In 2007 the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act will be celebrated and plans to mark this event are well underway in different parts of the country. When it was suggested to us that the 2006/2007 issue of this journal might address this issue drawing on a range of religious perspectives and worldviews, we warmed to the idea – whilst privately wondering whether we would be able to fulfil the expectations placed on us as editors! We need not have worried. We believe the journal brings together an excellent range of articles, which should be of interest to those involved in Religious Education, but also to a much wider readership, both within and outside the field of education.
As we discussed the ‘shape’ the journal would take, we were increasingly aware of the importance of our theme. We recognised that slavery with its many faces is still with us. Women and children in particular are still exploited and regarded as property and there is a need to examine both the part religions have had and may still play in slavery, as well as their role in the abolition and eradication of this demeaning condition. In deciding on our overarching theme of Human Rights and Responsibilities we wished to bring together past and present – and in the present encouraged some of our contributors to focus particularly on the rights of women and children.
In some ways, our theme is not an easy one to incorporate into a journal on ‘World Religions’; virtually all religions will affirm the positive value of all human beings and regard slavery as a denial of what it is to be a human being. Underpinning the many articles in the journal is a profound sense – albeit variously nuanced - of what it is to be human. We are aware that no one person can speak for a religion and readers will find that there are a range of views on slavery, as well as on human rights and responsibilities in the journal. The contrast, for example, among the articles relating to Hindu tradition and caste is striking; here we include the voices of two people within the tradition and the observations of an ‘outsider’. Their views should alert readers to the complexities of addressing this issue in RE, to the inadequacies of many textbooks – and of course to the human dimensions of this issue.
Overall our theme is illustrative of the ways in which religions and worldviews, some of which will be conservative, are drawn into a vigorous dialogue with the contemporary world and in some cases envisage a future marked by tension, in which they are living participants. Whilst not all the articles focus on religions per se, together they point to a fundamental questions about being human and - to quote John Macquarrie - ‘becoming more human’.
We are grateful to all our contributors who were willing to take up this challenging theme. We extend our warm thanks and appreciation to all of them in equal measure – but among them especially welcome Joseph Runzo who took up our particular request to write a lead article. We believe that together they have produced a Journal of quite outstanding quality; we offer it as Shap’s distinctive contribution to 2007.
Once more, our thanks are due also to our colleagues on Shap. Lesley Prior and Farley Marsh have once again produced a Primary Mailing to complement our central theme; Carrie Mercier has edited the review section; Roger Howarth has taken on the responsibility for producing the Shap Calendar. The continuing success of our pictorial calendar has encouraged us to produce a 2007 version on the theme of ‘Powerful Images’; special thanks are due to Alison Seaman, Owen Cole and David Rose for their work towards this. Finally, we say it every year- but we say it with meaning - we are, as ever, very grateful to Mike Berry, Shap’s administrator, for his efficient and cheerful management of the Shap office.
The start of 2006 was saddened by the death of John Finel, one of our longstanding colleagues on Shap; we extend our sympathy to his family and celebrate John’s life through the recollections of colleagues which preface the journal.
Alan Brown & Mary Hayward
Shap is an independent charity committed to the promotion of accurate information for those teaching about the world’s religions. Tthe opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the views of the Shap Working Party. Transliteration of specialist terms in the Journal remains that adopted by individual authors.