9 Creativity and RE

Julian Stern

Two education research topics, creativity and RE, are brought together in the wide-ranging research on creative RE. The general issues in creativity (for the UK exemplified by DfEE 1999, Roberts 2006, and see Craft et al. 2001) have led to the view that creativity ‘involves the use of imagination and intellect to generate ideas, insights and solutions to problems and challenges’, and that, ‘[c]oupled with critical thinking, which involves evaluative reasoning, creative activity can produce outcomes that can be original, expressive and have value’ (QCA 2008).

That is, there is reference to the responsibility of the person being creative (imagination, thinking, reasoning), the originality of the processes or products (generate, original, expressive), and the value of that generated (solutions, evaluative, value) (as in Stern 2007, p 124-126, with Stern based at York St John University). However, the pressures of exam results, league tables, and numerous curriculum reviews, have sometimes left teachers – including RE teachers – unable to see how they can justify more creative approaches in their lessons.

Research into creative RE, and associated professional work, includes the use of art (Cooling 1998, 2000a, 2000b, 2009, with Cooling based at the Stapleford Centre), and music (Stern 2004, 2007 chapter 11). Both are complemented by the work of NATRE (the national association of teachers of religious education) in their Spirited Arts competitions and website (www.natre.org.uk/spiritedarts) and their Developing Religious Education Through Music website (www.natre.org.uk/music).

a_Pencils-11.jpg The former includes wonderful examples of art work by pupils and their explanations and interpretations of those works; the latter includes a live ‘database’ of music (generally linked to YouTube, www.youtube.com) that can be used to teach about religions and religious issues. Those RE specialists concerned that one subject – i.e. RE – is enough of a challenge for a specialism, can be comforted by such materials, as religions have themselves always used art and music (and other arts) to express the heart of their own philosophies.

The music, art, poetry, or architecture of Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism is not an ‘interpretation’ of those religions, but their very expression. Research in creativity and RE is therefore a matter of explanation (‘exegesis’), interpretation, and the kind of active, original, critical engagement that is often known as hermeneutics.

The RE researcher Trevor Cooling (based at the Stapleford Centre and Canterbury Christ Church University) describes the need in RE for what he calls ‘responsible hermeneutics’. Using Thistleton’s (2009) guide, Hermeneutics: An Introduction, 2009, with Thistleton based at the University of Nottingham), he says that the encounter between a text (which might also be a written text, a picture, a piece of music, a building) and a reader (viewer, listener, visitor) is dialogic. There is therefore a creativity in the reader, and this is not entirely ‘free’ (i.e. a text cannot be said to mean whatever the reader thinks it means), but is constrained by the nature of the material being investigated.

In these ways, creativity is disciplined, just as the making of pictures or music or texts is disciplined, and creativity in RE is about recognising and coming to understand the ‘voices’ of the authors of religious texts, the authors of commentaries (which would include school textbook writers, of course), and the pupils and teachers in schools. All come together to work dialogically and creatively, learning about and learning from religion.



  • Cooling, M (1998) Jesus Through Art; Norwich: RMEP.
  • Cooling, M (2000a) Assemblies from the Gallery; Norwich: RMEP.
  • Cooling, M (2000b) The Bible Through Art: From Genesis to Esther; Norwich: RMEP.
  • Cooling, M (2009) Christianity Through Art: A Resource for Teaching Religious Education Through Art; Norwich: RMEP.
  • Craft, A, Jeffrey, B, and Leibling, M (ed) (2001) Creativity in Education; London: Continuum.
  • Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) (1999) All Our Futures: the National Advisory Committee for Creativity, Culture and Education; London: DfEE.
  • Roberts, P (2006) Nurturing Creativity in Young People: A Report to Government to Inform Future Policy; London: Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
  • Stern, L J (2004) ‘Marking time: using music to create inclusive Religious Education and inclusive schools’, Support for Learning, 19:3, pp 107-113.
  • Stern, L J (2007) Schools and Religions: Imagining the Real; London: Continuum.
  • Thistleton, A C (2009) Hermeneutics: An Introduction; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.