Kate Soules, PhD

Religious Literacy Educator, Researcher, and Curriculum Designer

The Pedagogical Content Knowledge about Religion Framework

“Just as it is impossible to define religion in a universally applicable manner, it is impossible to define exactly what all educators need to know about religion….The reality, however, ‘is not that religion cannot be defined, but that it can be defined, with greater or lesser success, more than fifty ways’ (J. Z. Smith, 2004, p. 193). It is not that we cannot definitively say what all educators should know about religion, but that there are many different configurations of this knowledge” (Soules, 2019, p. 194).

The Pedagogical Content Knowledge about Religion (PCKR) framework describes the broad concept of “religious literacy for educators” as five interconnected domains: (1) Civic & Legal Literacy, (2) Religious Studies Knowledge, (2) Instructional Approaches, (4) Cultural Competency & Responsiveness, and (5) Self-Reflection. The framework is designed to be applicable for elementary and secondary educators, regardless of their content area. 

Background

The PCKR framework is based on Shulman’s (1987) work on pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) and the work of other scholars who have explored the specifics of PCK in other content areas. Prior to this framework, most literature about what teachers needed to know about religion was focused on teachers of secondary social studies and history, classes where religion is often covered in the curriculum. However, these are not the only educators who encounter religion in the classroom, and religion is not restricted to the the classroom, but plays a role in many aspects of the experiences of schooling. The PCKR framework breaks down the often overwhelming idea of religious literacy into more manageable domains that apply specifically to the school context. 

The framework was developed and refined in conjunction with my research on professional development programs about religious diversity for K-12 educators. Among the findings of this research was the consensus among the participants that professional learning about religious diversity was highly valuable for teachers in all contexts, not just those whose curricula explicitly address religion. 

Using the Framework

I am currently working on a self-evaluation tool based on this framework that can be used by educators to assess their knowledge, skills, and levels of confidence in each domain. You can find some of the additional questions for each domain in version below. If you are interested in piloting this evaluation tool, please contact me for more information. 

The framework also provides a description of the different ways religion can be found in the school setting, which can allow researchers, professional development providers, and educators to define and describe the work that they are doing with more precision. 

PCKR Framework with Additional Reflection Questions

How does religion impact and intersect with public life? How does the First Amendment apply in public schools?

  • What are your school and/or districts policies regarding teaching about religion, religious holiday, religious garb, and other related topics?
  • What is the general religious composition of the community in which your school is located?

What do I need to know about religion in my context(s)? What are the theories and methods of religious studies? How is religion related to my curriculum? 

  • What religion content do you need to know related to your context(s) (e.g. about religions represented in the school community, in the books you teach, etc.)?
  • What are your sources for your content knowledge? What sources do you go to when you don’t know something?

How do I teach about religion in ways that are academically rigorous, Constitutionally sounds, and developmentally appropriate? How do I approach religion when it is relevant in my classroom? 

  • How do you respond when a student brings up religion in a classroom discussion?
  • Do your curriculum materials present multiple perspectives and diversity within religious tradition?

How do I create classroom and school environments that are welcoming for students of all religious identities? How is religious diversity recognized in relation to other forms of diversity?

  • Do you include religion when you talk about diversity or multicultural education?
  • Is religiously-based bullying included in any anti-bullying curriculum?

How does my own religious identity and background shape my perspectives and positionality? What biases or blind spots do I have about religion?

  • What assumptions do you make about people based on their religious or non-religious identities?
  • What does your religious tradition, if any, say about teaching and education?

© 2021 Kate Soules

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