Confronting dualism in religious education

Gerard O'Shea, The University of Notre Dame Australia


In 1942, Henri de Lubac identified serious problems with religious education. In his view, overly rationalist explanations and a reliance on pre-digested propositions undermined the essential element of mystery. He also cautioned against the prevailing Neo-Scholasticism, which hardened religious faith into separated departments of nature and grace, which promoted a response of rationalism on one hand and sentimentality on the other. Forty years later, Graham Rossiter called for a “creative divorce” between religious education and catechesis. While his intention was to make a necessary distinction between the two, it appears that some of his less subtle interpreters may have enacted the same kind of separation of categories that de Lubac warned about in the 1940s. The author proposes that the distinction between catechesis and religious education might be better expressed as a creative tension rather than a creative divorce. In the context of a Catholic school, catechesis and religious education need to be in continual dialogue with each other. The process needs to account for the theological anthropology of the human person—an integration of body, heart and mind. The exaggerated emphasis on mind in religious education and heart in catechesis may cause difficulties for students in integrating these dimensions. The distinction between catechesis and religious education remains a necessary mental tool for effective analysis, but we must beware of separating them in a way that prevents the students from engaging in the necessary Christian task of holding competing realities in creative tension.