Denise Cush and Catherine Robinson
Bath Spa University
1. Background to the Project Bid: Rationale
Located in the context of a Higher Education institution with no particular religious
affiliation, Study of Religions at Bath Spa University has a comparatively long history as
part of teacher education before becoming part of subject-based degree programmes.
As early as the mid 1970s, an integral part of the degree programme was a week-long
residential placement in a religious community. While it has evolved in a number of
ways, partly to accommodate larger student numbers, and has been located in different
contexts, reflecting changing modes of delivery, the placement remains foundational to
the experiential approach towards religion that continues to characterize Study of
Religions at Bath Spa University.
Placements in religious communities allow students to encounter religion ‘as it is lived’
in all its complexity and diversity, requiring them to apply ethnographic techniques
learnt in the classroom and to conduct themselves as professional researchers. Learning
in and assessment of fieldwork placements thus develops skills identified in the Subject
Benchmark Statement for Theology and Religious Studies; including ‘empathy and
imaginative insight’, ‘capacity for reflexive learning’, ‘ability to attend to others and have
respect for others’ views’, ‘ability to gather, evaluate and synthesise different sorts of
information’, ‘analytical ability and the capacity to formulate questions and solve
problems’ and ‘presentation skills, both oral and written’.
Experiential learning is critical to Theology and Religious Studies. However evocative and
vivid a description, nothing can replace immersion in religious communities for gaining
an understanding of life within a tradition. More than this, encounter may be personally
transformative, going beyond information-gathering to fostering genuine respect for
and understanding of an alternative life-world. In turn, experiential learning involves
examining the student’s own beliefs and values and thus directly contributes to their
personal development and, through the skills acquired, to their career aspirations. The
intense nature of fieldwork and the richness of the experience, also means that
assessment requires especial care if it is to value reflexivity alongside data capture and
interpretation. Consequently, marking criteria need to reflect the complexities of the
learning activities undertaken through a placement, and embody a variety of learning
outcomes related to the combination of attitudes, skills and knowledge.
Building on an earlier placement-related bid (FDTL 5 2004) involving the Subject Centre
and the Universities of Chester and York St John, the decision to apply for Tranche 9
Mini-Project funding was motivated by an awareness that the issues we had previously
identified had yet fully to be addressed.
We were concerned to improve the fieldwork placement for our own students, curious
about what other departments were offering in terms of experiential learning and
hopeful that good practice could be shared. Accordingly, our main project aim was to
facilitate fieldwork placements in Theology and Religious Studies by producing a website
containing research and resources, and encouraging dialogue between religious
communities, tutors and students.
Working outwards from the Study of Religions team’s expertise in providing fieldwork
placements and assessing student work based on these placements, further forms of
experiential learning were identified and included in the project (i.e. day visits, study
visits abroad and vocational placements).
2. Initial Project Planning: Aims and Processes
The aim of this project, as stated in our bid, was to improve learning and assessment in
Theology and Religious Studies by exploiting the potential of fieldwork placements. In
more detail, we aimed to:
Survey experiential elements in TRS departments in the UK to identify good
practice and forge a dedicated learning community;
Extend opportunities for fieldwork placements and improve the quality of the
experience for students and host communities;
Facilitate a variety of types of fieldwork placements in TRS departments through
providing open educational resources; and
Encourage dialogue between religious communities, lecturers, teachers and
students about religion as lived experience.
In broad terms, other than the initial survey, the main focus of the project was to be the
creation of a website.
In order to achieve these aims, we established an Advisory Group comprising: Dr Lynn
Foulston, Programme Leader for Religious Studies, University of Wales, Newport; Prof.
Paul Hyland, Head of Learning and Teaching at Bath Spa University; Dr Richard Noake,
Head of Theology and Religious Studies, University of York St John; and Dr Simon Smith,
Subject Centre. This membership ensured a balance of expertise that reinforced the
emphasis on learning and assessment, complemented the focus on placements at Bath
Spa University (both in terms of different forms of placements and a variety of forms of
experiential learning) and drew upon relevant project management skills. This Group
was planned to meet twice to provide detailed feedback and critical evaluation of the
project as well as establishing priorities for future development.
3. Chronological Overview
Initially, the project was to begin in July 2009 and to be completed by June 2010.
However, due to a combination of factors, especially the commissioning of the project
team to produce a research report, identifying faith communities in Bath and North-East
Somerset and how best the Local Authority could engage with them, it was necessary to
request an extension for a further academic year. This was discussed with the Advisory
Group who, like us, recognized the possible value of this report for the Living Religion
project itself. Consequently, the milestones had to be revised to accommodate the
additional workload and to schedule the planned activities until June 2011.
For initial and revised schedules with comment, see Appendices A and B.
The main project activities included the following.
4.1 Survey of Theology and Religious Studies Departments
A questionnaire (see Appendix C) was designed and distributed to discover where
fieldwork placements in particular and experiential elements in general were provided.
Departments were identified by consulting the AUDTRS Handbook published by the
Subject Centre, supplemented by checking University websites for recent changes. A
total of 40 questionnaires were sent to Departments in Great Britain (efforts to contact
HEIs in Northern Ireland proved fruitless), yielding 19 responses.
4.2 Creation of Website
The major deliverable of the project is the website. There was significant delay in
website design and development. However, in 2010-2011 Gavin Wilshen has taken
responsibility for this and during the year has built the website in consultation with the
4.3 Community Visits and Interviews
A programme of visits was scheduled in order to ascertain the views and any concerns
of communities that hosted placements for Bath Spa students. This was important
because feedback from communities had been very limited and generally confined to
negative experiences. The goal was to involve the communities in improving the quality
of placements from the perspective of students and communities alike, and on that
basis to seek to extend opportunities for placements.
These visits included local placement providers (extremely important for those students
with caring roles who are unable to undertake residential placements) alongside
placement providers in other parts of Britain. Similarly, care was taken to include
placement providers associated with different forms of religion and spirituality. These
visits featured an interview with a member of the community charged with placements
and a risk assessment as well as the collection of visual materials.
To date seven visits have been made, of which one was a three-day stay undertaken in
an effort to reproduce the student experience insofar as possible.
4.4 Development of Community Profiles
The role of Community Profiles is to provide guidance on communities for visitors. As
well as being useful to our own students, these are intended to assist lecturers and
teachers in planning fieldwork for their students. They are also intended to help
communities by making clear for which groups they could cater and on what basis.
Following advice from the Advisory Group, a template was designed to elicit key
information about the communities including the community's affiliation, purpose,
facilities, requirements and suitability for guests (see Appendix E). This was then
emailed to communities with whom we have built relationships (23 in total). Five
communities did not complete templates, three did but limited their availability to Bath
Spa students by refusing permission for their details to be uploaded to the project
website, with 15 communities giving permission to upload their details. As a result of
project activities, two new organizations provided profiles with permission to upload to
4.5 Student Focus Groups and Questionnaires
Part of the project was to gain a more detailed understanding of the student
perspective on the placement experience than gained through the normal processes of
module evaluation. It was also decided to investigate the value for students of day visits
to places of worship though these do not feature on the website. Focus groups were
convened by Prof. Paul Hyland for the smaller groups of students undertaking
placements in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 supplemented by a further focus group and
short questionnaires for a subsequent cohort. Students’ responses were acquired in
order to inform other aspects of the project where students’ needs for guidance could
4.6 Generating Good Practice Guides
The survey of Theology and Religious Studies Departments revealed the need for
documentation on aspects of placements and other forms of experiential learning that
would make it easier to extend the provision. As well as developing a number of
documents ourselves, we requested documentation and visual materials from other
Universities involved in experiential learning activities.
4.7 Researching the History of Placements at Bath Spa University
The history of the University and particularly Religious Studies at Bath Spa was
researched to contextualize the placement and to emphasize its role in pedagogy for
over 35 years. As part of this, Donald Whittle, a pioneer of the subject and of the
placement, was interviewed.
5.1 Report on Survey of Theology and Religious Studies Departments
Of the 19 responses, 14 indicated that the Departments offered experiential learning
defined as elements where students engage directly with religious practitioners in their
own settings. This bias towards experiential learning may not be representative of the
sector in that departments involved in this form of learning would perhaps have been
more likely to complete the questionnaire. Nevertheless, Departments that did not offer
experiential learning but did complete the questionnaire indicated a range of relevant
practical and pedagogical factors informing current practice and inhibiting the inclusion
of experiential elements.
Practical issues included the availability of staff, shortage of time, the costs involved and
access to religious communities as well as the problems posed by different study modes,
notably distance learning, and large classes. Pedagogical issues mentioned included
current staff expertise and suitable means of assessment.
Accordingly, where appropriate, Departments suggested that additional staffing, more
time, financial support and links with religious communities would enable them to offer
experiential learning as would the appointment of qualified staff and guidance on how
to integrate experiential elements into the curriculum.
Departments that did offer experiential learning did so in a variety of ways, the most
common of which was the day visit to religious centres and places of worship such as
synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, monasteries and gurdwaras but also Pagan
and New Age sites.
A number of Departments arranged for study visits abroad with students travelling to
India, Korea and Egypt as part of their programmes.
Placements also featured in a number of programmes. Vocational placements often
occurred in theological contexts involving work in pastoral settings, for example, youth
work and ministerial training. Other vocational placements related to Religious
Education and schools. Fieldwork placements could be associated with research projects
and dissertations and might involve concentrated study on/in a specific community or
sustained study of/in a specific locality.
It was noteworthy that none of the Departments (including Bath Spa) that did offer
experiential learning had a specific policy on this aspect of their provision.
The project has addressed some of the issues raised by Departments that did not offer
experiential learning either directly, by disseminating information and guidance to make
it easier to offer experiential learning (for example, Community Profiles and Good
Practice Guides including Framework for Policy on Experiential Elements, see 5.2 and
5.6 below), or indirectly, by assisting Departments to make the case for experiential
learning as a priority that merits institutional investment (for example, the Skills Audit,
see 5.6.ii below).
However, subsequent to the survey discussions at conferences and meetings revealed
that courses and modules with a Religious Studies element including experiential
learning may be found outwith Theology and Religious Studies Departments and thus
their practice was not captured by the survey, for instance BA (Hons) Religion and
Education based in Early Years, Education and Teaching at the University of
Huddersfield. This lack of visibility is becoming more common as Universities restructure
5.2 Features of Website
The ‘Living Religion’ website containing the other deliverables itemised below can be
found at http://www.livingreligion.co.uk. The main sections of the website are as
Introduction to project
Introduction to team and history of placements at Bath Spa
Information on communities together with visual and video material
Report on questionnaire responses
Final project report
Links to articles arising out of the project
To include relevant research from other scholars
Good practice guides on a variety of topics such as research ethics, quality
assurance and enhancement, tips for students and assessment ideas
supplemented by examples of good practice from other Universities
To include samples of student projects on placements once cleared
To include student work from other Universities
Contact details for the team
How Can I Get Involved?
Interactive section for lecturers, religious communities and students to ensure
currency and expand scope of website
Examples of past visits
Study Visits Abroad
Examples of past visits
Useful links to Sacred Space projects from ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’ and
Useful links to other projects and websites
5.3 Summary of Results of Community Visits and Interviews
For most of the communities, hosting students reflected the mission of the organisation,
whether this was expressed as an educational mission, a mission to serve others, a
spiritual mission, or a mission of ‘spiritual education’. It was felt that hosting students
was an appropriate and valuable contribution to make, and that it was good that the
resources available were being used, and that students could see a religious
community/place of worship in action. Some groups felt that association with a
university gave credibility to the academic and educational side of their work. Several
welcomed the challenging nature of the questions asked by students, which prompted
reflection on the part of the community. One community admitted that the donations
came in handy.
All felt that the objectives of the placement were clearly spelt out, and more recently
recruited hosts said that personal conversations with the tutor had enabled them to
understand the university’s intended outcomes. However, several wished to know more
about the individual students further in advance. It was suggested that students could
provide a CV, information about skills they could offer the community, why they chose
the particular placement, and what they hoped to gain from the experience.
Most were very positive about the experience of having students on placement and
found the vast majority of students to be respectful of community values and customs.
They enjoyed helping students, for example, ‘enabling students to overcome their fears
of unknown and unfamiliar traditions’. However, it could also be hard work, as briefing
and debriefing students about their experiences could be time-consuming. Students
vary considerably in the way they approach the experience, in terms of clarity of
objectives, independence and initiative, and they also have very varied interests.
All felt that it was an extremely valuable experience for students. It shakes up their
preconceptions, and takes them ‘out of their comfort zone’. They have experience of
community life, and of living in a spiritual community, which may include silence,
prayer/meditation, and an environment free from mobile phones, computers, and the
media. They are enabled to understand what it means to be committed to a religious
path, and are able to meet a wide range of practitioners, from different backgrounds
and with different levels of commitment. Sometimes they can share insiders’
experiences of outsiders’ reactions, if involved in outreach to the wider community,
such as distributing food with ISKCON. The experience can be personally transformative
as well as intellectually enlightening. Students may have access to resource materials
for study unavailable elsewhere. They may also have the opportunity to develop useful
‘skills for life and work’ such as balancing their needs with appreciating the other
demands on a host’s time, taking the initiative and asking appropriate questions,
problem solving and practical skills, and (sometimes) working closely and intensely with
a small group, whether other students or hosts.
Students are encouraged to offer practical help as part of the way the university
recompenses the community for their kindness in accommodating students. Hosts
acknowledged that students did indeed assist with tasks such as decorating, gardening,
washing up, office tasks such as filing, librarian tasks such as reclassifying items, project
planning and events management, distributing publicity materials, and working in the
community’s shop. However, it was felt that this practical help was not so important
and should not be allowed to dominate. Students also helped the host communities by
giving them insights into how others see them, and especially how younger people react
to the site. Students’ questions were welcomed as ‘it is a useful learning experience for
practitioners to have to explain themselves to outsiders’.
Students could offer more to the community if their skills and interests were known
further in advance. IT skills, such as website design, would be welcomed, as would any
expertise in areas such as vegetarian cooking or construction work. Students could
consider returning to the community as volunteers.
The university procedures for booking students placements can present difficulties,
though it was not easy to see how to resolve these. Timing of placements could be
difficult for some communities. Problem behaviour from students could include
students going off site, wearing inappropriate clothes, forgetting to use permissions
letters for research, being rather passive, and failing to write thank you letters or give
community any feedback. However, such problems were rare and some communities
said there were no problems. Some communities prefer students on their own and
others in small groups. Financial arrangements need to be clear.
A common suggestion for improving the placement experience was that communities
would like to know more about the students, further in advance. If communities were
aware of students’ skills, and of their particular research interests, more assistance
could be given. Communities also wanted more feedback, both from individual students
and the university, after the placements are completed. Some communities felt that
students would benefit from more briefing/reading about the particular community in
advance. Placements could be times to coincide with festival and important events.
Students need to be prepared for bad weather, and to understand the notion of sacred
All interviewees would encourage other communities to offer placements to students.
However, they would advise being very clear about boundaries and explaining rules
clearly. They agreed that providing placements is hugely beneficial and breaks down
Suggestions for preparatory reading were given, but rarely academic sources. Some
recommended only their website, and others considered that coming with an open
mind and heart was more important than background reading.
Some interesting and important issues arising from visits and interviews turned on the
differences between outsider and insider perspectives on community identities, the
balance between taking the initiative and not monopolising hosts’ time, and the balance
between preparedness and open-mindedness. A community may be perceived as Pagan
or Hindu where its self-perception is as a form of universal spirituality. A student may
struggle to complete the research without being assertive in approaching informants
but equally by being too demanding of them. A department may want students to be
well prepared through background reading but it is vital to reassert the value for
students of experiencing the community in such a manner that any preconceptions that
will colour their interpretations can be challenged as well as confirmed.
In summary, the following are ways in which the communities consider that that
placement experiences could be enhanced:
i. Students should contact communities further in advance, with their CVs and
details of their skills, interests, and objectives.
ii. Students should consider returning to perform volunteer work in placement
iii. Students should always send thank you letters, and feedback to communities. If
appropriate, they may send copies of their assignments.
iv. Departments should explore ways of providing more feedback to communities,
through evaluation and student work.
v. Departments should provide reading lists on each community (see Community
Profiles on website).
vi. Departments should develop further links with communities, for example, as
visiting speakers, ‘employer’ partners, volunteering opportunities.
For questions, see Appendix D.
5.4 Analysis of Community Profiles
17 Community Profiles are available online though we are actively seeking additions.
Reading through the Community Profiles, a number of issues emerge. One major issue is
the affiliation of the community in the sense of it being unique or part of a wider
network and, where associated with a major tradition, whether and in what ways it may
be deemed representative. Related to this, communities may differ in their openness to
visitors who do not share their faith commitment. Notwithstanding, all communities
have values and rules that may differ from the secular norm and students’ own
lifestyles. Consequently, communities have requirements about diet and mealtimes,
dress, alcohol and tobacco, and sexual activity. They have requirements about
attendance at services and sometimes the performance of work.
A whole range of practical matters also need to be considered. These include attitudes
to technology (that is, whether visitors may use mobile telephones or connect to the
internet) and, more basically, whether this is possible due to sometimes remote
locations. In some cases, it is not possible to watch a television or listen to the radio.
Standards of accommodation and its suitability differ with particular implications for
disabled access. In some locations, warm clothing, wellington boots and workwear may
Further areas of sensitivity surround views about money. Some communities refuse to
accept direct payment and creative ways of making donations have to be found. Other
communities may be businesses and fully integrated into the mainstream economy.
Additionally, visitors need to be made aware of the possible presence and backgrounds
of other clients or visitors to the community, who may not share the values of the
community, or, where the community is involved in outreach to disadvantaged sectors
of society, may have serious problems.
5.5 Summary of Results from Student Focus Groups and Questionnaires
Some of the main ideas that emerged from Student Focus Groups concerned the role of
placements in a Religious Studies programme, the challenges they pose and the possible
controversies to which they give rise. In explaining why a placement should be an
integral part of a Religious Studies degree, students were in agreement that it was a
vital element of their learning that enabled them to gain real insights into other people’s
spiritualities. Through participant-observation they could find out what they could not
discover from attending lectures or reading books. They also noted that this was an
opportunity to try out theories and methods for themselves. Crucially, they could
discover how religious communities conduct their daily lives. Necessarily, this also
involves interaction with people from different backgrounds which was seen as a useful
skill for life and work. Overall, the placement was believed to make a significant
contribution towards personal and professional development, including some
unexpected outcomes such as learning to meditate. On return from placement, there
was much informal discussion of students’ experiences that was regarded as reflecting
the importance attached to the placement.
Among the challenges that students identified were coping with ‘culture shock’,
balancing aspects of participation and observation of community life and worship,
maintaining an open mind and questioning one’s own values without conceding one’s
personal integrity and, more generally, working independently and managing a project
in a new context. At times, interpersonal dynamics (whether between small groups of
students or between students and their hosts) proved difficult. Moreover, students
sometimes found the task of interpretation daunting, not least in respect of determining
how far a specific community might be representative of a wider tradition.
Students were aware that their presence might materially affect the way in which the
community presented itself or might provoke negative reactions. They understood that
there might be a clash of values and that their participation in religious activities might
be misconstrued as tokenistic or as demonstrating adherence.
Many of these points are inevitable aspects of ethnographic research. However,
Student Focus Groups indicated the need for resources such as Tips for Students and the
practical components of the Community Profiles. Further, students’ responses indicated
that a specific evaluation form was needed for placements rather than relying on a more
generic module evaluation form (see 5.6 below).
Some of the main ideas that emerged from questionnaires concerned the value of the
placement as a learning experience. The vast majority of students considered the
placement to be the most important part of the course. Comments included ‘an
amazing and completely worthwhile experience – I’ve never been anywhere so
peaceful’, ‘the strangest experience of my life but one of the most valuable’ and ‘I loved
it and learned a lot’. Several students felt that they had learned so much that it was
impossible to describe. However, their learning ranged from deep theological reflections
on the nature of the Godhead and personal spiritual experiences to acquiring new
domestic and culinary skills and the practical implications of simple living. For example,
‘I learned that the Hare Krishnas believe in one God … not unlike my own personal
beliefs’, ‘I had some quite strong spiritual experiences in the Chalice Well garden which I
had not expected’, another student commented that s/he was now proficient in
‘cooking tofu and seaweed [and] repairing a hoover’ while yet another discovered ‘I
could cope in a very different environment with only basic amenities’.
Students learned about the religious communities in a variety of ways: interviews and
informal conversations; observing and participating in rituals and ceremonies; access to
books and resources not generally available; and auditing talks to other groups. Other
opportunities for learning about the communities were afforded by interactions with
the wider society that enabled outsider perspectives to be obtained. These perspectives
often revealed the important role played by the community in the locality as providers
Notwithstanding previous academic study, the students did report having been
surprised in some respects, underlining the importance of an ethnographic approach.
This was true even when they might have been expected not to be surprised, for
instance in the dependence of Buddhist monks upon the laity or the presence of multi-
faith imagery in a Hindu setting, but the placement made this real in a qualitatively
different manner. Beyond this, students were surprised by the diversity within
communities, their own emotional reactions and the openness of members of
communities to discuss deeply personal issues. Nevertheless, students reported some
tensions in terms of their level of participation and their experience of deference,
hierarchy and gender roles in the communities. It is striking that, whereas one student
discovered s/he could meditate, another discovered s/he could not.
In addition to the evidence of the effectiveness of placement learning, this feedback
reinforced the importance of evaluating the placement as a discrete item but also led us
to develop an equivalent evaluation form for the communities to complete (see
Appendices F and G; see also 5.6 below).
5.6 Good Practice Guides for Website
The website includes a section on Resources that contains sub-sections:
i. Policy (Framework for a Policy on Experiential Elements plus a Sample Policy)
This was developed as the Survey showed that this was lacking in all
ii. Audit of Skills
This was developed in order to indicate the value of experiential learning in
achieving both Subject Benchmarking objectives and Employability skills. This
was mainly aimed at University staff who might need to make a case for
experiential elements in the curriculum but has also proved useful to
students in identifying how their studies relate to their future careers.
iii. Assessment for Learning
This was developed to propose a number of ways in which fieldwork
placements could be assessed. This addressed a concern of respondents to
iv. Quality Assurance and Enhancement (Protocol for Focus Groups and
Questionnaires for Communities and Students)
These methods of evaluation were found to be helpful in the course of the
project as means of exploring in more depth the value and demands for all
those involved in the placement.
v. Research Ethics (Risk Assessment plus Sample Form; Data Protection plus
Sample Permissions Letter and Form)
This was developed to assist both lecturers and students with ethical and
legal dimensions of engaging in research with human participants.
vi. Tips for Students
This was developed in response to student requests for a ‘briefing paper’ or
‘dummy guide’ especially on practical aspects of a placement.
vii. Good Practice Guides from other Universities
Documentation from other Universities has been included both to provide a
number of options on key features of providing experiential learning
opportunities and to extend the range of those opportunities by exemplifying
and illustrating additional possibilities. These are arranged under the
headings of Resources for Study Visits Abroad, Resources for Day Visits and
Resources for Fieldwork.
5.7 The History of Placements at Bath Spa University
A short history of the University and of Religious Studies at Bath Spa was written,
demonstrating the foundational role of the placement in programmes since the mid-
1970s. An edited form of the interview with Donald Whittle examines why the
placement was introduced and how the student body has changed over the decades.
A number of opportunities for dissemination occurred in the course of the project. Two
of these were conferences organized by the Subject Centre, ‘Courting Controversy’ (July
2010) and ‘Teaching Religions of South Asian Origin’ (January 2011). At the former in a
paper entitled ‘Do they really believe that? Experiential Learning outside the Theology
and Religious Studies Classroom’, we reported on our findings in relation to the
literature on experiential learning and as a case study in the realities of cultural and
religious diversity on the ground (see Discourse, vol. 10, no. 1). At the latter in a keynote
address entitled ‘ When the twain meet: Redefining “British” Religions through Student
Encounters with Religious Communities’, we challenged the applicability of the concept
of ‘diaspora’ in the light of the history and membership of religions of South Asian
origin. Here the fieldwork placements were cited as evidence that these religions are
now rooted in British soil and often have British converts (see Discourse, vol. 10, no. 2).
Another opportunity was the Glastonbury Academic Symposium (April 2011) that
brought together scholars from a number of universities and members of the local
community involved in serving the diverse spiritual seekers drawn to Glastonbury. The
goal was to facilitate academic study of Glastonbury as a spiritual phenomenon. Denise
Cush was invited to the Symposium to talk about how the University uses Glastonbury
placements and visits (see Chalice Well Trust, Isle of Avalon Foundation, Library of
Avalon and Pilgrim Reception Centre under Community Profiles on the website), and
what we have learned from the project about what makes for a successful experience.
The Symposium led to further offers of possible placements which has increased the
number of Community Profiles on the website.
Two further conference papers are planned for July 2011. One, at the annual conference
of AULRE (the Association of University Lecturers in Religion and Education) at Glasgow
University, will publicize the project to an audience of teacher educators and
researchers in religious education. We will also be giving a paper on the links between
placements and employability called ‘Does Religious Studies Work? Employability and
Experiential Learning’ at ‘Foundations for the Future’, organized by the Subject Centre.
The main means of dissemination of project deliverables is the Living Religion website.
As recognised by the Advisory Group and reflected in our Interim Report, the initial
project proposal was rather ambitious. However, we have achieved the majority of the
planned project outcomes. The main section of the website which remains to be
developed is the section with sample student work. The problems facing us are
obtaining permissions from students and communities, and ensuring that the work does
not breach copyright rules. Some progress has been made on this but student work will
not be available online by the official end of the project.
The original plan was for the project to produce materials that would facilitate visits by
schoolchildren and their teachers to religious communities and places of worship as well
as involving teachers with the project. In the course of the project, we discovered that
materials for schools had already been provided by two other projects, ‘Learning
outside the Classroom’ and ‘reonline’. Thus our website section for schools gives links to
these projects as well as a locally developed example. In any case, the Community
Profiles contain information relevant to schools and sometimes feature the same
communities used in the other projects. Discussions with teachers have occurred at
intervals during the life of the project and education professionals will be involved in its
evaluation once the website is online.
Conference papers have led to potential links with a new project led by Lynne
Scholefield and Stephen Gregg on field trips and study tours which has obvious synergy
with this project. In addition, conference papers have led to discussions with colleagues
across the sector about experiential learning in the subject.
The project has had impact in at least three ways to date. For the team, it has led to
improvements in our own practice such as preparing a policy on experiential elements
and changing how the placement is evaluated and by whom. It has also enhanced our
understanding of both students’ and communities’ perspectives on the placement
experience as well as deepening our appreciation of the role and importance of
experiential learning in a variety of forms.
Better understanding of students’ perspectives has enabled us to meet their needs by,
for example, providing Community Profiles containing practical information, ‘Tips for
Students’ and more generally by reviewing support materials.
Better understanding of communities’ perspectives has informed the creation of
evaluation forms by which communities can communicate any feedback. On the whole,
relationships have become closer and, in addition, further communities have offered
Once the website is online, we will invite comment from our Advisory Group, Theology
and Religious Studies lecturers, school teachers and, perhaps most importantly,
students and religious communities.
In May 2012 we will evaluate use of the website in terms of the number of hits and
whether it has given rise to new contacts. We also plan to re-contact respondents to the
initial survey for their evaluation of the resource, especially those with an interest in
The project will continue after the end of the funded period both to complete the
sections of the original plan that we have not been able to deliver and to ensure that
the website remains current. The motivation for this is in part that we will be using the
website as a resource for our own students on a regular basis.
Once the website goes online, it is our hope that colleagues in Theology and Religious
Studies Departments and members of religious communities will respond to our How
Can I Get Involved? section of the website and enable us to continue to add new
materials that we can be included under Resources and further Community Profiles.
In order to achieve this, it will be necessary to publicize the website which we plan to do
through professional associations and academic conferences. For example, in addition
to the July 2011 conference papers cited in 6 above, the website will be announced at
the conference of the Association of Religious Education Inspectors, Advisers and
Consultants and in the Religious Education Council of England and Wales’ newsletter.
This project has already made some contribution towards facilitating fieldwork
placements though its true success can only be assessed in the longer term. However, it
has confirmed our belief that fieldwork placements are particularly valuable to Theology
and Religious Studies. Among the reasons for this are the following:
An opportunity for students to apply methodology for themselves and to rethink
theoretical frameworks in the light of their experience. For example, a student in
a focus group commented that s/he had ‘a far better understanding of the
research methods stuff you read about’. The implications of this were discussed
in our papers on experiential learning and redefining ‘British’ religions (see 6
A means for students to enhance their subject skills, especially in relation to
understanding and representing the convictions and behaviours of others. For
instance, a student explained that the placement was ‘[a]n unforgettable
experience that allows you to discover first-hand exactly what a particular
religious group believe. A great chance to meet new people, while challenging
yourself and your misconceptions!' The role of fieldwork placements in
developing subject skills is documented in our Audit of Skills (see 5.6.ii above).
A means for students to enhance their employability skills, and more generally
promote their personal development, perhaps most crucially in the areas of
interpersonal sensitivity, tolerance of stressful situations, and independence and
self-management. One student said the placement ‘helps you develop the
personal skills of how to work and interact with different cultures.’ The role of
fieldwork placements in developing employability and personal skills is
documented in our Audit of Skills (see 5.6.ii above).
An effective form of experiential learning that facilitates rich and deep learning
which is holistic and contextualized. A typical student response is ‘I felt that I
learned more about [this] religion than I would ever have picked up from
lectures and books’. This was the main focus of our paper on experiential
learning (see 6 above).
A flexible element of a student programme that can be delivered in a variety of
modes. This is not the case at Bath Spa University in terms of the one-week
fieldwork placement but placements can feature in project modules and
dissertations and occur in vacations and non-timetabled spaces.
An opportunity for students to engage with the wider community and for
religious groups and organizations to interact with both younger people and the
academic study of religions. In addition, specific students may forge longer-term
relationships with these groups and organizations without becoming adherents.
An attractive feature of a Theology and Religious Studies programme that assists
with recruitment and marketing. On this subject, we give one of our current
students the last word: 'the placement went above and beyond my expectations
and it was one of the most fantastic learning opportunities that I have ever had.
When I chose to come to Bath Spa University, I made my decision partly because
I was enthralled at the prospect of being able to go and live with a religious
community. To me, this sounded utterly awesome. My time with The
Community of the Many Names of God was truly unforgettable and I was right to
make this a deciding factor when I accepted my offer to study here.'
Appendix A Original Schedule with Comment
Date Project Activity Project Deliverable Comment
July 2009 Set up Advisory Group; Advisory group set up; limited liaison with communities
liaise with communities
October Send out survey; set up contacts and visits; Survey piloted in September after consultation with Subject Centre. revised in
2009 produce preliminary designs for website; light of suggestions from Advisory Group and then sent out to 40
first meeting of advisory group Departments; contact list updates and first visits planned; section of University
website reserved for project website; first meeting of advisory group held 29
Additionally, interview with Donald Whittle
November Set up student focus groups; Student focus groups set up; some support materials prepared
2009 produce support materials for students Additionally, visit to Bath Spa University by Dr Richard Noake
December Analyse survey data Launch website pages Survey data analysed; no progress on website
2009 Additionally, student focus groups convened; first community visits
January Prepare and pilot skills audit Upload support Skills audit prepared; no progress on website
2010 materials onto website Additionally, interim report submitted
February Identify case studies Upload skills audit into Project suspended
March Visits to religious communities Upload case studies Project suspended
2010 onto website
April 2010 Draft good practice guides and test with Upload community Project suspended
students and communities profiles onto website One community visit conducted
May 2010 Finalise good practice guides; Second Upload good practice Project suspended
meeting of advisory group guides onto website Second meeting of advisory group held 29 April
June 2010 Complete report Upload report onto See revised schedule
Appendix B Revised Schedule with Comment
Date Project Activity Project Deliverable Comment
June 2010 Prepare conference paper Present paper at Paper delivered at ‘Courting Controversy’ Conference
Courting Controversy Additionally, revised for and accepted by Discourse
Conference (8/9 July)
Initiate creation of website, finalising Site architecture and Creation of website initiated and website designer identified along with initial
personnel and process (including legal design established ideas for website
July 2010 Further community visits Case studies of host Three further community visits conducted; materials from case studies
communities incorporated into community profiles
Design community profile template to be Community profiles Community profile template agreed and sent out; profiles collated and made
sent to existing and new host communities available online available internally only for student use
as part of annual placement programme (autumn term)
Start to collect samples of student work Student work Not actioned
from 2009-2010 cohort available online
September Further community visits Case studies of host Not actioned
Finish framework for policy Policy framework Framework for policy finished and provided for website
Add framing narrative to audit of skills Audit of skills Framing narrative added and provided for website
Identify other project materials for website Upload other project Other project materials identified and provided for website
(including memorandum of agreement, risk materials to website
Explore links with school sector (including Provide links where Not actioned
Sacred Space project, SACRE and local appropriate
October Request examples of student work from Student work Not actioned
2010 other Universities available online
Date Project Activity Project Deliverable Comment
November Visits to other universities and further Upload further No visits; further contributions invited; new documents provided for website
2010 contributions invited materials to website
December Start to prepare top tips and trouble- Complete first draft Guidance for students and staff prepared
2010 shooting sections of top tips and Additionally, one further community visit; open meeting with students
trouble-shooting returning from placements
Write guidance on terminology Guidance available Considered unnecessary
January Work on assessment guidance Assessment guidance Not actioned
2011 available online
Focus on externalities and ‘real-world Ideas for and Not actioned
settings’ examples of Additionally, keynote speakers at ‘Teaching Religions of South Asian Origin’,
engagement with paper revised for and accepted by Discourse; participation in networking event
local government, for project holders
February Final meeting of Advisory Group Meeting held Abandoned due to cost constraints
2011 Integrate school materials Any further materials Not actioned
March Write summary document for website and Good practice guides available on website (once live) as a collective download
April 2011 Write summary document for website and Summary document As above
publishing completed Additionally, presentation at Glastonbury Academic Symposium
May 2011 Report and accounts Report and accounts
to Subject Centre
June 2011 Prepare conference paper Present paper at Paper accepted for ‘Foundations for the Future’ Conference July 2011
Appendix C Questionnaire for Survey of Theology and Religious Studies Departments
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Facilitating Fieldwork Placements in Theology and Religious Studies
We have received funding for this project from the Higher Education
Academy Subject Centre for Philosophical & Religious Studies. This project
aims to improve learning and assessment in Theology and Religious Studies
(TRS) by exploiting the potential of fieldwork placements and to develop
sustainable relationships between the academy, religious communities and
schools. As part of this project we are surveying TRS departments to discover
where fieldwork placements and, more generally, experiential elements are
provided. By experiential we mean elements where students engage directly
with religious practitioners in their own settings.
The results of this survey will be publicised along with exemplars of good
practice on-line on the project website.
We would be very grateful for your help in completing this questionnaire and
hope that you will be interested in participating in the project activities.
Please return the completed questionnaire as soon as possible and not later
than November 30th 2009.
Published survey data will be anonymised as far as possible and no
references to individual Departments/Subjects made without permission. Any
examples of good practice mentioned in the report or published on the
website will of course be credited. By returning this questionnaire you are
giving permission for the project team to use the data supplied. You retain
the right to withdraw from the research at any time and any data supplied
will be destroyed.
Prof. Denise Cush and Dr Catherine Robinson
Department of Humanities
School of Humanities and Cultural Industries
Bath Spa University
1. Name of University ……………………………………………………………..
2. Name of Department/Subject ……………………………………………………………..
3. Does your Department offer experiential learning? Yes/No (please
delete as appropriate).
If yes, go to 4 below. If no, go to 9 below.
4. If yes, what form does this take? (please tick as appropriate)
a. Visiting places of worship and religious communities
b. Fieldwork placements e.g. residential research
c. Extended study visits abroad
d. Vocational placements e.g. ministerial and pastoral work
e. Other (please specify) ……………………………………………………..
5. Please provide further details, e.g. compulsory or optional for
students, year of study in which it features, number of students
involved, relationship to assessment, contribution to subject and other
skills, extent of staff involvement and role of external personnel.
Occurrence 1 Occurrence 2 Occurrence 3 Occurrence 4
Year of study
6. Why does the Department include experiential elements?
7. Does the Department have examples of good practice that it would be
willing to share, for example student handbooks, guidance for host
communities, innovative assessment, case studies? Yes/No (please
delete as appropriate).
If yes, go to 8 below. If no, go to 9 below.
8. Please provide a brief description of any examples.
9. Would the Department be interested in participating in project
activities? Yes/No (please delete as appropriate).
10. Name and role of person completing this form and contact details for
correspondence with the project team.
Please return by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to
Catherine Robinson, Department of Humanities, School of Humanities
and Cultural Industries, Bath Spa University, Newton Park, Newton St
Loe, Bath, BA2 9BN.
Appendix D Interview Questions for Members of Host Communities
1. Why did you agree to take our students on placement?
2. Did you get sufficient guidance from us about the placement?
3. How have you found the experience of having Bath students on placement?
4. What do you think students gain from the experience?
5. Has having the students been of any benefit to you?
6. Could having students potentially benefit your community?
7. What problems, practical or otherwise, have presented themselves?
8. How would you improve the placement experience?
9. Any advice you would give a community thinking of offering a placement?
10. Any background reading you would recommend for a student coming on
placement with you?
Appendix E Community Profile Template
Name of Community:
Contact Details: Contact person:
Brief description of
purpose of community:
Any disability access or
other issues of which
visitors/guests need to
Practical tips for visitors
Suitable for visits from: Primary schools/secondary schools/university students (please delete)
Public liability yes/no (please delete)
Permission to upload yes/no (please delete)
these details to our
Appendix F Placement Questionnaire for Students
Name of Student: …………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Placement Community/Centre: ……………………………………………………………………………..
Were you adequately prepared for your placement?
What opportunities did you have to find out about the beliefs and practices of the
Were you able to make a contribution to the community/centre?
What did you learn from your placement?
Did anything surprise or impress you?
Did anything offend or distress you?
What advice would you give to another student going to this community/centre?
Any further comments?
Appendix G Placement Questionnaire for Communities
Name of Person Completing Form: ……………………………………………………………………………..
Placement Community/Centre: ……………………………………………………………………………..
Were you adequately briefed about the placement?
Were you adequately briefed about the students coming on the placement?
What opportunities did students have to find out about the beliefs and practices of your
Were students able to make a contribution to your community/centre?
What did students learn from their placements?
Did anything surprise or impress you?
Did anything offend or distress you?
What advice would you give to another community/centre considering whether to offer
Any further comments?