An Exploration of Pupils’ and Teachers’ Discursive Constructions of Religion(s): The Case of Alexander Parkes Primary School

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis considers questions pertaining to the discursive constructions of religion(s) as mediated through a primary school. It considers how pupils and teachers make sense of religion(s) in their institutional setting and beyond. The main research questions are: a) How is religion mediated through daily educational practices? b) How do pupils and teachers construct religion(s) at school? For this project, I adopted an ethnographic approach to a case study, and conducted fieldwork at Alexander Parkes Primary School,1 a state-funded non-faith-based primary school in Birmingham, UK. .While most research conducted in Birmingham tends to focus on faith-based schools and/or minority faith communities, this research pays attention to the “missing group”(Davie, 2012: 287), that is to say the ‘middle ground’ group in the religious life of England “who self-identify as Christians” (Davie, 2015: 169), but “whose way of being religious is captured by the term ‘vicarious’” (Davie, 2012: 287).This project considers the place of religion in the everyday lives of children andteachers, and how they encounter religion in mundane ways. The findings of this study shed new light on how pupils and teachers discursively construct religion in education(macro level). The concepts of religion as ‘chain of memory’ (Hervieu-Léger, 2000),‘Golden Rule’ Christianity (Ammerman, 1997), and ‘vicarious religion’ (Davie, 2015)provide the theoretical framework to explore the dialectic relationship between the‘religious’ and the ‘secular,’ and the (perceived) role and function of religion in contemporary society (meso level). In order to investigate which discourses were(re)reproduced at Alexander Parkes, I adopted Ipgrave’s analytical tools to the “differentapproaches to religion: doxological, sacramental, and instrumental, founded,respectively, on certain faith in God, on openness to the possibility of God, and on adefault scepticism” (2012a: 30). These tools were useful to explore how the school managed religion (micro level). Findings show that while children’s agency should notbe underplayed, the school as a structure plays an important role in shaping pupils’construction of religion in general, and of Christianity in particular.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDemelza J Jones (Supervisor) & Sarah-Jane Page (Supervisor)


  • child’s voice
  • collective worship
  • construction of religion(s);
  • primary education
  • religious education

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