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Religious illiteracy and the dilemmas facing post-confessional RE in South African schools

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Bloomsbury Handbook of Religious Education in the Global South
EditorsYonah Motemba, Bruce Collett
Publisher or commissioning bodyBloomsbury Academic
DateIn preparation - 3 Jul 2019
DateAccepted/In press (current) - 3 Jul 2019


One particularity of the education system in South Africa propagated by the apartheid government between 1948 and 1990 was ‘Christian National Education’ (CNE). Profoundly influenced by an Afrikaner form of Calvinistic principles, CNE was driven by dual objectives: to ensure the enhancement and preservation of white supremacy, so that agenda remained intact; while maintaining the subjugation and oppression of all other races. The emergence of democratic governance in South Africa introduced sweeping educational reforms, including the replacement of ‘Religious Education’ with ‘Religion Education’. This shift, from a monomorphic narrative, to a diverse and inclusive RE policy, has been intent on promoting mutual recognition between future citizens, regardless of their religion, culture or ethnicity.

This chapter offers theoretical reflections on the policy change which have resulted from an ongoing dialogue between two philosophers of education concerned with religion and teacher education. While supportive of the move away from what preceded it, this well-intentioned ‘post confessional’ alternative approach has resulted in unintended negative consequences for RE in South Africa, inadvertently promoting religious illiteracy and disengagement in public schools. Priorities for further reform to post-confessional RE in South Africa are identified, focused on challenges facing those who must implement the policy.


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