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Irish university shines spotlight on adult religious education

Researchers at Dublin City University embark on a three year project to examine adult religious education and faith development in Ireland.

By Lydia O’Kane

As the saying goes, “you never stop learning”. That can mean learning a new skill or brushing up on an old one.

But it also applies to one’s faith and spirituality.

Many will remember their religious education when they were at school, but what’s out there for adults who want to explore their faith further?

This is what researchers at the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at Dublin City University want to find out, and they are currently looking at the nature, scope and potential of religious education and faith development for adults in Ireland. 

 “We really want to find out what’s happening in adult religious education and faith development in Ireland across Catholic and other faiths and what might people actually really what to have in the future”, says Post-Doctoral Researcher, Dr. Bernadette Sweetman.

Listen to the interview

Spiritual hunger

“It really is needed”, she stresses, “we have currently begun our listening phase; we have an online survey where adults are taking part, in bigger numbers than expected, and there is really a hunger, a need for adults to have their spiritual side addressed in a way that has been neglected…”

From school to adult religious education

Dr. Sweetman points out that, “there is the assumption that you learn about your faith and you have your religious education very much in a school context… and when you leave that context there isn’t really much on purpose there for you.”

There are traditional courses and talks during Lent with a formal approach, she notes, but there needs to be something for people who “learn in different ways or want to engage in a way that they haven’t done before.”

There needs to be an honest and open reflection on what one’s faith means to them now, she says.

Speaking about the real thirst there is in Ireland for people to know more about their faith, she highlights that, “one of the problems is that there isn’t really a good grasp of the language. What do we mean when we say we’re spiritual here in Ireland or what do we mean when we are religious.”

Dr. Sweetman stresses that, in a changing and more pluralistic Ireland, it’s important to have that language, so that we can “have the respect shown to us, to hold our values; to cherish them and to be able to articulate them and then to pass them on to the next generation as well, which is so important.”


Asked about what she would like to see coming out of the project, she expresses the hope that it will provide a means for people “to build up their communities; build up their faith within those communities.”

The survey they are conducting, which is the first phase, she says, is really to find out “what do people want and to give them a space to reflect on where they are at the moment.”

Next year the project will be placing the emphasis on helping communities to try out new initiatives.

Dr. Sweetman says the project is like “throwing a stone in the water and hopefully the ripples are going to go far and wide.”

27 June 2019, 08:35