A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education, University of Warwick, Centre for Education Studies (June 2018)


1 Introduction

2 Chapter Overviews

3 Summary of Research

4 Research Findings

Primary Findings

Secondary Findings

5 Strengths and Limitations of the Research

6 Conclusions

7 References

1 Introduction

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This thesis has explored the possibility of applying Scriptural Reasoning (SR) principles for promoting Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) in primary schools. It did so by using storytelling and interfaith dialogue to encourage pupils to exercise ICC in classroom settings.

This thesis takes its philosophical position from the work of Ricoeur and combines a phenomenological and interpretive approach to religious education to develop pupils understanding of both the “other” and the “self.” From this theoretical position, an age-appropriate intervention was developed based on the principles of SR in collaboration with the Cambridge Interfaith Programme. The resulting “Story Tent” RE themed day built on the established work of Julia Ipgrave’s dialogic and Esther Reed’s narrative approach to religious education.

The underpinning work utilised Action Research methodology through a cyclical approach which took place over two iterative cycles in three different schools, each with its own distinctively different religious ethos and demographic make-up. It was unusual in combining the contributions not only of teachers and researcher but also faith representatives from local communities.

Data was collected during the Story Tent Intervention day through an application of pupil self-assessments at the end of each teaching session, and by transcribing recordings of focused group work and research team interviews. Follow-up interviews were completed the following day with a selection of pupils using a semi-structured interview developed by the Council of Europe, “The Autobiography of Intercultural Encounter” (AIE). The data was combined to produce pupil case study portfolios and ATLAS.ti was used to support the coding process and analysis of the data.

My research title was “An inquiry into the development of intercultural learning in primary schools using applied Scriptural Reasoning principles”.

My hypothesis was that Intercultural Communicative Competence could be promoted in primary schools using faith stories delivered by faith representatives through applied Scriptural Reasoning practices.

My aim was to test this hypothesis through practical classroom research.

My objectives were:

  1. To develop and refine a teaching strategy intervention that employed an age-appropriate adaptation of Scriptural Reasoning with a view to promoting Intercultural Communicative Competence among primary school children.
  2. To measure Intercultural Communicative Competence displayed by the children during the intervention against a model currently employed by the Council of Europe's education programmes.

I wanted the research to be built on applications of good classroom practice, but I also wanted to give the work a solid theoretical foundation in current academic research. Before the Intervention I developed a theoretical framework through a consideration of two primary research questions.

1) What are the possibilities for and challenges to the development of Scriptural Reasoning strategies for promoting Intercultural Communicative Competence?

2) How might Scriptural Reasoning practices be adapted to suit the experience, skills and cognitive levels of primary age pupils for them to exercise Intercultural Communicative Competence?

I addressed this question in two stages:

Part 1 – The initial theory was used to synthesise the “STORY TENT” Intervention.

Part 2 – The Intervention was iteratively tested and refined in collaboration with teachers, faith representatives and pupils.

The Story Tent Intervention utilises the religious education environment in public schools to develop intercultural and interreligious competencies. It does this through interfaith dialogue in a way which enhances a deeper understanding of religious scriptures and of personal faith. It has significance in that it combines three distinctive areas of learning in an interdisciplinary approach. It applies the principles of the academic discipline of textual Scriptural Reasoning to the use of story with primary pupils. It builds on the growing understanding of Intercultural Communicative Competence in a classroom setting. It does this by building on well-tested and applied pedagogic styles of teaching Religious Education in a multi-faith context. More specifically, this research is creative and new in that it addresses four areas of learning in which little research has previously been published.

  • It relates interfaith work to the demands of the primary curriculum.
  • It applies authentic sacred texts beyond the use of the Bible in the primary school sector.
  • It uses faith representatives to help scaffold the learning and develop authentic interpretations of living faith traditions.
  • It adapted participatory critical Action Research methodology to create a three-part research team consisting of researchers, teachers and faith representatives.

2 Chapter Overviews

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Chapter 1 introduces the research design. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 present the literature review outlining the current understanding and theoretical position of Scriptural Reasoning (SR), Religious Education (RE) and Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) respectively. The research methodology is outlined in Chapter 5 and the findings discussed in Chapters 6 and 7. The concluding Chapter 8 draws together the findings and possible implications for future research opportunities.

In Chapter 2, I outline the practice of SR and how is it currently being applied in different contexts. I discuss the origins of SR in the early 1990s and draw on the work of Ochs and Ford (Ochs, 1998). I place SR within a philosophical and theological position and review the current practice of SR across different continents, building particularly on the work of the Cambridge Interfaith Programme (CIP). I suggest a case for applying the philosophical position of Ricoeur (1992) to the practice of SR in so far as it combines a descriptive phenomenological approach to using sacred texts with an interpretative hermeneutical process. The chapter concludes by hypothesising that SR could be used with primary school pupils through the use of stories from different faith traditions using the dialogical method of engagement.

In Chapter 3, I consider the differences between SR approaches and the current use of sacred texts in primary schools as taught in religious education. I present a survey of examples of methodologies used within the religious education curriculum in primary schools, both in the past and present. I draw on the theoretical work of Smart (1978), Jackson (1997), Francis (1978), Ipgrave (2001), Copley (2005), and Freathy (Freathy and Aylward, 2010). I also draw from my personal experience of teaching religious education across school years YR to Y6: in the British school system this corresponds to ages four to eleven. I argue that an adapted, age-appropriate application of SR practices could build on the phenomenological and interpretative methods of religious education to deliver a new style of reading scriptures together across faith traditions within the primary school.

In Chapter 4, I consider what synergy there might be between ICC and SR to support an exploration of this kind. I provide an overview of the current understanding of ICC. I draw parallels between the work being carried out within the UK and through the Council of Europe. I review the developing research in the field of ICC across different geographical contexts and highlight some of the complexities within the subject matter. I explore some of the theoretical positions of intergroup dynamics, particularly the work of Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory (1978) and Ting Toomey’s Identity Negotiation Theory (2015). Finally, I position the research within the European context using material from the Council of Europe; specifically, Byram’s model of ICC which grew out of his teaching experiences of foreign language (Byram, 1997) and the Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters (AIE) an application which developed theory into practical teaching materials and support the development of ICC (Council of Europe, 2009).

In Chapter 5, I describe why Action Research methodology is particularly appropriate in preference to other possible research methodologies. The theoretical work of Lewin (1948) and Elliott (1991) was described alongside the curriculum development work of Stenhouse (1975) and the REDCo research project (Ipgrave et al., 2009) to guide the research design. I discuss the development of the Story Tent Intervention in the light of the literature review. I then outline the methods used for data collection. The data analysis combined the responses from the assessments, interviews and group work. I developed a hypothesis-based coding system based on 10 primary competences identified in the AIE interview structure. The reflexive nature of the coding process complements AR methodology and the pragmatic nature and philosophical position of the research.

In Chapter 6, I survey the data collected and describe the findings from the research Intervention. Chapter 7 consists of an analysis of the AIE interviews and a review of the pupils’ responses. This enabled a deeper exploration of the individual competences the pupils were demonstrating, alongside the broader impact of the Intervention.

In Chapter 8, I explore the findings in the light of the literature review and propose a selection of significant primary and secondary findings which came out of the research. I also make concluding remarks about possible ways forward and implications for future research opportunities.

3 Summary of Research

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This thesis presents the findings of a systematic investigation into the possibility of applying SR principles, using comparative faith stories, to develop ICC in primary aged pupils. It developed a theoretical framework based on current literature and applied this understanding to produce a practical, age-appropriate intervention called the Story Tent. The Intervention was delivered in three very different schools over two iterative cycles. A research team was brought together to deliver the Intervention, it consisted of academics, religious education teachers and community faith representatives. The Story Tent Intervention consisted of teaching about ICC, discovering information about sacred texts and exploring their significance to faith representatives who acted as interpreters of the texts. This was achieved using drama, practical group activities and finally a question and answer session.

A total of eighty-seven KS2 pupils (children aged nine to eleven years), participated in the research. Four different methods of data collection were applied to gain a broad overview of different aspects of the research and provided opportunities to strengthen the findings through points of triangulation. The methods used are listed below:

  • All eighty-seven pupils who took part in the Intervention contributed to points of self-assessment at the end of each of the sessions.
  • The research team participated in evaluative interviews at the end of each of the sessions.
  • A mixed group of pupils took part in a focused group session at each of the three schools. This came to a total of seventeen participating pupils over the two iterations.
  • These same seventeen pupils each took part in post Intervention AIE interview.

At the end of the study the data was examined, and an analysis was made of the findings. The results were presented in the light of the literature review, with implications for further work which highlight important questions meriting new investigation.

4 Research Findings

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In this section I draw together the key themes and findings which developed through the research journey, these I have broken down into primary and secondary findings. I present strengths and limitations of the research methodology and conclude with a selection of recommendations to move the work forward.

Primary Findings

1) The Use of the Story Format was Important to the Success of the Intervention

Story proved to be an age appropriate genre for primary pupils to connect with. It provided a context in which pupils were quickly inspired and facilitated confidence and engagement. It enabled pupils to investigate difference through an authentic encounter of sacred texts with the support of a community faith representative. It provided a space where ICC could be practiced, and interpretations could be developed using applied SR principles.

During this research pupils demonstrated the ability to apply basic narrative constructs and overlay it onto their personal experiences. They demonstrated the ability to explain and relate what they were learning through the stories to their personal experiences of life. The story became more than just the words expressed externally and took on a new form internally as pupils looked for features that match their own experiences, filled in the gaps in their imagination, and expanded their understanding. It is through this process of relating and interpreting that new meanings and understandings were constructed.

2) SR’s Style of Dialogue is Distinctive in its Ability to Promote ICC

The SR concept of hospitality facilitated an environment which enabled pupils to explore a place of translation, in which different viewpoints could be held in tension and explored together. Through the process of dialogue in this structured space pupils could encounter the “other” in a way that was not compromising to personal faith positions. The findings of the Story Tent Intervention have led me to suggest that the process of SR has an “in-between” space of translation which enabled pupils to translate meanings embedded in the faith stories through the encounters they experienced with people of faith. This translation I suggest has been demonstrated through the discoveries they have made about the meso-level interpretations of faith stories and micro level personal discoveries as they have related their own understanding to those who held different opinions. The Story Tent did not just bring two voices into the place of meeting - it brought three. If we extend this “in-between” space beyond two voices and place a third into the space it becomes much more dynamic, complex and able to hold an infinite number of interpretations. This multiple perspective enabled a richer understanding of the stories from three different perspectives, offering a “fusion of perspectives” as described by Gadamer

3) The Use of Drama is a Powerful Motivator for Practising ICC

Drama proved to be an effective environment for pupils to exercise ICC. The process of working together to discover and interpret a story and present their findings provided a context in which many of the competences were being exercised in the moment. During the process of hearing stories and acting them out I found that the pupils did look for causal explanations to bring meaning out of the text. This hermeneutical dimension makes it particularly useful in developing ICC particularly those skills involved with interpreting and relating as outlined in Byram’s model.

Secondary Findings

1) There is a Cognitive Hierarchy within the ICC, Relating to Skills

Some of the competences were more frequently demonstrated than others suggesting the possibility of a hierarchy of competences. These differences were most noticeable in those skills that required cognitive thinking. From the pupils’ responses, explaining and relating were more frequently demonstrated than interpreting or critical cultural awareness. In Byram’s model there is no differentiation between the conceptual demands of the different competences, presumably because of the cognitive development of the older pupils with whom he is familiar. My findings suggest otherwise for pupils in KS2.

2) There is an Interactional Hierarchy within the ICC, Relating to Attitude

Just as there appears to be a cognitively-related hierarchy among the skills-orientated ICC, there also appears to be an interactional hierarchy among the attitude-orientated ICC. For example, those pupils who were able to tolerate ambiguity were more likely to demonstrate a wider range and number of competences than those who did not.

3) Strong Religious Identity Correlates with both Low and High ICC

Personal religious identity also impacted the pupils’ responses to the Intervention. It tended to have a polarizing impact. Those who expressed no faith position during the Intervention tended to demonstrate average overall Competence, whilst those who identified a personal faith position exhibited either high or low Competence. Pupils who had a strong sense of personal identity and were open to others and able to tolerate ambiguity were more likely to demonstrate critical cultural awareness and higher levels of overall Competence.

4) The Story Tent Intervention Provided a Meaningful Encounter for both Researchers and Pupils

The Story Tent Intervention proved to be a significant learning experience for the Action Research team. The process of presenting and participating in the Intervention provided a space where a community of learning developed and all those taking part were being challenged by the experience.

5 Strengths and Limitations of the Research

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Action Research methodology proved to be an effective style of research for exploring the research questions. The development of ICC has been widely recognised as a cyclical process and the iterative nature of Action Research enabled epistemological internal consistency within the research. Whilst it is difficult to draw conclusive evidence from the Intervention as the data sample size was small, the breadth of religious and demographic composition of the research schools provided an opportunity to explore responses to the Intervention over significantly different groups of pupils which provided an interesting comparison.

During the project I became aware of the limited opportunities the team had to fully explore the contributions of the teachers beyond the Story Tent Intervention day. Whilst the faith representatives were able to see how the Intervention worked out in different contexts over the two iterations, the teachers only encountered the experience in their own school contexts. This led to different roles emerging within the research team in which the faith representatives became more involved with the development of the Intervention, as those who were primarily concerned with its delivery, and the teachers took on a more advisory role in assessing how the pupils had responded to the encounter. I would have liked to have had more opportunity to build on the expertise of the teachers, but with the limits of time and many demands on teachers this was not possible. I would also have liked to have more time equipping the faith representatives with a framework to support them in applying appropriate boundaries in how to talk with the pupils about matters of faith.

The (AIE) proved to be a very effective tool which facilitated a environment where pupils could process their understanding of the Story Tent encounter. It also provided a context for comparison between the pupils’ responses and a framework within which to explore the implications of the differentiated responses between those pupils who were particularly competent and those who demonstrated less competence.

Whilst the AIE interview provided a useful tool for comparison, I was aware of some limitations. Some competences were more difficult to observe: for example, very few pupils demonstrated non-verbal communication, which is by its very nature not communicated verbally. It would have been interesting to video pupils’ interactions to explore this dimension further, although there would be considerable ethical implications to this course of action. Pupils also demonstrated competences that were significant in becoming proficient at communicating which were not included in the framework. For example, an ability to collaborate and work together made a huge difference to pupils’ experience of the encounter and yet it is not recorded within the brief of these findings.

This research drew on well-tested and established work within the sphere of ICC. I drew heavily on the work of Byram and the Council of Europe to build a framework within which to examine pupils’ responses the Story Tent Intervention. However, during the research a new framework emerged from the Council of Europe. It suggests a model of twenty competences within four broad categories. Whilst there is considerable overlap with previous models, there are significant differences in the framework. I chose not to change my research design midway and would further argue that Byram’s model and the AIE interview are still conceptually relevant.

Opportunities for Future Research

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1) This research has highlighted the significance of the “Tent of Meeting” as a space to develop meaningful dialogue. It would be interesting to investigate further how pupils interact at the point of translation. The literature surrounding interreligious dialogue suggests that there could be a “translation” of religion similar to that experienced in language translation. This presents the opportunity to compare the process of language translation with the process of religious translation. Could there be a model which would present different Interreligious communicative competences which might be different to Intercultural competences?

2) This research has suggested that there may be a hierarchical dimension to acquiring ICC. It would be interesting to investigate further whether there are cognitive and developmental aspects to the development of ICC. This could form the basis of a developmental metric which could help assess pupil’s development.

3) This research has suggested the impact of the intervention was significant for the research team as well as for the pupils. It would be interesting to investigate the possibility of using the Story Tent structure as a format to be used beyond the classroom within community groups to enhance and develop community cohesion. The findings from this research have indicated that both pupils and researchers were learning through the Story Tent encounters. It would be interesting to explore whether this format could be applied outside the classroom, within community settings.

4) This research has highlighted the significance of Drama as a vehicle to develop ICC. It would be interesting to investigate further the impact of using drama as a pedagogic style to develop SR and/or ICC. This research has suggested there is significant evidence to demonstrate that the pupils were exhibiting a range of competences during the drama activity. It would be interesting to explore what factors are involved in making this style of learning particularly effective.

6 Conclusions

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To conclude I suggest that this research has demonstrated significant opportunities for the development of ICC among primary pupils using SR principles. SR has already been applied in religious and secular contexts with people of different faiths or none. It provides an environment where people are brought together to explore the significance of “difference” which is predicated on the good practice of ICC. It provides a safe space and a controlled environment where successful outcomes require the use of critical engagement and therefore it provides a good training ground for an exploration into the possible development of ICC.

Religious education offers a natural place within the curriculum to explore ICC as the experience of religion is a key cultural marker of diversity. It explores what it means to be human and what makes one culture different from another. The Story Tent Intervention utilises the religious education environment to develop ICC in a way which enhances its objectives and develops a deeper understanding of religious scriptures and personal faith.

I set out to explore what synergies there might be between the principles of SR and the development of ICC. I have suggested that both ICC and SR are based in the dialogical traditions and seek to develop the ability to learn from others from significantly different backgrounds. In the case of ICC, the difference is based on culture; in the case of SR the difference is based in religion. Both ICC and SR work through the establishment of a place of translation. This offers an environment where participants can explore and develop a deeper understanding of individual and group identity and has the potential to equip pupils with the skills and attitudes required to develop civil dialogue and socially cohesive communities.


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