Behind the phrase decolonising the curriculum is the idea that the legacy of empire continues to shape how knowledge is produced, circulated and reproduced – not least in educational contexts. Decolonising the theological curriculum therefore involves reflecting on the content and delivery of our modules, identifying how they are shaped by that problematic legacy, and finding ways forward that move beyond it.
When we talk of decolonising the curriculum, we are also exploring how we can welcome, include and engage with a more diverse student body, and how we can introduce all our students to the rich diversity of the theological conversation.
It is not about removing white male authors from the reading list. It is about creating the space for critical analysis that can help us identify some of the problematic assumptions that can be carried, often silently, by the materials that we use and the ways in which we teach. It is about wider engagement with theologians from around the world, who can help us identify the ways in which our voices and the voices of those we habitually engage with don’t tell the whole story. And it is about encouraging students and teachers alike to address the legacies of colonialism that continue to impact people’s lives today, including in the form of racism and structural inequalities.
The phrase diversifying the curriculum commonly refers to the inclusion of academic publications from the Global South on course reading lists. It also calls for us to go beyond that, however, to examine all our teaching practices and our syllabi and ask questions about representation – highlighting where the voices of BAME people, women, and others not been sufficiently represented.
It calls for such voices to be integral to and normalised within the curriculum, course design and delivery, as opposed to being kept on the margins as optional extras or exotic side-notes, or left for extra-curricular exploration.
This is not a matter of trying to meet quotas, or ensuring in some mechanical way that the proportions of different voices that we include match the proportions in wider society. It is, rather, about ensuring that students from a wide variety of backgrounds are able to recognise that voices like theirs belong fully in the theological conversation – and ensuring that all students are drawn into a vibrant and enriching conversation between voices that better reflects the diversity of the worldwide church.
The Common Awards Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dr Eve Parker, has been researching the barriers to belonging in theological education in the UK. Initial findings suggest that BAME students often experience feelings of “isolation”, “marginalisation”, “unbelonging” and “prejudice” – in part as a result of lack of representation in the curriculum. Even when TEIs strive to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible, BAME students can receive the message that they do not really belong in the theological conversation when BAME voices are repeatedly absent from the modules they study, or marginalised within those modules.
The Common Awards Diversity and Inclusion Strategy aims to address such barriers to belonging, by means of dialogue with each other as theological educators, as well as with students, and by developing and disseminating good practice. See our page on Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for more information.
We aim to help TEIs increase the visibility of BAME people in theological curricula; to help TEIs introduce students to a wider range of lenses and contexts as they explore theology, church, mission, and ministry; to help resource students and staff with skills and resources to think critically about the biases that shape theological education; and to promote engaged and inclusive pedagogies that can help uproot unconscious bias and challenge colonial assumptions.
The Common Awards Diversity and Inclusion Network helps us research and develop materials relating to decolonising and diversifying the curriculum in theological education. The network is made up of scholars from around the world who have a range of expertise and specialise in different areas of theology, education, church and ministry.
In our series of webinars, we focus on exploring how the curriculum can be decolonised and diversified in theological education, with a particular focus on some of the core modules taken by Common Awards students. You can find further details on our Webinars pages and on the Common Awards Moodle Hub.
You can listen to members of our network discussing aspects of Decolonising the Theological Curriculum here:
Prof HyeRan Kim-Cragg (Emmanuel College, The University of Toronto) on Decolonising Pastoral Studies
Rev Dr Michael Jagessar (Council for World Mission) on Colonialism and Christian Liturgy
Some further resources: