The Inter-relationship of Science and Religion: A typology of engagement

Pam Hanley, Judith Bennett, Mary Ratcliffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


This study explores whether the religious background of students affects their opinions about, and attitudes to engaging with, scientific explanations of the origins of the universe and of life. The study took place in four English secondary schools representing three different contexts (Christian faith-based; non-faith with majority Muslim catchment; and non-faith, mixed catchment). It comprised questionnaires and focus groups with over 200 students aged 14-16, supplemented by teacher interviews. The analysis approach was informed by grounded theory and resulted in the development of an engagement typology, which has been set in the context of the cross-cultural border crossing literature. It divides students into categories depending on both the nature and amount of involvement they were prepared to have with the relationship between science and religion. The model takes into account where students sit on four dimensions. These assess whether a student’s preferred knowledge base is belief-based or fact-based; how flexible they are in terms of both tolerance of uncertainty and open-mindedness; and whether they conceptualise religion and science as being in conflict or harmony. Many Muslim students resisted engagement because of conflicting religious beliefs. Teachers did not always appreciate the extent to which this topic troubled some students who needed help to accommodate clashes between science and their religious beliefs. It is suggested that increased appreciation of the complexity represented by their students can guide a teacher towards an appropriate approach when covering potentially sensitive topics such as the theory of evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1210-1229
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number7
Early online date1 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2014
Externally publishedYes


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