of professed religious experience and belief, with less than 20 per cent of the people making such claims, which can be contrasted with the position in Australia where the percentage of those who claim religious faith is in the high eighties and rising. At the same time, the Japanese have a higher incidence of mental illness than in more religious cultures (Schumaker, 1990, p. 75).

Cultures seem to differ in their capacity to defend their members against the horrors of life. Where religious belief is low, there seems to be but a fragile defence against the harshness of reality. Illusory systems, Schumaker reflects, such as those offered by religion seem to work best when they remain inconspicuous (Schumaker, 1990, p. 78). In Western countries, religious faith, because of pluralism and secularism, has become very conspicuous and there is a temptation to fall back into more enclosed social groups where, once again, the religious defence system can be taken for granted without challenge.

It is the task of religious education to help people grapple successfully with that transparency, that lack of the inconspicuous, which is a feature of modernity. It is easy for those perplexed by the pain of dialectical thinking, and weakened by conflict, to sink back into simpler, more blissful kinds of unified perception, whether these take religious or secular forms. It is the task of religious education to deny that bliss to both the religious mind and the secular mind, to insist upon painful contrast, to strip the mask from that religion which offers itself as the delirious perception which conceals the wretched of the earth from the consciousness of the wealthy of this world.

The sources of this emancipating religious education lie largely but not entirely within the social sciences. They also lie within theology, and it would be strange if this were not the case. Religion is essentially an ambiguous phenomenon (Baum, 1975), and this ambiguity is wrestled with in the sacred literature of the major world religions. Religious education must open up that ambiguity for both children and adults thus making it possible for people to be defended against the enslaving and the distorting power of religion while at the same time enabling people to become open to receive, if they wish, the gifts and benefits of religious studies, and indeed of religion itself.

The distinction between the worship of the true God and the worship of idols is a central concern in the early books of the Bible, and in the prophetic tradition of ancient Israel, we note the long struggle about the problem of true and false prophecy (Jer. 27-29). The New Testament Church was faced by a profound ambiguity, as is indicated by parables such as those of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13: 24-30) and the exhortation of St Paul to the Christians in Corinth that they should examine themselves (1 Cor. 11: 28 ff.).

There is, however, one central image which has inspired my own more recent thinking about religious education. In St Luke’s Gospel Jesus is shown teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath Day (Lk. 6: 6-11). A man with a withered hand is in the congregation, and the religious people, some of them very well educated and fervent for the exact transmission of the religious tradition, watched Jesus to see whether he would break the Sabbath by doing what could, surely, be left until the next day. When Jesus saw what was going on in their minds, he said to the man with the withered hand: 'Come and stand out in the middle here'. Jesus looked around at the people and asked: ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ There was no reply. He said to the man: ‘Stretch out your hand’. He did so, and was made whole.

In this story we see the contrast between those who were mainly concerned with religion, for the content of its beliefs and customs, and on the other hand the image of one whose supreme concern was for human life, the prophet from Nazareth who turned the religious tradition back upon itself and in so breaking it brought out from it something new, yet as old as the tradition itself: the vision of a religion in the service of all humanity, a humanity which would transcend the distinctions between tribalised religions and which would lead eventually to a new kingdom.