Life in places of learning tends to follow a seasonal pattern and each year in late summer just prior to the new academic year commencing the RE team at Edge Hill along with eminent visiting tutors delivers a subject knowledge enhancement course . The course is designed to give our new PGCE students a refresher in the basic beliefs and practises of the main world religions and an opportunity to visit local faith communities.
For me, this aspect of the enhancement course really brings what we try to do as RE teachers to life. It puts flesh on the bones of our classroom teaching and allows for honest inquiry and genuine human interaction with living, breathing people of faith communities.
As part of the Second Year Undergraduate Buddhist Dharma module course students travelled to the Lake District to visit the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre.
This is the head centre for the movement around the world and as described by our guide for the day it is where many Buddhists live together as part of their retreat. The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) believe in the basic concepts of the Buddha and the traditional story that has been passed down through the generations. We were told that overall the original Buddha Siddhartha Gautama have over 84,000 teachings. The NKT are adamant that these teachings are still, if not more, important in today’s modern society.
Year 3 Secondary RE undergraduates recently visited the Preston England Temple as part of their Religion in the 21st Century module.
One of the students, Sadie Parish, wrote this blog post:
As soon as we approached the centre we were immediately taken back by its beauty! It almost felt as if we were in another world. We started the morning by meeting Sister Hunt in a chapel, who gave us a brief introduction to Mormon beliefs, such as their belief in their founder/prophet Joseph Smith. who lived in the early 19th Century in North America. He discovered the text of the Book of Mormon, buried in New York state, where he was directed to by the Angel Moroni.
Sister Hunt also introduced us to the Mormon belief in serving a mission and we actually got to see some real life missionaries! there are around 85,000 missionaries serving at any time, mostly males aged between 18 and 26. We got to explore their quarters and training centre, were we learnt that missionaries can come from all over the world and have to spend two years away from their families. I was taken away by the devotion and commitment of the missionaries.
Sadly as the temple is only exclusive to Latter Day Saints (even at weddings!) we were unable to enter the temple. However, we did get to take a walk around the temple. We were all certainly taken back by how breath taking it was.
As a result of the trip we have now developed a new understanding of Mormonism. Something that previously most of us had very little knowledge of. I myself now feel prepared to answer basic questions about Mormonism if presented with one in the classroom. As a whole the visits to the Mormon temple has been my favourite so far and I look forward to learning more about other 21st century expressions of religion.
Undergraduate Third year students are currently learning about two Dharmic religions: Jainism and Sikhism. As part of this we visited two temples in Manchester, the Jain Samaj and the Sikh Gurdwara.
The first visit of the day was to the Jain temple. Housed in converted building the main room is a sports hall, which is used for a variety of activities. Next to this is the actual Temple itself – sculpted from white Indian granite it features statues of Mahavira and two of the other tirthinkaras. It really was a beautiful sight.
Suresh spoke to us about the history, beliefs and ethics of the Jains, and how the community in Manchester practise their faith in the 21st Century.
In the afternoon we went to the Gurdwara to hear about the Sikh faith. After washing our hands and covering our heads we went into the Diwan Hall. Here, Reeti talked about the background to the religion and then we heard a portion of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji read. We also got to see the Guru’s bedroom.
Finally, the highlight was to go into the Langar Hall and sample some of the wonderful food that they had prepared for us.
As part of their Module on Buddhism with Francis, Year 2 Undergraduate students tke part in two field-trips. Here is Dominic’s thoughts about the recent visit to the Triratna Buddhist Sangha in Manchester:
Today was an insightful opportunity to learn more about a very much westernised branch of Buddhism. Our ordained Buddhist speaker began our tour by explaining about the key aspects of Triratna Buddhism and how it differs from many other Buddhist traditions. This is mainly due to the fact it has moved away from monastic, Asian traditions of clothing and not promoting the word of Dharma to people of the world. This therefore laid the foundations for my understanding of actually how far westernised Triratna Buddhism is. As you enter the Buddhist centre it is clearly apparent that opposed to just a place of worship this is a community centre which promotes spiritail along with health sessions to assist every aspect of your well being.
When speaking to the ordained Buddhist we covered various points regarding male and female communities, Triratna views on monogamy, marriage, Right Livelihood and even mental health. However one quote intrigued me greatly,
“give what you can, take what you need.”
This quote for me summed up the ethos of Buddhism and of the Triratna movement as a spirituality that wants to live a life of peace following the middle way.
We also learnt much about how the Triratna Buddhists practised Right Livelihood in a unique way compared to other Buddhist traditions. This was through opening various cafés and ethical businesses that seek to make a modest income and contribute to Post-modern Britain. Furthermore they run a lot of meditation sessions to provide social work and benefit those with mental health problems through mindfulness and loving kindness which were two key teachings of the Buddha.
To return back to the key aspects of Triratna Buddhism, it is useful to know that some members live in single sex communities in order to avoid distraction. Moreover, in terms of what attracts people to Triratna Buddhism in post-modern Britain, it is very much focused on rational questioning with a more rational attitude towards Dharma. This therefore fits more with modernity. Moreover they don’t present Dharma as a set of beliefs but infact present it as an enquiry which actually fits with the UK education system as we encourage children to question and enquire in their studies, especially in GCSE RE. Overall it encourages people to think for themselves and not just mindlessly follow as it is not a belief orientated path. The Buddha even asks us to look and see if things are true for ourselves.
Overall today was a very educational experience to learn more about a prevalent Buddhist tradition in our society. Moverover I very much look forward to carry on learning more about the Triratna tradition and Buddhism as a whole.
Paul Smalley and a small number of Year 1 Undergraduate RE students were recently invited to take part in the Cheshire West & Chester SACRE Primary Pupil conference. This two-day event, funded by a generous grant from NASACRE and organised by Naomi Anstice, was held at the Forest Hills Hotel in Frodsham and brought together over 100 primary school children from a range of primary schools
The session we had been invited to deliver was an experiential Hajj. Pupils from Years 5 and 6 began by hearing about how Muslim pilgrims enter a state of Ihram before the begin their pilgrimage. Pupils then washed their hands, promised to themselves that they would enter into the activities as much as possible and try to do their best, before donning a sheet of white flipchart paper. This made us realise how pilgrims get a real sense of unity when all are dressed the same.
The children circled the Ka’ba, before hearing a story and replicating Hajar’s desperate seach for water as they looked for a hidden bottle of ‘Special Zam-Zam Water’. Before bedding down for the first (rather noisy!) night, pupils used iPads to record the first of their video diaries.
I enjoyed the Hajj acting and learnt that Muslims get to go to sleep on pilgrimage
The video diaries helped me to remember what we had already done
The pupils held their hands up on the Mount of mercy whilst thinking about what problem they would want solving in the world, or what they had done wrong and might need to put right. They listened to the story of Ibrahim’s sacrifice and then, before the second night’s video diary and ‘sleep’, they each collected seven post it notes from around the room.
I liked learning about the story of Ibraham and how he sacrificed a sheep instead of his son
Today I learned about the pilgrims going on Hajj and I enjoyed acting the different parts and using the ipads to record our family diary
The next morning the pupils thought deeply and wrote on their post it notes seven things that they might be tempted to do, even though they know they are bad, before scrunching them up and throwing them at a jamarah, like the pillars representing Shaytan in Makkah.
I really enjoyed the pilgrimage today
Then to celebrate Eid-ul-adha, a sheep (cake) was sacrificed and shared out by each family, before compleing Hajj with a final Tawaf and a last video diary.
I loved sacrificing the sheep cake
I loved making a film and sacrificing a sheep
We liked the practical way to introduce Hajj to children
Good ideas for teachers to take back to schools. Our children partically enjoyed the experiential Hajj and it was good to hear then reflect about our RE lessons back in school.
Having spent two days with us last year, an old friend of Edge Hill, Sue Phillips, spent three days with us to showcase her approach to experiential learning: one day with secondary Undergraduates, one day with PGCE and one day with Primary students.
Sue has developed the ‘Theatre of Learning’ pedagogy. This began with an understanding of religion neutral exercises, the most well known being the Island. Sue then encouraged us to apply that thinking to a number of different religions, including stories as diverse as cosmology and homelessness. Many of the activities were participatory and the students from all three cohorts were able to engage and relate to the pedagogy in a visceral way.
Feedback from the students was stunning and they are eager to implement some of these ideas on their Professional Placements in the near future. Photos from Sue’s visit can be seen here.
RE PGCE Trainee Marianne Howe reports back on her groups experiences at the Triratna Buddhist centre in Manchester:
On the 16th of October, the secondary RE PGCE group was given the opportunity to visit Manchester Buddhist centre. The day began at University with a Buddhist subject knowledge enhancement course led by our course leader Francis Farrell. This provided us with an in depth theoretical knowledge of Buddhist Dharma.
We started the session with a fun game entitled ‘What would make you happy?’ This engaged our curiosity and brought to the fore central themes which lie at the heart of Buddhist dharma. Questions such as would money and material wealth make you happy as opposed to the spiritual wealth of love and ‘peace of mind’ was raised. Distinctions between what exactly we mean by happiness started to form and stimulated rich philosophical debate and insight. In particular distinctions between ‘quick fix’ and fleeting feelings of happiness were discussed as opposed to more fulfilling and everlasting feelings of happiness.
Throughout this session, Francis provided us with an in depth knowledge and understanding of the basic teachings of Buddhism, which was explored through the lens of the original Buddha- Siddhartha Gautama. We discovered that the original Buddha primarily concerned himself with one of life’s ultimate questions- what is the meaning and purpose of life? Throughout the session it became clear that Gautama’s quest involved deep exploration and meditative insights into concepts such as happiness, virtue and what it means to lead a good, happy and fulfilling life.
Our new knowledge and wisdom gained from this session was brought alive when we visited the Manchester Buddhist Centre in the afternoon. Situated in the lively and bustling Northern quarter of Manchester, the centre itself had a calming and tranquil feel. Upon entering the building, it was hard not to notice the three jewels or refuges of Buddhism which caught your eye instantly. Consisting of the Buddha (the enlightened one), Dharma (the teachings) and Sangha (the spiritual community), it was hard not to feel the presence of these three Buddhist treasures upon entering the centre for the very first time.
Beautiful golden statues of the Buddha surrounded us (reminding us of the enlightened one and his teachings). The sense of community was also clearly felt. Before beginning our tour we had a spot of lunch in the centres earth café, situated in the basement of the building. The earth café provided a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere to refuel/recharge our minds and bodies before we began the official tour of the centre.
After lunch we made our way to the main entrance, and received a warm welcome by our tour guide, Garavachitta who is an ordained Buddhist of the Triratna order. Garavachitta informed us that the meaning behind his name refers to one whose mind has turned to reverence. Surprisingly Garavachitta was not dressed in the usual monastic orange robes you would expect a Buddhist to wear. Instead he was dressed in ordinary clothes- reflecting the centre’s modern, friendly and informal approach to Buddhist teaching. Bringing the ancient and mystical traditions of Buddhist dharma alive to the Western modern world.
After explaining to us the history of the building (the centre was once an old Victorian workhouse) and the various meditation classes/courses which are on offer at the center, we were led up a beautiful spiral wooden staircase to the second floor of the building. On this floor various meditation classes were taking place and we were told to be as quiet as possible. We were led into one of the main meditation rooms of the building and asked to take our shoes off before entering. A beautiful and awe inspiring golden statue of the Buddha awaited us.
We were asked to take a cushion and sit on the floor facing the beautiful shrine to the enlightened one or Buddha. Here we got the chance to find out more about Buddhist dharma and to also hear Garavachitta’s story/background- learning about and from religion. We were able to explore and experience first-hand. Buddhist dharma in an open and non-dogmatic way. The session ended with a calming mediation led by Garavachitta. This was a wonderful opportunity to experience Buddhist meditative practice and fully absorb/assimilate our previous learning & knowledge. After our mediation we had the chance to do a spot of shopping and browse all things ‘Buddha’ in the centre’s shop- from books to incense sticks, and mini Buddha statues.
This informative and enlightening trip provided us with deep subject knowledge of Buddhism- it awakened our consciousness & awareness of Buddhism and provided invaluable ideas/resources to bring the RE classroom alive! On a personal note, Buddhism for me has truths that speak to everyone irrespective of religious persuasions or not. The truths and insights offered by this religion are ones that I can not only value but also carry with me on my own journey of personal development, insight and awareness of how to live a happy, fulfilling and meaningful life.
There is no substitute for seeing good RE practice in action so RE PGCE trainees were given a taste of what makes a really effective RE team at Cowley International College on September 5th. Trainees met senior staff and heard an enthusiastic endorsement of RE by the Head Teacher. We were treated to presentations by Edge Hill RE PGCE graduates Rachel, Chelsea and Ashley and Edge Hill Professional Mentor, Sue. Trainee feedback speaks for itself, enjoy the comments!
Joe Murphy writes:
Our PGCE group was lucky enough to have an insight to a successful Religious Education department last week. The trip was very insightful and encouraging.
The morning started with a brief introduction from the Head of the RE department followed by a briefing from the Deputy Headmaster. The information that we were given during this time was exactly what we needed as we started in a school such as this one the following Monday. Here we received great advice how to remain professional in and out of the classroom and staffroom. We had information previous to this in Edge Hill, however it was good to hear it from the staff at the school as they take pride in their professionalism and have had some experience with the consequences of teachers not adhering to the laws of professionalism.
After this we went to an RE classroom, here we took part in a discussion with the Head of RE and completed some tasks in pairs. This was a great exercise as it involved me working with people in my PGCE group that I have not had the chance to work with yet. During the activity we prioritised the jobs and responsibilities of a teacher. The results were very insightful as each group had a different answer, showing us that all of these attributes are equally important.
Next on our to-do list was to liaise with some RE students within the school. This was a major help and a great activity as it gave us hints and tips from the children themselves about what they like to do in a RE lesson, why they enjoy RE and what they have learned from RE. Speaking to the children was a great idea as it solidified my decision to become an RE teacher, it had taught these kids some very valuable lessons that they use in everyday life.
Lastly we had a chance to talk to some of the staff of the school that had graduated from the course that we are about to embark on. For me this was a very worthwhile exercise as it answered some of the questions that I had about the course from a previous student’s point of view. The girls who finished this course are now in their first teaching job and to see that was encouraging and it silenced some of the doubts that were forming in my head.
To finish what was an excellent experience, we done some meditation with another teacher who had graduated from Edge Hill two years previous. She showed us the process that she had undertaken with some of her classes after it proved to be very successful. This was a great idea and very rewarding, it had a great effect on the children that took part and it is something that I could see myself doing in the future. This idea allows the children to express themselves and it can also create a good relationship with a class, and in some cases could make a difficult class easier to teach.For me the day at Cowley high school was an extremely worthwhile experience and it made me feel a bit more confident about the PGCE.
Shabana writes: Sharing dialogue with Religious Education pupils reinforced the validity of the subject amongst today’s youth.
Nasira writes: They helped calm any nerves about the impending placement and assessments. I also found the meditation session wonderful and will definitely be using it in my lessons!
Final words go to Rosanna who sums up the experience for us all when she says: Overall it was a fantastic experience. It was truly inspiring to see a successful RE department, and meet teachers who very clearly believe in the value of Religious Education
From this trip we hoped to improve our understanding of these two religions; from an insider point of view and appreciate the methods of worship and practice within these traditions. This was a great opportunity for everyone to deepen their subject knowledge, in preparation for our new roles in school.
We arrived at the temple eager to experience Hindu worship first hand, we were politely asked to partake in the cleansing rituals that everyone (even the Queen!) would complete before entering a Hindu temple. After completing the absolution process; of removing our shoes and washing our hands, we were taken into the main room of worship. The main temple really was a beautiful sight, a long row of colourful deities surround by a pristine white structure in the style of a mandir.
Our host Seema explained her work in the community, highlighting the importance of how to educate young learners about Hinduism without causing confusion. After explanations of the various beautiful deities within the temple, we had the option to ask our own questions and experience the temple further. It was the first day of the festival of Diwali during our visit. This meant we got to experience families coming to place offering to the deities to mark the beginning of the festival.
Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara
The next stop of the day was the Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara, here we were greeted by Narrinder with refreshments and enjoyed these whilst learning about the langar room and the importance of this room in a Gurdwara. This is a key Sikh practice and anyone visiting a Gurdwara would be greeted by free food or drink upon entering the temple, the refreshments offered are donated by the community. This is because of the Sikh belief in helping everyone (Sewa).
After our introductions and extra biscuits we were led upstairs to the main room of worship. Here, we sat and observed Narrinder recite the hymns around opening the sacred text and learnt about the process of laying the text to rest at dawn and waking the text from its bedroom, at the far corner of the room. After asking questions about how they would carry out different types of ceremonies such as weddings and funerals we moved into a separate room and talk about Sikhism away from the Gurdwara.
Narrinder gave us a talk through the 5 K’s of Sikhism, allowing for you to experience these objects first hand whilst learning about the spiritual meaning from an insider view. At the end of our visit Narrinder was kind enough to play the sitar for us ending our Sikh experience nicely with an opportunity to appreciate the music of the Sikh faith which is so central to their worship.
After our lunch in a room of the Interfaith Centre in Bradford, we popped into Bombay Stores, UK’s largest Asian department store. Here we got to explore both ladies and gentlemen’s traditional dress, staring longingly at the large selection of jewelry and pick up some little bits and pieces that we could incorporate into our teaching. This was a great end to an enjoyable trip.