Religious Education in Multi-Cultural Britain. A Study in Metaphor.

The expression ‘mishmash’ has been used rather effectively to suggest that something disgusting and even dangerous is taking place in British classrooms. But those who use these metaphors of disgusting food seldom offer calm and detailed explanations of exactly what it is they are warning the public about. This study is offered as a clarification of the ‘mishmash’ vocabulary.

First published in Birmingham by The University of Birmingham and the Christian Education Movement 1991 (Birmingham Papers in Religious Education No. 3)


ForewordTitle of the book mishmash by John M. Hull


Chapter 1 Religious Education and metaphors of food

Chapter 2 The meaning of the food metaphors

Chapter 3 Underneath the metaphors: cuisine, class and ideology

Chapter 4 Purity of food and faith

Chapter 5 Declaring all foods clean: a Christian approach to Religious Education

Background Reading

John Hull Biography 2012


This booklet makes an important and fascinating contribution to the continuing debate about the multi-faith approach to religious education. Beginning from the purist’s pejorative description of such an approach as a ‘mishmash’, John Hull explores and evaluates the kind of language used by those who are apparently so afraid of multi-faith teaching. He helps considerably both to clarify some of the prejudices on which such fears are based, and to explain what is meant by a dialogical approach to religious education. The basis of it all is very simply expressed: ‘holiness is discovered through encounter.’

I welcome the encouragement here given to religious educators who want to help their pupils know God and the things of God as seen through different eyes. If the truth sets us free, it is a commodity we need never be afraid of.

The Rt Revd David Konstant, Bishop of Leeds


The word ‘mishmash’ is frequently used in discussion about religious education in a multi-cultural community. John Hull takes the term seriously, examines its implications with hilarity, as well as intellectual seriousness, and emphasises the inclusiveness of the Spirit of Christ, which offers vision and informed encouragement to educators. The pamphlet is a shrewd blow for freedom and for joy. Various disciplines are brought together on the issue in a delicious manner, so as to make mincemeat of mishmash.

Revd Christopher Hughes Smith, General Secretary, The Methodist Church Division of Education and Xouth and Former President of the Methodist Conference


In the last two or three years religious education has been the subject of a brisk public debate. The issues involved in this debate are wide ranging. They have to do with the nature of religious education, the relationship between world religions, the values implicit in the educational process and the character of British society. Moreover, the nature and mission of the Christian faith is at stake. There is today a world-wide discussion about the character of the Christian mission. There are those who see this in terms of the expansion of Christianity itself. This may be called the reproductive view of Christian mission. There are others who see the mission of Christianity as serving a cause greater than the Christian religion itself. This cause may be summed up in the expression ‘the Kingdom of God’. I identify myself with this latter view.

This booklet is not concerned with evaluating or contributing to the educational debate as such. I have attempted this elsewhere. It is concerned with Christian mission in education and, indeed, is confined to a discussion of one symptom of the approach which I have described above as the reproductive conception: namely, the use of food metaphors.

In analysing this language I am specifically concerned with the imagery rather than with the arguments used by those who make use of the imagery. This is partly because the sources I am using are popular rather than academic, and tend to be couched in emotive rhetoric. Rhetorical imagery is not only powerful in shaping attitudes, but is the key to understanding the deeper structure of the discourse. In drawing parallels between the food metaphors of the religious education debate and the role of food, especially disgusting food, in human development, history and culture, I am seeking to understand the roots of the emotional power of the language.

Except where the context makes it necessary, I have not thought it appropriate to refer to the names of the people who are quoted in the following pages. This is partly because my focus is upon the language itself, and not upon personal polemics. I do not wish to suggest that those who use the metaphors of disgusting food to attack multi-cultural religious education form a coherent group or have created a deliberate strategy. In discourse analysis the significant thing is not so much what people say, but what is said through them. The following discussion tries to pinpoint a moment in the evolution of Western religious culture.

What I attempt is thus not only the analysis of metaphorical language and a discussion of the deeper structure of the discourse but a little contribution to the theology of culture and an understanding of Christian mission. This is developed mainly in the last chapter, and is admittedly rather sketchy. I have tried to lay the foundations of it in other writings and hope to return to this particular aspect of it on a future occasion.

‘Mishmash’ is the main example of this rhetoric. The expression ‘mishmash’ has been used rather effectively to suggest that something disgusting and even dangerous is taking place in British classrooms. But what is it which is supposed to make us all feel so sick? Those who use these metaphors of disgusting food seldom offer calm and detailed explanations of exactly what it is they are warning the public about. This study is offered as a clarification of the ‘mishmash’ vocabulary.

The present study has grown out of my editorial in the British Joumal of Religious Education Vol.12, Number 3 (Summer 1990) pp.121-125 under the title ‘Mish-mash: religious education and pluralism’. I am grateful to the many friends and colleagues whose response encouraged me to offer a more detailed study. I owe a special debt to Lynne Price for her help with the research and to Julie Brean for preparing the manuscript so carefully. I am also grateful to the University of Birmingham whose research grant made it possible for me to undertake this work.

The University of Birmingham, School of Education
September 1990

Chapter One – Religious Education And Metaphors Of Food

On 2 August 1990 the Daily Mail carried an article criticising John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The headline was, ‘The man betraying Thatcher’s children’. Amongst the various ways in which school children are being betrayed, we read, ‘The place of Christianity in religious education is by no means clear, despite what the Act appears to say. Multi-faithism, a sort of incoherent mishmash where virtually anything goes from Rastafarianism to Marxism, is still very much in evidence.’

The Church Times carried a letter on 20 May 1988 under the heading ‘Debate over the future of RE’. The correspondent complained, ‘. . . we are also told that we must teach about other faiths. I am not denying this. There should be a place made in the syllabus for such teaching, but this is different from turning Christian religious education into a kind of religious cocktail.’

The Times Educational Supplement for 14 October 1988 carried an article ‘Clarifying an act of faith’ which made reference to one of the speeches in the House of Lords. The speaker ‘argued against multi-faith teaching as „a cocktail of world faiths“.’

The Times on 1 April 1988 featured an article ‘The history of religion is a perfectly valid subject … but is nothing to do with worship’. The article reports that ‘a movement to have Christianity clearly specified in the Education Reform Bill began. In the House of Lords, Baroness Cox opened the debate last month with an emotional statement of the issue: „As a nation“, said the Baroness, „we are in danger of selling our spiritual birthright for a mess of secular pottage.“‘

The Independent for 30 April 1990 reported that ‘Parents press for multi-faith ruling’ and referred to one of the parents as saying: ‘If my daughter came home at ten and said she wanted to learn Punjabi or anything else, I would have no objections, that would be her choice. But at five I think it is too much to have things thrown down your throat.’

The Church Times on 22 July 1988 reported that the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, Mr Kenneth Baker, had offered an assurance that ‘There was no intention to thrust particular types of RE down the throats of those who did not want it.’

In Parliamentary debate the ‘agreed syllabus ethic’ is described as ‘the milk-and-water, dilettante, nondescript pact that we have had since 1944.’ (House of Commons, 23 March 1988, col. 404.) ‘Of course, there is a strong case … for including some teaching about the other great world religions, especially in a society where these religions are practised. Such teaching can increase understanding and respect, which are essential values in a pluralist society. But that is very different from presenting young people with a position of extreme relativism in which all belief systems are presented in a value-free hotch-potch …’ (House of Lords, 26 February 1988, cols. 1455-6.)

As these examples show, the public debate about religious education has been confused by a number of misunderstandings. In the first place, it seems to be assumed that religious education means nothing more than instructing children in religion, although this assumption is consistently rejected in the religious education literature of the past twenty years. Secondly, distinctions between the character and purposes of collective worship and classroom religious education tend to be ignored. The public debate of the past two or three years has not been well informed or clearly argued, but the purpose of this study is not to discuss the arguments themselves but to draw attention to a curious feature of the rhetoric.

Reflecting upon the language used in this debate, one cannot but be struck by the preponderance of metaphors drawn from food and eating. Of course, other kinds of metaphor are also to be found. ‘The religious education syllabus is in danger of being transformed into a kaleidoscope of shallow ideas about myriad belief systems.’ (House of Lords, 26 February 1988, col. 1456.) ‘Religious education must not be a parade round a museum of religion. There must be faith.’ (House of Commons, 23 March 1988, col. 413.) Those who express doubts about the new emphasis upon Christianity in the bill are using arguments which have ‘led almost to the eclipse of religious education in schools.’ (House of Commons, 18 July 1988, col. 819.) Now and again we have a sporting metaphor. ‘As I understood the right reverend Prelate when he wound up on amendment No.3, if for instance a game of soccer was being played it would be quite legal and relevant if the person in charge of that game thought fit suddenly to bring in the rules of rugger. It does not made an awful lot of sense.’ (House of Lords, 21 June 1988, col. 721.) Religious education should not mix the religions.

At other times the suggestion of a showy but superficial parade in which religions quickly pass in and out of view is highlighted with metaphors drawn from clothing and cosmetics. ‘In my experience, schools either do away with worship in school assemblies or dress it up in multi-faith robes, which means that worship is completely absent.’ (House of Commons Standing Committee J, 9 February 1988, col. 1270.) Sometimes religious education is attacked with images drawn from the market place. The leaders of the Church of England are ‘a little too diffident in selling their wares. If I were marketing a product I do not believe that I should employ either of them as a salesman.’ (House of Lords, 3 May 1988, col. 515.) In insisting upon its policy for the compulsory Christian religious education of older students, ‘The Government have bowed to the producers … If they had talked to the consumers – the pupils – they would have got a different answer. The Government are in hock to the producers on this matter.’ (House of Commons, 9 February 1988, Standing Committee J, col. 1264.)

Even when the metaphors are commercial, however, the tendency is to return to the question of food. Religious education is food; it is produced by the churches and fed or force-fed to the pupils who are the consumers. In the discussion about the sense in which collective worship would be based ‘in the main’ upon Christianity, the House of Lords was told that this meant ‘not „mainly“ in the sense of two-thirds rice and one-third tapioca or something like that.’ (House of Lords, 21 June 1988, col. 717.) If collective worship were to be organised like that, drawn from several religious traditions, the result would be ‘a pudding’ (col. 719.) ‘We must get away from the mixing-bowl approach to this great subject.’ (House of Lords, 28 February 1988, col. 1466.) This would involve ‘a touch of Christianity; a dash of Judaism; a slice of Islam; and so on through a fruit cocktail of world faiths.’ (House of Lords, 3 May 1988, col. 420.) When the metaphor is based on drink rather than food, the emphasis (as we have seen in the milk and water example) is always upon mixing and weakening. What the Christianity amendments seek to provide is an approach to religious education which ‘does not dilute the faith of any one denomination or belief.’ (House of Lords, 21 June 1988, col. 658.) ‘One group of people … believes that the Christian faith should be taught undiluted; that it should be respectful and compassionate to other faiths, as Christianity teaches us to be, but that the faith should be undiluted. It should not be muddled by trying to teach it with overtones of something else infiltrated into it.’ The same speaker continued, emphasising the point, that those who supported the multi-faith approach, ‘want to try to dilute it all and try to put it away.’ (col. 660.) The minority group of children, different in religious faith from the majority in the classroom, will constitute a’residue’ who will have to be withdrawn in order to prevent the dilution (col. 720.) ‘You cannot mix them all up together.’ (House of Lords, 22 June 1988, col. 851.)

Of all the food metaphors, the one used most frequently and most effectively is the expression mishmash. ‘Alternatively, where the Christian content of Religious Education lessons is not being diminished because so much time is devoted to a mish-mash of comparative religions, it is being diminished for another and, I think, even worse reason – that is, that periods nominally meant for religious instruction have ceased to have any religious content at all.’ (House of Lords, 18 May 1977, col. 706.) When a particular effect is sought, the ‘watering down’ and the ‘mixing up’ ideas are brought together: ‘the dilution of Christian teaching in a multi-faith mish-mash.’ (House of Lords, 26 February 1988, col. 1455.) Other observers of the religious education scene in recent years have also noticed the frequent occurrence of the mishmash image. Dr Brian Gates of St. Martin’s College in Lancaster sums up the views of those who have been critical of mainstream religious education. ‘The moral evils of the nation are related to the confusion over beliefs and values induced in pupils by an RE which is often nondescript or a mish-mash.’ (Gates, 1989, p.7.) A letter in The Times Educational Supplement of 26 August 1988 deplored the public apathy which led to the world religions approach in religious education. ‘Because we don’t strongly believe or practise our religion, we don’t really mind if there is no RE, or if the Prayer Book is changed, or our children are learning a mish-mash of Nativity, Eid, Diwali and the Golden Horse. I suspect other religions are more fastidious. Respect of other religions and cultures is the worthy aim, not trivialisation.’ Frequently the word is not confined in its use to the question of the religious education curriculum in schools but refers more widely to the cultural and, indeed, racial diversity of which the school curriculum is an expression. This diversity has been created by immigration, and multi-culturalism seeks to create a new unity. One of The Guardian’s correspondents writing under the heading of ‘The value of multi-culturalism’ remarked that he saw the issue as ‘the forging of a more or less united people out of the racial and religious mish-mash created by mass immigration.’ (The Guardian, 2 May 1990.) When the discussion moves more directly on to religious education questions, however, a note of indignation and contempt often creeps in. One of the opponents of the new London Borough of Ealing’s Agreed Syllabus observes that ‘What we find in the syllabus are lists of common themes such as „ritual“, „love and hate“ and „signs and symbols“. Children of all faiths are cheated by this multi-faith mish-mash.’ (The Times Educational Supplement 20 July 1990.) When the Ealing Syllabus was being discussed on radio, one commentator remarked,’I think what they worry about is that the whole thing, at the moment, is really rather a mish mash,’ while the chairperson of the Ealing Agreed Syllabus Conference replied, ‘We are not saying that religions are mixed up together in a mish mash. And the syllabus doesn’t do that. What the syllabus does is allow the teachers to teach about the various faith traditions that are present in our community. lt allows them to draw out qualities that are present in all of them.’ (BBC Radio 4, Sunday, 10 June 1990, quoted from an official transcript of the broadcast provided by the BBC transcript service.)

lt was the press coverage of the 1988 Parliamentary religious education debates which established mishmash as the most popular weapon in the vocabulary. For example, The Times Educational Supplement in its report on 24 June 1988 refers to the hope that the new religious clauses in the Education Reform Act would bring to an end ‘the mish mash approach to RE.’ Other examples may be found in The Independent for 22 and 24 June, 1988. Under the headline ‘Senior Tories call for emphasis on a Christian education’ The Times (21 March 1988) reported that the Prime Minister had received a small deputation which had complained of „‘the dilution of Christian teachings in a multi-faith mish-mash“ and of its secularisation by concentration on social and political issues.’ The prevalence of the mishmash imagery stimulated other references. A secularist protest in a letter under the heading ‘Divine dispute’ wanted to get rid of religious education in schools altogether. ‘Would it not be better if freedom, enterprise and parental choice were yet further extended by the requirement that the devotees of this minority interest [i.e., religion] make their own, extra-curricular provision in whatever competitive flavours they fancy?’ (The Times Educational Supplement, 25 March 1988.) ‘Small wonder’, pondered a columnist in The Times Educational Supplement, ‘that the law is so widely ignored and that RE, swallowed up by courses in citizenship and multicultural awareness cannot nourish the spiritual and moral needs of young people.’ (The Times Educational Supplement, 12 February 1988, ‘RE and sympathy’.) In a similar vein, the letter writer to The Church Times (30 September 1988) said: ‘We have seen in recent years experiments in multi-faith programmes where the figure of Our Lord has been mostly hidden behind other religious leaders. It seems that the country is realising that this is not the right recipe for young people if they are to be introduced to a clear-cut faith which will govern their daily lives.’

In October the House of Lords was debating the future of religious broadcasting. Referring to the composition of the central religious advisory committee which advises the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority on religious broadcasting, one of the speakers said, ‘It is a mish-mash of religions in which everyone is piled in and there are no firm evangelists on it.’ (The Guardian, 2 October 1990.)

As a final example of the power of food metaphors over the imagination of those who dislike the world religions emphasis in contemporary religious education, we may revert to the letter about the Ealing Agreed Syllabus from The Tinies Educational Supplement quoted above. The correspondent concluded vigorously, ‘If this syllabus is „educationally sound“, then I’m a boiled egg.’ This rather curious example must bring this brief survey of the food rhetoric to a close. Many other examples could be cited, but we must now go on to consider the meaning of what we have been describing.

Chapter Two – The Meaning Of The Food Metaphors

It will be apparent to the reader from the context of the examples already cited that mishmash has to do with the fact that religious education in the schools of England and Wales is not normally confined to Christianity. Mishmash has to do with the scope of the curriculum. What is being attacked is a ‘multi-faith mishmash’.

It would be a misunderstanding, however, to conclude that the protest is directed against world religions as such. The debates frequently emphasise that other religions are significant, must be respected and may be taught in school. ‘In our country there are situations in which it is right to acknowledge that there are those of other faiths and to ensure that proper instruction is given to them.’ (House of Lords, 21 June, col. 718.) ‘It is a fundamental principle that all religious education, Christian or otherwise, should promote respect, tolerance and understanding for those who adhere to other faiths.’ (House of Lords, 21 June, col. 659.) In these debates there is certainly no disregard for the spiritual rights of children from a variety of religious traditions. The participants in the parliamentary debates make frequent references to the views of the leaders of the Muslim and Jewish communities, and always speak of them with consideration. ‘Of course there is a strong case – and I must emphasise this – for including some teaching about the other great world religions, especially in a society where these religions are practised. Such teaching can increase understanding and respect, which are essential values in a pluralist society.’ (House of Lords, 26 Feb, cols. 1455-1456.) On 7 July 1988 one speaker in the House of Lords summed up the whole debate of the previous months as ‘an inter-faith effort to secure the individuality and respect of all religions.’ (col. 436.)

The fear of what came to be called mishmash emerged in the House of Commons on the evening of 9 February 1988. The provisions for collective worship were being discussed, and a question was raised about the authenticity of any religious experience which might be aroused if worship were drawn from more than one religion. lt was argued that ‘the experiences and emotions of worship are not possible in a multi-faith context. I believe that worship cannot have real meaning if one god is worshipped on Monday, another on Tuesday, another on Wednesday and a humanist service is held on Thursday.’ (col. 1270.) The speaker went on to say that ‘it is regrettable that since 1974 religious education has declined into a study of comparative religion rather than of religious feelings.’ (col. 1270.) At this stage of the debate, multi-faith teaching and collective worship are disliked not because they might confuse the ideas of young people but because they might confuse their emotions. Religious education might avoid contact with religious feelings by becoming a’study of comparative religion’ and if this approach were to be used in worship then the emotions, if aroused at all, would be confused and superficial. lt is important to notice that at this stage of the debate there were vigorous and well informed speeches which insisted upon the educational and the spiritual value of the richness and diversity of school communities, maintaining that collective worship which drew upon the varied backgrounds of the children must not be considered meaningless to them.

The connection between mishmash and multi-faith religious education, however, goes beyond a concern for the religious feelings of pupils. There is a concern about the weight given to Christianity from the purely content point of view. How much Christianity is taught in comparison with the time and space allocated to other religions? In 1985, under the previous Parliament, concerns had been expressed about this. Although the diversity of faiths should be recognised, ‘. . . England remains predominantly a Christian country … Schemes of work in county schools should reflect the predominance of the Christian faith and an appreciation of the diversity of faiths now current in England.’ (quoted in House of Commons, Standing Committee J, 9 February 1988, col. 1281.) Once again, it is worth noticing that throughout the debates the claim that Christianity was not receiving a major proportion of teaching time was denied by well informed participants. Our task at present is not to discuss the truthfulness or the accuracy of the accusations which were levelled against religious education but to explore the way in which the philosophy of mishmash gradually developed.

By 26 February 1988 it had become clear that mishmash meant something more than undue weight being given to materials taken from world religions other than Christianity. It becomes clear that mishmash is a question not of proportion but of purity. It is certainly a problem, according to these debaters, that not enough Christianity is taught. It is more of a problem, however, that Christianity is taught in conjunction with other religions.

Broadly speaking, there have been two main ways of teaching world religions: the systems approach and the thematic approach. In the systems approach each religion is taught more or less entire in fairly extended units. The subject matter of such systematic teaching is the religion as a whole. The other approach is to take some aspect of religion, drawing material from several religious traditions. It is this thematic approach which came under attack. It is this which is described as a’dilution of Christian teaching in a multi-faith mish mash.’ (col. 1455.) The same speech goes on to defend the importance of having some teaching about the other world religions but it is not clear, at this stage, who would receive this other teaching. The assumption is that the same children would receive both substantial instruction in Christianity and instruction in other religions to a lesser extent. What we must avoid is something which is very different, namely, ‘presenting young people with a position of extreme relativism in which all belief systems are presented in a value-free hotch-potch . . .’ (col. 1456.) It is not clear why the thematic approach should lead pupils into relativism rather than the systematic approach, and if there is such a lot to be gained from the study of other world religions it is hard to see why the teaching of Christianity should not be enlivened by a thematic arrangement.

The debate does not clarify these questions but wanders off into alarming accusations about the occult and witchcraft concluding, ‘The initial endeavours to include an understanding of other faiths were laudable. But that does not justify a transformation of the entire RE syllabus into a kaleidoscope of shallow ideas about myriad belief systems from Shamanism, ancestor worship and the occult, to a study of other faiths which leaves pupils ignorant of the basic tenets of Christianity.’ (col. 1456.) Would hotchpotch and mishmash be avoided if religious education teachers promised never to mention the occult, witchcraft or shamanism? Would mishmash be avoided if, instead of teaching a large number, a myriad of other faiths, only three or four faiths were dealt with? Would mishmash be avoided if the basic tenets of Christianity were carefully taught this term and the basic tenets of Islam were carefully taught the following term? At this stage of the debate we might have thought that the answers to these questions would be in the affirmative, but as discussion continued it became clear that the avoidance of mishmash is not so simple. This particular speech concludes with a brisk attack on the leaders of the Church of England. ‘What other representatives of any world faith are so permissive about a dilution of their faith into a syncretistic relativism which implicitly or explicitly undermines its distinctiveness and its authenticity?’ (col. 1458.) It is not long before we find out a little more about what must be done in order not to undermine the distinctiveness and the authenticity of a religion.

‘… If we consider religious faith and precept as the spiritual lifeblood of the nation and all its citizens, then effective religious instruction can no more be administered by and to persons of a different faith than can a blood transfusion be safely given without first ensuring blood-group compatibility. Indiscriminate mixing of blood can prove dangerous and so can the mixing of faiths in education.’ (House of Lords, 3 May 1988, col. 419.) Now we see that mishmash is not just a question of the content of religious education but also involves an appropriate match between the content and the pupil. Each pupil is to be taught his or her own faith and no one else’s. To teach a faith other than one’s own is as unnatural and dangerous as receiving an infusion from an alien blood group. Religions, like blood groups, are mutually exclusive. Religious education in schools, continues the speaker with a quotation, must acknowledge ‘the fact that for each of us, there is usually only one faith that resonates with personal meaning; the faith of our community, our culture, our family, our past.’ So emerges this central aspect of the anti-mishmash ideology: religious education is to be taught in vertical groups. Each community is to be taught its own religion. Anything else would be a contamination, a degeneration. In order to avoid the charge of mishmash, religious education must become the instrument and the expression of tribalism.

The implications of this idea were difficult to grasp. Two ideas were conflated in the debate. First, there was the emphasis upon Christianity as the major content of religious education. Secondly, there was the more recent idea that pupils should be instructed in homogeneous religious groups. The relationship between these two policies was, however, ambiguous. Ort the evening of 3 May 1988 the House of Lords discussed the proposal: ‘Religious education in all maintained schools shall be predominantly Christian.’ (col. 502.) This is clearly a question of content. One of the other proposals debated dealt with religious uniformity in maintained schools. ‘Where a maintained school has been established as a denominational school, Christian or non-Christian, the Religious Education in that school shall be of that particular denomination.’ Denominations, it would appear, are not to be free to teach about each other. Each voluntary aided school shall be an island. Another proposal was still clearer in turning attention away from content towards the pupils themselves. Where requested by parents, reasonable arrangements shall be made ‘for the Religious Education of children of other faiths, according to their own faiths.’ The outlines of the vertical policy now appear. There is to be an alignment between the faith to be taught and the children who are to receive that teaching.

lt was around the words ‘predominantly Christian’ that the controversy gathered. ‘The word „predominantly“ allows some teaching of other world religions…’ (col. 504.) What is in mind at this stage is not only a question of spiritual centrality or general ethos but a matter of syllabus construction. It is the syllabus which is to be predominantly Christian. But how was a predominantly Christian agreed syllabus to be achieved? The statutory conference which draws up an agreed syllabus is composed of four committees. In only one of these, that representing the Church of England, could a majority Christian voice be expected. The other explicitly religious committee merely represents ‘other denominations’ and this would include people from various world religions as well as non-Anglican Christians. As for the committees representing the teachers and the city councillors, how could one ensure that they were Christians? Moreover, if the agreed syllabus was only predominantly Christian and still partially a treatment of other religions, would not the result still be a sort of mishmash? The view of the Bishop of London at this stage was that ‘religion, and not some substitute for it, should be taught in our schools,’ and that ‘the Christian religion will be the main but not the exclusive means of doing so.’ (col. 512.) From now on debate was to centre around the expression ‘in the main’.

What would happen, even in a Church of England school, when the majority of pupils were Muslim? How could a predominantly Christian syllabus be taught to pupils who are not predominantly Christian?

The problem of how to achieve a syllabus which was free of mishmash was even more difficult when attention turned to the conduct of collective worship. The trouble is ‘that there are many more subtle changes which undermine the Christian nature of worship in the form of multifaith initiatives … those initiatives result in a reduction of worship to the lowest common denominator of a celebration of shared values.’ (House of Lords, 12 May 1988, col.1345.) In order to avoid this there was to be a special place for religions other than Christianity. ‘. . . we offer them the opportunity to engage in Muslim worship … but not all put together in some meaningless contrivance.’ (col. 1350.)

The climax of the effort to say what a mishmash would be took place in the House of Lords late in June 1988. From now on, it is hoped, agreed syllabuses will, ‘while affirming clearly the place of Christianity’ yet provide for ‘a flexibility of emphasis in areas where the vast majority of pupils are from other faiths.’ (House of Lords, 21 June 1988, col. 639.) The package of proposals which the Bishop of London presented ‘will lead to recognition and acceptance of the fact that the avoidance of indoctrination does not require the adoption of a mish-mash. Nor does it require the adoption of a neutral approach which limits religious education to no more than information about religion.’ (col. 640.) Unfortunately, as the debate which followed soon demonstrated, the opponents of mishmash were far from satisfied with the mere avoidance of ‘comparative religion’, and to be assured that something was not neutral by no means met their aims. There is a’need to protect the integrity of Christianity and of other world religions.’ At the same time there is no desire to prevent pupils from understanding other people’s faiths (col. 641). The trouble is that the words ‘in the main’ could still be read in a mishmash manner.

Perhaps it is worthwhile at this stage to remind the reader of the way in which religious education and collective worship were now being defined. lt was proposed that any new agreed syllabus ‘shall reflect the fact that the principal religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.’ (col. 639.) In the main, collective worship should reflect the broad traditions of Christian belief.

The problem was that ‘mainly’ could still be ‘a mandate for some confusing multi-faith assembly.’ (col. 642.) What was desired was that ‘Christian children should be taught the Christian faith and should have their own Christian collective act of worship … children who adhere to other faiths … should be taught such other faiths and have, respectively, their own collective acts of worship…’ (cols. 653-4.) Each child should be taught its own faith.

If people of different religions were settled separately in different parts of the country, there would be no problem. Most of these areas would be Christian and therefore it would be correct to say that the agreed syllabuses would reflect the fact that in the main Christianity was the religion of the country. The problem is that there is no simple parallelism between religious faith and district of residence. Thus the expression ‘in the main’ does not solve the problem of the many mixed areas. What are we to do about those areas where there are substantial non-Christian groups? ‘Broadly speaking, there are only two ways of approaching the problem. One way is the way put forward in the amendment by the right reverend Prelate (i.e. the Bishop of London) … that we are mainly a Christian country and therefore to deal with the situation in those areas we should have a mainly Christian education. That is one way of looking at the issue. However, it inevitably means a mish- mash.’ (cols. 712-3.) This approach means that where you have a mixed population, you must have ‘a degraded educational approach.’ The other way of solving the problem is separate instruction for pupils of different faiths. Only thus will there be no degradation downwards or contamination sidewards. The expressions ‘in the main’ and ‘mainly Christian’ leave the door wide open for multi-faith interpretations of both classroom work and collective worship.

At about midnight on 21 June a valiant attempt was made to close the door against mishmash. ‘The words „in the main“ when referring to an event or procedure suggest that it shall partake partly of the nature of one thing and partly, though to a lesser extent, of the nature of another.’ This would suggest a’pudding’, a mixed up pudding. On the other hand, ‘in the main’ could mean that ‘the agreed syllabus shall normally provide a Christian education, but in the exception it shall provide something else. That something else is achieved by the composition of the standing advisory committee on religious education, which includes representatives of the minority faiths among the denominations other than Anglican. They are in a position to produce within the syllabus that part of it that will be applied for those children…’ (col. 719.) So it will be that ‘if there is a majority of Christian children there will be a Christian syllabus and a Christian form of worship, which is not „in the main“ Christian but Christian full stop. That is what happens in the main. On the other occasions the provisions … allow for their (i.e. the minority faiths’) contribution to the SACREs to provide a valid syllabus for those children. This is not a mish-mash. It is exactly the reverse.’ (col. 720.)

Of course, those who were worried about the gap between the intentions of the speakers and the actual wording of the proposed legislation were absolutely right. The anti-mishmash interpretation offered at midnight in the House of Lords on 21 June 1988 was nothing but a desperate attempt to retrieve the situation. The suggestion that the Hindu people on the ‘other denominations’ group of the SACRE (or the Agreed Syllabus Conference) should create an entire Hindu agreed syllabus for use by Hindu pupils, and that the Jewish representatives should similarly create a complete and adequate Jewish agreed syllabus for the Jewish pupils is not at all what the words being discussed could possibly mean. The legislation does not say that there shall be a group of agreed syllabuses reflecting the faiths of the school population, but that any new agreed syllabus shall have these properties, i.e. of reflecting a certain fact and taking note of certain teaching and practices. These are to be the characteristics of any and every new agreed syllabus. The wording does not permit a cluster of agreed syllabuses, but one, integrated syllabus which has been agreed by all the participants as being an appropriate syllabus for all the children served by the schools in the area. The whole structure of the SACRE and the Agreed Syllabus Conference with its system of representative groups and its voting arrangements is designed to promote agreement. It does not envisage and the wording does not permit a situation in which different religious groups simply agree to differ. In the same way, the idea that in areas where the school population is substantially or even entirely Christian there would be a syllabus which would be entirely Christian cannot be supported from the plain meaning of legislation. We are not told that any new agreed syllabus shall reflect the fact that the principal religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian and where appropriate shall take account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions. It will always be appropriate to take account of the other religions, because every agreed syllabus is to conform to this requirement.

Just after midnight one penetrating question removed any lingering doubt about the intentions of the reforming peers. What is to become of the minority of children, let us suppose they are Christians, in a mainly Jewish school? ‘What happens to the minority in all those cases?’ ‘There will be a residue.’ ‘Do they just not come?’ (col. 720.) The reply was as clear as the question: ‘My Lords, as now, they withdraw. This is neither an advance nor a retreat; it is a maintenance of the status quo, which may be a good or a bad thing; but I believe that it is acceptable under the circumstances.’ The question had clearly created an embarrassment, and the speaker continued, ‘what is now before your Lordships delivers what all these people want. Our difficulty lies in explaining how it does it.’ (col. 720.)

The question of mishmash has now moved decisively from content to people. Not only a purity of syllabus but a purity of population was necessary. ‘I think,’ said one thoughtful participant the following day, ‘the trouble arises from the fact that they are providing worship in schools for a mish-mash of different sorts of believers and unbelievers.’ (House of Lords, 22 June 1988, col. 859.) At the end of the day, as an equally thoughtful speaker had said the previous evening, ‘it will mean subordinating much of our own culture. We shall end up not just with a mish-mash of religious education but with a mish-mash of almost everything else, including history and geography.’ (col. 684.) This, as the next speaker sagely observed, was a clue about the thinking behind this bill.

Those who were so concerned about mishmash had no need for further clarification of their position. It was now abundantly clear. Fortunately the legislation remained remarkably unclear. One can attribute this to clever drafting in a situation which demanded compromise, or one can attribute it to confused thinking. It does not make much difference. The important thing is that educational and community considerations prevailed in the end. In a fine summing up speech for the government, the House of Lords was told, ‘we wish as far as possible to ensure that the act of collective worship provided for in statute is indeed collective. It is because such an act of worship can perform an important function in binding together members of a school and helping to develop their sense of community that we in this country make collective worship in schools a statutory requirement… This educational value of worship must be clearly distinguished from confessional acts of worship which are properly pursued by practising Christians and members of other faiths. Maintaining the collective emphasis and minimising withdrawal of pupils from the act of worship is a proper concern of those responsible for education.’ (House of Lords, 17 July 1988, col. 441.)

The attack upon mishmash which had developed so powerfully during the first half of 1988 had not been completely successful. It had not been possible entirely to exclude the strong forces which bind communities together. The desire to split apart and the desire to bind together had been in conflict, and the wording of the legislation, in spite of the sustained attack from the mishmash objectors, did not make it impossible or illegal to encourage binding.

We have now seen the meaning of the food metaphors. They are intended to ridicule and belittle the binding of communities and the dialogue of faiths. Our quest for meaning is ended but our search for understanding is only beginning. Why should there be this distaste for inter-community life and for dialogue? Why should powerful food aversions be evoked in order to arouse emotions in favour of life in separate compartments?

Chapter Three – Underneath The Metaphors: Cuisine, Class And Ideology

The word mishmash has been in use since the middle of the fifteenth century. It is probably related to the Old English miscian meaning ‘mix’, and may go back to the German mischen. Perhaps there is a connection with the Latin word ‘to mix’, miscere.

It is to the brewing industry that we owe one of the earliest meanings of the word mash: malt mixed with hot water. It is also found in farming, to refer to a mixture of boiled grain, bran or meal given warm as food for horses or cattle. This use can be traced back to the late sixteenth century, especially in the expression ‘bran mash’. A mash is something reduced to a soft pulp by beating or crushing. Late in the sixteenth century we already have metaphorical extensions of the word. A mash is a confused mixture, a jumble, a medley or muddle. Mishmash is simply a reduplication of the mash, and as early as 1585 we have ‘A confused or disordered heape of all things together: a mishmash.’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition 1989.) The word is always used pejoratively, usually with contempt. The use of the word to attack religious practices which were thought to be impure or unorthodox is well established. From 1860 we have a commentary on the prophet Haggai by Pusey who remarks ‘The Samaritans …(amid their mishmash of worship, worshipping, as our Lord tells them, they know not what).’ (ibid.)

Hotchpotch means much the same as mishmash. The original form is probably hotch pot and may be traced to a French original meaning ‘to shake a pot’. From at least the fifteenth century it appears in English as a culinary expression. It may have referred to the shaking of things together in a pot as in a stew or broth. Its use as a term of abuse in religious argument can be traced to the late sixteenth century. J. Udall is quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1588: ‘Schismes, that make a hotchpot of true religion and poperye.’ The idea of a melting pot of nations or races is found from 1682: ‘An Hochpot or Medley of many Nations’.

In order to make it rhyme with hotch, pot developed into potch. This is a dish containing many ingredients. Interestingly enough, the oldest metaphorical example supplied by the Oxford English Dictionary is from a theological source, the English reformer Hugh Latimer, who in his third sermon before Edward VI said ‘They … made a myngle mangle and a hotchpotch of it … partelye poperye, partelye true religion mingeled together.’ (1549.) From 1613 we have a reference to ‘this hotch-potch religion’, and along with the religious use goes hotchpotch as a term to describe a people of mixed descent. An example is provided from the writings of Huxley in 1890 who spoke of ‘that wonderful ethnological hotchpotch mis-called the Latin race.’

Hodge podge is simply a corruption of hotchpotch. By the seventeenth century the word had become pejorative. One might mix drinks together to create a hodge podge of drinks, and from 1561 we have a typical religious use: ‘Many at this day make an hogepotche of papistrie and the Gospell.’

In order to understand why it might be thought distasteful to mix certain foods together, we must first discuss the concept of cuisine and then examine the history of food in Asian and European societies. Cuisine, like the more general culture of which it is a part, arises out of the relative lack of biological specialisation in the human species. If you are a bird with a long tapering beak adapted for extracting insects from the nooks and crannies of the bark of a tree, you will find an apple or a rump steak difficult to get at. If you are an elephant, insects may be rather inaccessible. If you are a carnivore or a herbivore, certain food choices have already been made for you. In the case of an omnivorous species, with the additional advantages of being able to use tools to cut and language to name, distinguish and pass on instructions, the choices are almost infinitely wide. Anything which is nutritious can be eaten. Unfortunately, sense perception can be misleading. Not everything which looks good to eat is so. A distinguished American food psychologist has described this as a ’generalist’s dilemma’ (Rozin, 1988, p. 139). We depend upon the wisdom of a food tradition in order to guide our eating.

The food we eat can be compared to the speech we utter. The human organs of speech are capable of hundreds, perhaps thousands of sounds, but only a small percentage of these are utilised in any actual language. Different languages appear because of the isolation of human communities on the one hand and the non-specialised nature of human vocal potential on the other. We have to choose, and when we are widely separated, we do not all choose alike. Similarly, the foods recommended in any particular cuisine are normally but a small proportion of the foods available to that culture, although naturally the geographical distribution of certain plants and animals narrows the choice. The interesting thing, however, is that the cuisine does not necessarily include all of the most common regional sources of food. Frogs are common enough in England, as they are in France, and horses are probably equally common in both countries. The cuisine, however, differs.

Paul Rozin defines a cuisine as ‘a body of traditional knowledge and rules relating to food as something to be eaten … these include … the selection of the basic, staple foods, a set of preparation techniques, and a set of flavorings, along with information about combining these as contained in recipes. In addition, rules exist regarding sequences of foods in meals or over the seasons, and the special occasions of eating.’ (ibid, p. 137.)

Collective worship in schools can be regarded as a ceremony of social eating. We begin to see why the programme for an act of collective worship is so readily described as a recipe, and why the imagery of force-feeding comes so easily to mind if we take a dislike to what is prescribed. ‘Cultural factors’, Rozin remarks ‘are the primary determinants of human food selection’ and ‘cultures have ideas or theories about the relation of type of food to behaviour.’ (ibid, p.137) ‘Food is … embedded in a complex social matrix that includes political and economic influences.’ (ibid, p. 138.)

The result of the exercise of these preferences is the characteristic flavour of the cuisine. All of the dishes of that cuisine have a certain familiarity, a characteristic flavour. New dishes may be introduced within the characteristic style and flavour of the cuisine, but to mix cuisines, i.e. cultures, would be to create a mishmash. lt is because of this strong connection between culture, cuisine and identity that the invasion of the borders of the cuisine is like the invasion of the borders of an identity. This enables us to understand the origin of food rejection in a culture, and developmentally in young children. The body, and thus the self, would be contaminated by contact with offensive food. ‘The mouth seems to function as a highly charged border between self and non-self.’ (Rozin and Fallon, 1987, p. 26.) Central to the phenomenon of disgust is the prospect of psychological contamination. However brief the contact has been, and however minute its consequences, a wholesome food may be rejected if there is any association at all between it and a disgusting substance. When the boundaries of the self are widened, however, disgust tends to disappear. Lovers do not find it disgusting to kiss mouth to mouth, but the tiniest trace of säliva or lipstick on a glass from which a stranger has drunk will be distasteful to most people in our culture. Parents do not usually find the body products of their young children as unpleasant as those of adults or strangers. Disgust involves that which is foreign to the self. It is because the possibility of contamination involves a threat to the self that the offensive material is rejected.

These studies by food psychologists are very illuminating for our problems. lt is interesting to see that Christianity itself becomes disgusting when it has been in contact with offensive materials. The mishmash is not made up of non-Christian materials, but of these mixed with materials drawn from Christianity. The Christian elements are as distasteful as the rest. The good food has been contaminated and now the whole recipe is spoiled. ‘A striking feature of disgusting substances is that they can render a perfectly good food inedible by brief contact even if there is no detectable trace of the offensive item. The idea (history) of contact is sufficient. We have called this the principle of contamination.’ (Rozin, Millman and Nemeroff 1986, p. 704.)

The laws of magical contagion are somewhat similar to the laws of association set out by the philosophical psychologists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. According to these, ideas were associated when similarity and contiguitywere perceived. What counted was not any logical association between the ideas, their linking together in a continuous fabric of meaning, but the mere appearance of similarity, or the fact that they were associated together in time and place and thus linked in memory. After discussing this, the authors conclude ‘. . . whereas the laws of association describe ways of linking thoughts to one another, and so remain inside the head, the laws of magic describe practices that go a step further: people behave as though they believe the world to be organized in the same way as their thoughts.’ (ibid, p. 710.)

In the case we are discussing, it is the closeness of the ideas from different cultures within the volume of a single school textbook, or as listed together in a syllabus, which seems to offend. The fact that children from these different cultures are rubbing shoulders with each other in the classroom arouses similar emotions. The inner experience of confusion and possible contamination which takes place when a self-identity is threatened by the presence of alternative cultures requires a great deal of emotional energy to maintain its own distinguishing features. This urge towards inner distinctiveness seems tobe projected out onto the society, or the classroom, or the textbook. Inner separation is maintained by actively campaigning for social and educational separation. Social realities are interpreted in the light of inner conflict.

Let us illustrate this by reference to the laws of kosher food within the Jewish tradition. Provided that the non-kosher material is no greater than one sixtieth of the total volume of the kosher food, the law of kashrut indicates that the food as a whole does not cease to be kosher. Groups of practising and non-practising Jews were asked whether they would eat vegetarian bacon-bits, i.e. food rolled up to look like bacon bits but actually containing no pork but only vegetarian substances. What was at stake here was the law of similarity. Would the bacon bits be rejected on such grounds regardless of the actual kosher status of the food? Situations were also presented in which the minimum amount of one sixtieth was evidently not reached e.g. when a single tiny shrimp was accidentally dropped into a tureen of apple sauce or a drop of milk into a chicken broth. It was found that many Jews rejected these foods as contaminated thus lending weight to the view that disgust occurs at the ideational level when identity is at risk. Actual or religiously defined contamination is not the issue. The mere idea is sufficient to bring about rejection (Nemeroff and Rozin, 1987, p. 31f.) We can all sympathise with these Jewish reactions, because they make sense in terms of our own human experiences. They are of interest in our present study because they show the degree of purity which must be present in order to avoid the sense of being involved in a contaminated mishmash. The stronger the sense of belonging to a beleaguered tradition, the sharper the focus of a threatened identity, the lower will be what we might call the mishmash threshold. The debates in the House of Lords showed how difficult it is to prescribe percentages which would constitute mishmash. At the same time, the sense of protected identity and emotional contamination was consistent and unmistakable.

A sense of disgust at certain contaminating foods is acquired not only through the culture and the cuisine, which are passed on from generation to generation, but in the developing experience of each child. When discussing cultural preferences we referred to the omnivorous nature of human eating. We find this present in early childhood. It is well known that infants will sometimes eat grass and soap, sand and ants, much to the horror of their parents. Food socialisation in early childhood is mainly a matter of learning what not to eat. The tiny baby will suck almost anything. The mouth is the fundamental organ for the exploration of the world. Incorporation is the main way of strengthening and extending the self.

An American study has shown that young children tend to believe that ‘if two foods are acceptable (e.g. spaghetti and banana) then the combination is acceptable.’ (Rozin, Fallon and Augustoni-Ziskand, 1986 p. 75.) Acceptance of adult combinations is complete with most children between the ages of seven and eleven (ibid, p. 81). Studies of pre-school and early infant children showed that almost all of them were willing to put into their mouths combinations of food unacceptable to their parents and their culture. ‘. . . a basic feature of development is acquisition of more elaborated motivations for rejection, and hence a decrease in per cent of possible edibles.’ (Rozin, Hammer, Oster, Horowitz and Marmora, 1986, p. 142.)

These studies of young children are illuminating for our attempt to understand the religious education debate in England in two ways. First, they help us to understand what is happening when the claim is made that children will be confused if more than one; religion is presented to them. Children are socialised into a religion as they are socialised into a cuisine. The alleged confusion relates to a traditional or conventional arrangement of items into a segregated whole, which has no basis in the naturally omnivorous child’s outlook upon life. Children cannot be confused by the presentation of adult associations, and that is precisely why socialisation is necessary. The oceanic receptivity of the young child must be formed into a set of culturally acceptable preferences. The fear that children will be confused does not mean that children will subjectively experience a sense of confusion, since as we have seen young children quite happily eat all kinds of unorthodox combinations. The fear on the part of the adult is that the children will fail to be socialised into the emotional and cognitive boundaries of a tradition. Although having no inner sense of confusion, they could be described as being objectively confused, since they could grow up without these sharp separations. The child is uneducated but not confused.

It is no accident that the climax of food socialisation and religious enculturalisation takes place during the primary years, seven to eleven. The forming of preferences both in cuisine and culture is at its height.

The second insight which we may derive from the discussion of the development of children’s food preferences has to do with emotional power. The adult rejection of disgusting food is strongly charged with emotion not only because of the significance of cuisine in culture and identity but because these preferences were acquired in infancy under emotional pressure from the parents. What the child internalises is the look of disgust on the face of the parent at the horrible thing that the child is eating. lt is noteworthy that disgust is one of a small number of emotions which can be easily identified because of a characteristic facial expression which accompanies it. The lips are parted as if to expel and the nose is wrinkled as if to prevent something evil getting in. We begin to see how natural it is that adults should use the metaphors of disgusting food when describing a cultural contamination which offends them, and we also begin to see what effective rhetoric this is, since the expressions of distaste at food tend to awaken similar feelings in other adults.

Ort the other hand, when one wishes to convey an impression of single-mindedness and strength, one concentrates upon the honest beef of old England. Under the headline ‘McGregor kicks out „liberal“ exam experts’ the Daily Mail for 4th August 1990 described how ‘Industrialists and „forward thinking“ school heads are to be brought in to beef up the Secretary of State’s two key advisory bodies.’ The reference was to the replacement on the National Curriculum Council and the School Examination and Assessment Council of liberal educators by those who would recommend policies more to the government’s liking: more beef, less mishmash.

To understand the political and social dimensions of the use of the food metaphors in present day educational debate we must study the link between cuisine and class. The history of food at least in Europe and Asia shows us that a more luxurious and diversified cuisine was always associated with increased wealth and power. Differences in diet are basically regional, but with improved systems of transport a more varied diet becomes possible. An emphasis upon rarity, luxury and difference itself is found in the development of the eating habits of the wealthy in the Hellenistic period. As early as the second century AD we find descriptions of no less than 72 different kinds of bread (Goody, 1982, p. 103). These differences in food came to mark out the social hierarchy as such. There was also a health factor: when foods were carefully distinguished, one knew exactly what one was eating. It is not an exaggeration to say that by the mediaeval period in England, cuisine was almost completely dominated by social class factors. ‘At feasts as on ordinary days, the differences in rank were emphasised in differences in food and in service.’ (ibid, p. 142.) By the sixteenth century, when with the development of utensils and cutlery individual place settings appeared at feasts, it was no longer necessary ‘to draw from the common plate or pot’ (p. 143). During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries eating became more individual and more privatised. The uncommon and unclean increasingly became that which lay outside the household, beyond the family group, ‘and specifically beyond the conjugal pair whose union created the household and whose body fluids were necessarily intermingled.’ (p. 144.)

We thus see that by the seventeenth century in England there was a clear association between purity of food, purity of stock, and elevated social rank. A’mongrel culture’ would be the product of an illicit intimacy, one in which domestic, tribal or social class homogeneity had been invaded by something alien. The upper classes developed luxurious menus, each course carefully distinguished from the others, but the servants ate up the scraps indiscriminately. Thus a ‘hotchpotch’ or a ‘mishmash’ became a sign of servility, of a degenerated social class.

The sociologist Jack Goody traces the search for a distinctive English cuisine back to the seventeenth century. At this time there emerged ‘an ambiguous attitude towards the culinary influences of the „continent“.’ Local cuisine should be simple and straightforward. ‘It is the elaborateness of the foreigner that is suspect, in cuisine as in manners . . .’ (p. 145.) It now becomes English to enjoy simple straightforward roast beef but the French and the Italians are characterised by their typical foods. One identifies oneself and thus ones neighbour through distinctive cuisine. Goody continues ‘Clearly such differences take on a more dangerous significance when they are linked to profound ideological commitments and when the groups concerned are living side by side.’ ‘. . . These deeply internalised practices and avoidances not only define religious affiliation but serve to set off intercommunal riots of frightening proportions … where world religions come closely into contact one with another.’ (p. 146.) The use of such distinctions based upon food, tribalism and religion is particularly marked, Goody notes, in ‘societies where a segment has acquired, on a relatively permanent basis, more than is allowed by „natural justice“ or reciprocity . . .’ (p. 147.) During times of rapid social change, cuisine may act as a focus for conservatism. Continuity of cuisine will be a source of comfort and this will be consistent with resistance to change in other aspects of social life (p. 150ff).

Goody emphasises the connection between food, ideology and sex. ‘. . . The close and long-standing link, so frequently the subject of extended metaphor, between food and sex, between production and reproduction. The link appears not only at the level of these primary activities themselves but in the prohibitions or taboos that surround them, namely in the spheres of „totemism“ and „incest“, as well as in the concomitant prescriptions and preferences for food and for wives.’ (pp. 191-2.)

It is this link between food and sex which gives the rhetoric of mishmash its high moral appeal. Physical and moral disgust go together. Mixture of the inappropriate is impure, ethically, socially and physically. It is worth here reflecting upon the use of the word ‘adulterate’ in English society and history. The mixing of wines and breads with baser materials was described as an adulteration as early as the late sixteenth century. Contamination of food, although not unknown in agricultural society, is a particular feature of industrial society. In England by the eighteenth century there was a literature on the subject – books and pamphlets exposing the practices of the food trade. To adulterate means ‘to confound with a base add mixture’. In the sexual sense, adultery can only be performed by partners one of whom is married, otherwise there could be no illicit debasing of a lofty stock by lowly intercourse. The higher classes, where pride of blood-descent was important, were obviously more fearful of adultery than were the peasant classes. They had more to lose, since their stock would be debased, whereas that of the peasants was already base. The sharing of bed and board was based upon an assumption of homogeneity, of purity. To mix the foods or the beds was an invitation to mix the social classes as well. It is no accident that the most elaborate use of the food metaphors took place not in the House of Commons but in the Lords.

In January 1989 the then Minister of Education, Kenneth Baker, announced that history teaching in the National Curriculum would ‘have at its core the history of Britain, the record of its past, and its political, constitutional and cultural heritage.’ This programme would take the place of what Mr Baker had elsewhere described as ‘the hotchpotch’ of history teaching in schools. In other words, critical and investigatory approaches to history based on world wide perspectives would be replaced by a more culturally contained curriculum (Searle, 1989a, p. 36).

The link between food and a high evaluation of British culture, if we may put it like that, may be seen even more clearly in an article from The Independent on Sunday for 6 May 1990. The article ‘A white man in search of votes’ interviews two members of the British National Party which broke away from the National Front in 1982. In a lively, amusing interview, one of the men ‘. .. admits to eating in Indian restaurants. Mr Smith says „while they’re there, obviously I utilise them.“ „Well I don’t!“ says Mr Walsh. „And I don’t go to Chinese chip shops and I try not to go to Paki shops to buy papers or drinks … but the night after a load of beer it’s hard not to have a lemonade or something. I don’t mind spaghetti but I’d never go and eat in an Eyetie restaurant. I eat English food. What’s wrong with that?“‘ In order to tell what is English food, Mr Walsh employs what he calls the ‘wall test’. ‘Put a Russian and an Englishman up against the wall and they look pretty much the same. Europeans are all one racial family. I can eat their food.’ The earlier part of this interesting interview brings out the connection between the food of other races and having sexual relationships with foreigners. ‘I looked around and I could see blacks everywhere, taking over. I knew they weren’t the same as-me. .. There is some good looking black girls. But I’d never go with one.’

Later in the article the reporter meets Milton whose job it is to carry the Union Jack at the party meetings. ‘Milton is keen on racial purity and the class system. „You need the aristocracy, and a middle class, otherwise nobody’s got nothing to work towards.“‘ (Interesting examples of the same link between food, sex and cultural or social class purity may be found in Chris Searle, Your Daily Dose: Racism and the Sun, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom 1989, especially chapter 5, ‘The Sun on Britain’.)

In this chapter we have only mentioned in passing the connections between food and religion. Since this lies at the heart of the rhetoric which we are analysing, we must now consider it in greater detail.

Chapter Four – Purity Of Food And Faith

One of the important contributions made by the psychologist Erik H. Erikson to the study of the human life cycle has been in the area of identity. Erikson believed that adolescence is a critical period in the formation of identity, for it is during this time of life that the sense of the continuity and the coherence of the self must be formed if the tasks of adult life are to be successfully undertaken. Political, religious and social world views occupy an important place in Erikson’s understanding of how identity formation takes place. lt is through loyalty or fidelity to the ideals of a group, a party or a culture that I learn the boundaries of my own self. Questions about to whom I belong, and for what I am responsible are answered by commitment to such groups (Erikson, 1968). The place of religion is particularly important in this process. Erikson regarded religion primarily as ‘a source of ideologies for those who seek identities’ (Erikson, 1958, p. 22). There is no doubt that religion can function very powerfully in the conferring of identity. Hans Mol, who has done outstanding work in developing Erikson’s theory of identity, regards religion as the sacralisation of identity (Mol, 1978, p. 7). Erikson distinguished between two types of identity: the identity of totality, and that of wholeness (Erikson, 1968, pp. 80-89; Erikson, 1975, pp. 175ff.).

Totalising identity is formed through exclusion. I know myself as a European precisely because I am not African, as a man just because I am not a woman, as an adult just because I am no longer a child. Central to totalising identity formation is the creation of boundaries. It is within this boundary that I am myself; beyond the boundary is something else, something different which is not me. On the other hand, the identity which is characterised by wholeness operates through inclusion. Although a European I am also human and therefore I include the African. Although male, I am conscious of my femininity. As an adult, childhood is still within me. I am not only this;’ I am that. Mature identity formation seems to require both the totalising mode and the wholeness mode. There is a time to draw boundaries; there is a time to transcend boundaries. There is a time to scatter and there is a time to gather together, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Perhaps most people oscillate between totality and wholeness; perhaps identity formation makes progress through an ever advancing spiral in which phases of exclusion alternate with phases of inclusion.

The food metaphors we are discussing spring from a conception of identity in which totality and exclusion are over-emphasised. Instead of allowing religious education teachers to determine these emphases in the classroom, depending upon their knowledge of the individual young people in their care, an attempt is being made to insist upon boundaries, to legislate for boundaries and to prevent the natural oscillation between the two types of identity formation. It is this insistence upon the one type of identity formation and the accompanying attack upon those who seek at least sometimes for a wider and more inclusive identity which we are studying here. The metaphors of mixed and distasteful food are being used to discredit those who believe that identity may be advanced both through exclusion and inclusion.

In order to understand this need to attack and discredit we must investigate thee character of religious exclusivity. The central concept here is that of purity. In order to maintain purity it is necessary to distinguish it from impurity. As we have said, it is characteristic of the totalising identity to achieve coherence through drawing a line between what one is and what one is not. Purity is inside, impurity is outside. The distinction between purity and impurity is thus a matter of region or place. If that which is beyond the boundary should cross over and come inside, it would be out of place. Its characteristics might all be the same, but its location would have changed, and that would be enough to make it dirt.

Dirt is matter out of place. Gardening tools are not kept in the wardrobe nor are boots, even when brightly polished, kept with the cups and saucers. Cooking utensils are by definition dirty before they are washed, but it is dirtier to leave them lying around in the living room than to stack them up beside the sink in the kitchen. Dirtiness is a certain kind of untidiness. Books can be untidy on a bookcase, but when the books are mixed with milk bottles, light bulbs and spare parts for the car, many people would feel this is not merely untidy but messy. To have soil or earth on ones hands is to be dirty, but soil in the garden is not dirty, and one wouldn’t bother about having dirty hands whilst doing the gardening. It is only when you come inside the house that your hands become dirty.

Dirt thus presupposes some kind of order and regularity. ‘Dirt then, is never a unique, isolated event. Where there is dirt, there is system.’ (Douglas, 1966, p. 35.) Dirt is what is left out when the ordering or systematising has been completed. Mary Douglas in her study of the pollution rituals of various societies shows how questions of dirt and purity involve not only physical arrangement but symbolic and ethical questions. There cannot only be dirty hands; there can be dirty thoughts. ‘. .. Our pollution behaviour is the reaction which condemns any object or idea likely to confuse or contradict cherished classifications.’ (ibid, p. 36.) Pollution involves contact. If our minds or our spirits are to be contaminated, this will usually be symbolised through contact with our bodies.

The border of the body, the skin, comes to have a particular significance as the membrane which divides the inside from the outside. The openings of the body have particular emotional and symbolic significance because it is through these that matter is conveyed over the boundary. The symbolism of the bodily orifices is thus not to be confined to our own individual experience in infancy, although it is from its sources in childhood that this symbolism derives much of its emotional power. Body symbolism also reflects our understanding of the proper limits of our society, the ordering of our religious, social and cultural life. ‘. . . All margins are dangerous. If they are pulled this way or that the shape of fundamental experience is altered. Any structure of ideas is vulnerable at its margins. We should expect the orifices of the body to symbolise its specially vulnerable points.’ (ibid, p. 121.) When we use the symbolism of the body, and particularly the symbolism of eating and of food, our deepest fears and anxieties about society may be expressed. Mary Douglas emphasises that this expression will often take the form of wit. ‘. .. The symbolism of the body’s boundaries is used in this kind of unfunny wit to express danger to community boundaries.’ (ibid, p. 122.) This reminds us of the previously quoted letter in the Times Educational Supplement (20.7.90). ‘Children of all faiths are cheated by this multi- faith mish-mash. If this syllabus is „educationally sound“, then I’m a boiled egg.’

When these borders are crossed, the purity of both food and faith is threatened. In syllabuses which draw upon several religions, ‘all faiths are trivialised and faith itself may be destroyed.’ There will then be a need to ‘protect the integrity of Christianity and of other world religions.’ (House of Lords, 21 June 1988, col. 641.) Multi-faith approaches are ‘confusing’ and lead to ‘the destruction of the purity of worship’ (col.642) because ‘the Christian faith should be taught undiluted … lt should not be muddled by trying to teach it with overtones of something else infiltrated into it.’ (col. 660.) There is something rather Protestant about this view of the relations between religions. Johann Baptist Metz has discussed this in his book The Emergent Church: the future of Christianity in a postbourgeois world. ‘The Reformation’s fear of sin became, by gradual degrees, another kind of fear. I call this „fear of contact“, fear of contacting what is of the earth, of the senses, of that bodily, social life within which grace wishes to bestow itself upon us …’ Metz traces this fear of contagion back to what he calls the pathos of pure doctrine, in which the church sought for pure doctrine against the contaminated, worldly and depraved religious life of late mediaeval society. The world came to be seen as infected with worldly compromises. ‘Now, the idea of the „pure“ has become bound up with the inward, the spiritual, the non-sensual. lt is a kind of Christianity which tries to convince us that grace is mediated through faith only, through the pure teaching. There is nothing to be touched or handled, and there is a constant threat that close contact will adulterate the integrity of the faith. This in turn bred a fear of becoming enmeshed in „impure, contradictory social conflicts“.’ (Metz, 1981, p.51ff.)

The concept of pure doctrine with its associated fear of contact which has been described by the European Catholic theologian J B Metz can be compared with the idea of ‘right doctrine protestantism’ developed by the Brazilian Protestant theologian Rubem Alves in his book Protestantism and Repression: A Brazilian Case Study. The conservative, legalistic Protestant churches which Alves describes are structured around a consciousness of innocence. The difference between innocence and guilt is established by various categories of sins into which believers may be likely to fall. The maintenance of discipline around these norms is essential for the maintenance of the inner purity of the church. Christians are different. The differences establish a strong sense of identity by identifying as alien those who are outside, and through punishment of offenders. The first category of sins is sexual, while the second consists of sabbath breaking. In third place are the vices such as smoking, drinking and gambling, fourth comes crimes against property, and finally crimes of thought, i.e. wrong beliefs. It is noteworthy that all of these categories involve the breaking of boundaries, the putting of something in time or space where it should not be. Sexual sins are sins of contact, and sabbath breaking pollutes the holiness of sanctified time by intruding into it profane time. The vices are also mainly to do with what goes in and out of the body (smoking, drinking) or which adorns the mouth (wearing lipstick). Other sins have to do with money and property. (Alves, op. cit. ch.5, ‘Believers are Different: the personal ethic of RDP’)

So far in this chapter we have been examining the self-consciously ‘pure’ religion which resists contamination through contact. We have found that anthropologists and theologians do acknowledge this type of religion, and that their descriptions are consistent with what we have found in our study of the food metaphors used in the English religious education debates. The most illuminating background, however, particularly on the relationship between pure religion and pure food, is to be found in the Bible itself. Many of those who make use of the food metaphors in order to attack the world religions basis of religious education regard themselves as bible-believing Christians. It is, therefore, not surprising that we should find their attitudes towards purity of food and faith in the Bible.

Before humanity was divided into different races, there were no differences between clean and unclean food. The oldest Genesis tradition is that Adam and Eve were vegetarian. ‘And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, „You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat“‘ (Gen 2:16f.) The prohibition was directed against a particular tree, not against a variety of food as such. The Fall did not bring about any change of diet. ‘… you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread …’ (Gen 3:18f.) An omnivorous diet seems to have been established after the flood, because we read that God said to Noah and his family ‘The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.’ (Gen 9:2f.) A remnant of primitive vegetarianism may be found in the prohibition against blood (verse 4) but this must also be seen as a particular prohibition and not as creating a category of impure food. All food could be eaten, provided this stipulation was observed. This unity of diet is consistent with the unity of the human species, since the implication of the flood was that God would repopulate the earth from the single family of Noah (Gen. 9:1). The dietary covenants made with Adam and Eve, and with the family of Noah were, in principle, with an undivided humanity. The covenant made with Moses, however, was with the people of Israel only.

Immediately we find that with a divided humanity comes a divided diet. Distinctions of culture and religion are expressed in food distinctions. ‘I am the Lord your God, who have separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore make a distinction between the clean beast and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground teems which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.’ (Lev. 20:24b-26.) The concept of mishmash would not be possible without the concept of clear distinctions between types of food, and norms about how they are to be presented in a cuisine. Distinctions of this type, however, seem to appear only when there is a need to reinforce distinctions between races. ‘Dietary prohibitions are indeed a means of cutting a people off from others . . .’ (Soler, 1979 p. 129).

Jean Soler makes a number of interesting points in his discussion about clean and unclean animals. At the heart of the concept was the idea that each species reproduced according to its own kind. ‘The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind’ (Gen 1:12.) ‘And God said „Let the Earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds …“‘ (Gen 1:24.) Living creatures were divided into three types: those that walked on the earth, those that swam in the sea, and those that flew in the air. The unclean creatures were those who failed to observe these distinctions e.g serpents who crawled upon the earth but had no legs, insects which walked on the earth but had wings and so on. Soler remarks, ‘If they do not fit into any class, or if they fit into two classes at once, they are unclean.’ (ibid, p. 135.)

The principle of not mixing different kinds was observed in animal breeding, but it went beyond this. It became important in agriculture and even affected the clothes people wore. ‘You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff.’ (Lev. 19:19.) A similar prohibition is found in Deuteronomy 22:11. ‘You shall not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.’ We might, perhaps, translate this ‘you shall not wear a mishmash,’ since the point is that to wear woollen materials with linen would be to mix animal with vegetable. Not only were animals of different kinds not permitted to interbreed, they were not allowed to work side by side either. ‘You shall not plough with an ox and an ass together.’ (Deut. 22:10.) This would be to offend against the divine classifications. No doubt this world view was intended to support the distinctiveness of Israel, as a particular people amongst the nations. Since different kinds must not mix, there must be no mixed marriages. The people of Israel were forbidden to intermarry with the Canaanites. ‘You shall not make marriages with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons.’ (Deut. 7:3.) As a logical extension of this, no person of mixed descent or born out of wedlock was permitted to enter the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:2f). When this need for racial purity was projected upon nature itself and became an ideology in which classification was all important, the hybrid became the most shocking thing. A hybrid is a mixture, something in which two other things have become displaced. Jean Soler concludes, ‘Uncleanness, then, is simply disorder wherever it may occur.’ (ibid, p.136) Men and women were forbidden to wear each other’s clothes (Deut. 22:5) not because of a desire to suppress transvestite urges, in the modern Freudian sense, but because in order to maintain Israelite particularity amongst the nations, all sexual, cultural, social and natural categories had to reflect the strictest separation. Should not this have encouraged homosexuality? By no means, for the husband and the wife became one flesh (Gen. 2:24). This mingling of the opposites is not a mishmash but an ecstatic unity in which the opposites are overcome.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why sexual imagery is used rather infrequently in the Old Testament, because of its revolutionary implications. The outstanding exception is, of course, the Song of Songs, and the intuition of the early church was right on target when these wonderful poems of sexual love were interpreted as an allegory of the new order, the love between Christ and his church. For if in man and woman the sexual opposites can be overcome, why should there not be a whole creation renewed in ecstatic unity? To study the transforming power of mishmash, the new reality in which distinctions are overcome, is the task of our final chapter.

Chapter Five – Declaring All Foods Clean: A Christian Approach To Religious Education

Our studies of culture, anthropology and religion make it possible for us to view our problem, once so vague and yet so amusing, in the clear light of day. We can now penetrate the world out of which the flippant yet nauseous food metaphors come. We remember how in the House of Lords on the night of 21 June 1988 the Bishop of London, who had not entirely rejected the idea that children might learn from each other’s faiths, was challenged with a sporting metaphor (col. 721). During a game of soccer, the referee would not suddenly see fit to bring in a bit of action under the rules of rugby. Behind the wit we see a world ruled by rigid classifications. If young people from different traditions should worship together or even learn together, the separate classiiications upon which social demarcation depends would become blurred. You couldn’t play the game. You wouldn’t know what to do. Everything would start to slip and merge. School worship, the critics said, dresses itself up in multi-faith robes (House of Commons, 9 Feb. 1988, col. 1270) until its spiritual reality disappears. Extending the metaphor, it is as if false Jacob (multi-faith religious education) covering his arms with hairy skins, deceives the old, blind father (the Christian tradition). He dresses in a mishmash to take the place of Esau (apathetic parents and their children) who has already sold his precious birth right for a mess of pottage. Each shall be divided according to its kind.

On the evening of 3 May 1988 a debate took place in the House of Lords which centred upon the expression ‘predominantly Christian’. The main motion was, ‘Where a maintained school has been established as a denominational school, Christian or non-Christian, the Religious Education in that school shall be of that particular denomination’ and where requested by parents reasonable arrangements shall be made ‘for the Religious Education of children of other faiths according to their own faiths.’ There must be no hybrids. In the same debate, one speaker remarked that studying different religions was like studying different species of birds. We cannot fail to notice the significance of the way in which differences in religion are naturalised. The birds that fly in the air are true, each to its own kind, and so are the religions of humanity. They are not seen as a part of the human world, the historical world of human actions, intentions and receptivities, but are part of the natural order of things, immutable, governed by their own biological logic (col. 510). Now that we have clarified the relationship between religious faith, food and race, we can appreciate with quickened sense the following metaphor. ‘If we consider religious faith and precept as the spiritual lifeblood of the nation and all its citizens then effective religious instruction can no more be administered by and to persons of a different faith than can a blood transfusion be safely given without first ensuring blood group compatibility. Indiscriminate mixing of blood can prove dangerous and so can the mixing of faiths in education.’ (House of Lords, 3 May 1988, col. 419.) Once again the religions are naturalised. They are fixed in our bodies through descent. Theology and biology are here completely confounded in a genuine intellectual mishmash which is itself the epitome of what it deplores. No one of mixed blood shall stand in the assembly of the Lord.

The time has come, in this final chapter, to contrast the world from which the fears of mishmash spring with another world. When Jesus said, ‘This is my blood of the new covenant shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink ye all of it,’ his disciples all drank from a common cup. Has not God ‘made of one blood all peoples to dwell on the face of the earth?’ (Acts 17:26 AV.) Those who have a fear of mishmash are deeply respectful of the faith of others. Each faith is to preserve its purity, its integrity. Each religion is a kind of separate classification. I am holy, says the anti-mishmash argument, and you are holy, but the ground between us is unholy and we will contaminate each other through a harmful mingling of blood if we should meet. The other approach, the one which we shall now explore, takes the opposite point of view. In myself, it suggests, I am not particularly holy, and perhaps in yourself you are not wonderfully holy, but the ground between us is holy. The boundary which separates shall become the holy ground, the common ground, the mutuality of response and responsibility which makes us truly human. Holiness is discovered through encounter.

Just as food and diet had occupied a central position in Israel, so they became controversial between Christians and Jews. ‘Food’, wrote Paul, ‘will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.’ (1 Cor 8:8.) ‘The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ (Romans 14:17.) There had been a conflict between Peter and Paul, because Peter was eating at table with gentile Christians, but when conservative Jewish Christians came to Antioch ‘he drew back and separated himself.’ (Gal 2:12.) As always, distinctions between food become a sort of culinary culture, and express and reinforce distinctions between races and religions.

This is never seen more clearly than in the vision of Peter recorded in Acts chapter 10. Cornelius, a man of another race and another religion, had seen a vision in which he was instructed to send for Peter who would counsel him. While the messengers were coming, Peter was praying. His prayers were interrupted by his hunger. The desire for food which interrupted his spirituality soon led him into a rebirth of spirituality. He ‘fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.’ (Acts 10:10ff.) The sheet was indeed full of a horrifying mishmash, in which the purity of Peter’s faith was threatened with dilution, things held carefully apart were now trivialised into a mere relativity, a veritable mixing bowl approach to God’s commandments was about to be thrust down his throat. When the heavenly voice invited him to eat this hotchpotch, Peter shrank back like a modern legislator confronted by an agreed syllabus, piously protesting ‘No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ (v. 14.) But the voice said, ‘What God has cleansed, you must not call common.’

From now on, holiness was not to be found in observing distinctions, but in overcoming them. There is no doubt that this disregard for purity of separation goes back to Jesus himself. The second half of Mark chapter 2 is a collection of a number of sayings of Jesus related to this theme. Each saying is set into a brief narrative framework, and all the material relates to the earliest Galilean ministry. He broke the laws of purity by eating with those who were ritually unclean and socially unacceptable (Mk. 2:15f). His disciples did not observe the customary fasts (Mk. 2:18f). He broke down the borders which divided sacred time from the secular (Mk. 2:23ff). In all of this he was perfectly well aware that he was introducing a radical break with the world of the old sacred classifications. The brand new material could not be used to patch up the old garment. The new wine would only split the old wine bottles (Mk. 2:21f). It is equally remarkable that he broke down the borders of the natural family by replacing the ties of blood and kinship with a universal fellowship of all those who responded to God. ‘Who are my mother and my brothers? … Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ (Mk. 3:33ff.) lt is consistent with this that he rejects a blessing upon the source of his infantile nourishment. ‘A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, „Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that you sucked.“‘ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ (Luke 11:27ff.) This rejection of the emotional intensity of infantile food has both literal and metaphorical associations, and it is again highly significant that the food metaphor is replaced by a universal principle. Boundaries of tribe, nation and race are, in principle, shattered (compare Luke 4:25-27).

In considering the background of Peter’s mishmash dream in the light of the teaching and ministry of Jesus, the most significant passage is the debate about the food and eating laws found in Mark chapter 7 (compare Matthew chapter 15). Jesus and his disciples were criticised for their laxity by those who were keen to emphasise the purity of the system of classifications. In reply, Jesus offered a new view of religious identity, one which is not threatened by contagion or contamination from the outside but one which is sustained by the intentions of the heart as these affect actions in relations between people. ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into someone from outside cannot defile them, since it enters not the heart but the stomach, and so passes on?’ Thus he declared all foods clean. And he said ‘What comes out is what defiles someone. For from within, out of someone’s heart, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile you.’ (Mk. 15:18-23) It is interesting that John the Baptist, who ate locusts, seems to have been completely without any sense of food disgust, and in Matthew’s version of the saying about what brings defilement, Jesus specifically refers to the mouth. ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles you.’ (Matt. 15:17f.) lt was out of this radical disregard for boundaries, this setting aside of divinely ordained distinctions, that the new humanity, the ecclesial community emerged.

To understand this better in the context of our present discussion, we need to return to Mary Douglas. That which is out of place can frustrate the system of purity and can thus be regarded as dirt. That which is out of place can also challenge prevailing conceptions and can thus be a source of renewal and transfiguration. When things move out of their restricted places, there may be a blissful fusion of opposites, a transcending of the old contrary things in a new order. Both these tendencies are found in religion: the tendency to separate and the tendency to unite (Douglas, op. cit., ch. 10). Salt is dirty when thrown on the floor or over the clothes, but when used wisely in cooking it adds life and flavour. Jack Goody remarks, ‘Since differences in cuisine parallel class distinctions, egalitarian and revolutionary regimes tend, at least in the initial phases, to do away with the division between the haute and the basse cuisine.’ (Goody, op. cit., p. 147.) It is thus significant that the early Christian movement focussed around a common meal, which was symbolic of the new kingdom, the new humanity. This new people has ‘put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free person, but Christ is all, and in all.’ (Col. 3:10f.)

lt might be objected that the context of our present discussion is a proposed separation of school children religion by religion and, within religious education syllabuses, of one religion from another. Does the New Testament teaching about the new humanity justify us in disregarding distinctions between religions? This is not the place to enter into a füll discussion of a Christian theology towards the religions of the world, but it can be pointed out in passing that religious distinctions were clearly transcended in the Pauline theology of the new people. The distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision was a religious distinction. Circumcision was the fundamental sign of the covenant between God and Israel. The distinction between Jew and Greek was not only a cultural but very evidently a religious distinction. There is a real danger that Christians today, experiencing identity threat through immature conceptions of Christian faith, will think of themselves as a new tribe, distinguishing themselves from other tribes, other world religious cultures, just as some of the first century Jews distinguished between themselves and the Gentiles.

Throughout the Bible there is a struggle between Israel for the Israelites and Israel as a light to enlighten the Gentiles, between God as the Lord of Israel and God as the Lord of all peoples. So it is with Christianity: there is a tribalising option which emphasises religious distinction and there is a universalising option which emphasises the Kingdom of God. What Jesus inaugurated was not a new religion but a new humanity. lt is this insight which inspires the description of the new ecclesial community in which the old racial and religious distinctions have been broken down. ‘For he is our peace, who has made us both [i.e. Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two …’ (Eph. 2:14f.) This principle flows not only from the common eucharistic meal, but from the common baptism as well. ‘For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal. 3:27f.) The closing expression ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ should not be interpreted along the lines of totalistic identity, by exclusion, but rather through inclusion, along the lines of an identity of wholeness. This is made clearer by the words which immediately follow. ‘And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.’ (Gal. 3:29.) Does this mean that all Christians have now become tribalised into the physical descent of Abraham and are thus literally Jews? Rather, Paul is using the expression ‘Abraham’s offspring’ metaphorically or spiritually, since both Christians and Jews are ‘heirs according to promise’. The promise is the universal promise to all people. We see then that the new humanity in Christ Jesus looks for the metaphorical or the spiritual in all literal, religious traditions, and does not become engrossed in the distinctions between Christianity and Judaism. I am not saying that discussion of these contemporary distinctions is not a legitimate part of inter-faith dialogue now. I do maintain, however, that the biblical vision transcends both Israel and Christianity considered as tribes or races, as ideological blocks, and prefigures a new, world-wide community. This insight is found in the Torah and the Prophets as well as in the New Testament.

We can finish this part of our discussion by reminding ourselves of the words of Saint Paul to the Colossian Christians. Concluding his discussion about the new humanity, he says ‘Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink … If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, „Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch,“ (referring to things which all perish as they are used) according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion . . .’ (Col. 2:16-23,) The thousands of teachers, parents, school governors, ministers and priests who have been fostering the new humanity by building up understanding between religious communities and developing bonds of love through education, but have been made nervous by the mishmash and hotchpotch accusations, should take comfort from these words.

In conclusion, let us discuss a Christian approach to the teaching of religious education in Britain today. We may distinguish between a totally Christian approach and a wholly Christian approach. The totally Christian approach will promote what I have elsewhere described as ‘ideological enclosure’ (Hull,1985, eh. 1; Hull, 1990). It will screen out from the curriculum and, if possible, from the entire social world of the child, anything which is explicitly other than from the Christian religion. In its curriculum form in our county schools, the totalising approach will be set alongside other totalising approaches from other religions. There is doubtless a totally Muslim education and a totally Jewish education which correspond to a totally Christian education. The curious paradox about this approach is that by placing one totality in the same curriculum as another (as would apparently happen in county schools where significant groups of pupils from various religions were present) it is impossible to avoid the implication that some religion or other must fill the totality slot. This is because the totality approach, although it appears to run along parallel and separate lines is intrinsically competitive. It is, in the end, a marketing approach. The different brand labels must remain unique and separate for purposes of image and loyalty, and no contamination of other brand labels must mar this. The very process, however, makes it abundantly clear that there are various brand loyalties on the market. The separateness and the distinctiveness supposes a relationship which, precisely because it refuses to enter into dialogue, is bound to enter into competition. As in the apartheid politics of South Africa, so in the totality approach to the religious education curriculum in Britain: when communities are rigidly separated they end up by devouring each other.

Because the totalising approach creates the concept of a self-enclosed and a totally comprehensive religion separate from other religions which have a similar status (otherwise, why separate them?) it is relativistic in its very attempt to be absolute. It is part of the healthy ecology of the human mind, that things which are separated become comparable in their separateness, whereas things which are integrated yield harmonious uniqueness. Disconnected entities insist on being associated. The repressed will return. In order to prevent this, the totalising personality must invest more and more energy in maintaining the walls of separation. More and more legal definitions, closer and closer inspections, and so the total approach becomes the totalitarian one. Once again we have the curious paradox that in totalitarian worlds, it does not, in the end, matter who the leader is or what the beliefs are. The totalising process acquires autonomy. The needs of the personality are for totality itself. It ceases to matter around which totality the personality is totalised (Arendt, 1967, p.407ff). The total Christian education approach tends to create a sort of Christian henotheism, since absolute loyalty is offered without denying the intrinsic value and reality of other loyalties. The word is used to describe religious systems such as that of the state of Israel before the 8th century BC. Israel had its God and so did the other peoples of the earth have their God. Henotheism is a sort of absolute parallelism, and it falls into decay for the very reason I have suggested, namely, the implied relativism of religion which this tribalisation carries with it.

It is symptomatic of this situation that those who use the language of disgusting food are normally very respectful of the religious views of others. The debates in Parliament are studded with demands that religious education should promote tolerance and understanding. If we ask how this can be done without pupils acquiring some knowledge and insight into the actual religious beliefs of others, there is no very clear answer. lt would appear, however, that the inherent qualities of each great religious tradition, in which love and respect are emphasised, will automatically bring this about. This must be questioned. It is not at all clear that societies characterised by religious separation, especially in the school curriculum, have developed attitudes of tolerance and understanding towards each other. The truth is that built into a number of religions are theological defences against each other. In order to achieve its identity in separation from Judaism, Christianity had to pass through a totalising stage. We remember Erikson’s emphasis that periods of totality and periods of wholeness may alternate in the development of identity. The early Christians found it necessary to engage in a polemic against Judaism in order to establish their reasons for not being Jews. Anyone who reads the Gospel of John with its disparaging references to the Jews will notice this feature. In a somewhat similar manner, Islam had to distinguish itself from Christianity, and a polemic against both Christianity and Judaism is built into its self understanding. It is certainly possible to interpret religious traditions in intolerant and exclusivist ways, but in a society like ours where the creation of tolerance and understanding must be rated as an important social goal it seems unwise to take the risk.

If the approach which we have described as total is essentially based upon the experience of Christianity as an absolute religion side by side with other absolute religions, the approach to a wholly Christian curriculum would spring not from Christianity as one of the religions of the world but from the Kingdom of God teaching of Jesus and from the teaching of Paul about the new humanity. The actual religious traditions, in their present concrete form, are taken with füll seriousness, since they are part of the history which shapes the world. They are to be treated in the full beauty of their holiness, without trivialisation and without invidious comparison, but there will be no fear of contagion. Children and their faiths will live and learn side by side. Loyalty to one’s own faith is not inconsistent with a sympathetic insight into the faiths of others, and this is as true for children as for adults. And thus religious education will play its part in the building up of a new earth.


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Arendt, Hannah The Origins of Totalitarianism London, George Allen and Unwin, revised edition 1967 (first published 1951).

Douglas, Mary Purity and Danger. An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966.

Erikson, Erik H. Young Man Luther New York, W. W. Norton, 1958, Identity, Youth and Crisis New York, W. W. Norton, 1968, Life, History and the Historical Moment New York, W. W. Norton, 1975.

Gates, Brian The National Curriculum and Values in Education: Hockerill Lecture 1989 Hockerill Educational Foundation.

Goody, Jack Cooking, Cuisine and Class. A study in comparative sociology Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Hull, John M. What Prevents Christian Adults from Learning London, SCM Press, 1985, American Edition: Philadelphic.

Hull, John M. ‘“Mish-Mash“: Religious Education and Pluralism’ British Journal of Religous Education Vol.12, No.3, Summer 1990, pp. 121-125 (Editorial).

Hull, John M. ‘Religious Education in the State Schools of Late Capitalist Society’ British Joumal of Educational Studies Vol.38 No.4, November 1990, pp. 335-348.

Metz, Johann Baptist The Emergent Church, the future of Christianity in a postbourgeois world London, SCM Press, 1981.

Mol, Hans (ed) Identity and Religion. International, Cross-cultural Approaches London, Sage Publications, 1978.

Nemeroff, Carol & Rozin, Paul ‘Sympathetic magic in kosher practice and belief at the limits of the laws of kashrut’ Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review Vol. 94, No.1, 1987, pp. 31-32.45

Rozin, Paul ‘Cultural Approaches to Human Food Preferences’ in John E. Morley et al. (eds) Nutritional Modulation of Neural Function (UCLA Forum on Medical Sciences) Academic Press, 1988, pp. 137-153.

Rozin, Paul & Fallon, April E. ‘A Perspective on Disgust’ Psychological Review Vol. 94, No.1, 1987, pp. 23-41.

Rozin, Paul, Hammer, Larry, Oster, Harriet, Horowitz, Talia & Marmora, Veronica ‘The Child’s Conception of Food: differentiation of categories of rejected substances in the 16 month to 5 year age range’ Appetite 7, 1986, pp. 141-151.

Rozin, Paul, Fallon, April & Augustoni-Ziskand, Marylynn ‘The Child’s Conception of Food: the development of categories of accepted and rejected substances’, Journal of Nutrition Education Vol. 18, No. 2, 1986, pp. 75-81.

Rozin, Paul, Millman, Linda and Nemeroff, Carol, ‘Operation of the Laws of Sympathetic Magic in disgust and other domains’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 50, No. 4, 1986, pp. 703-712.

Searle, Chris ‘From Forster to Baker: the new Victorianism and the struggle for education’ Race and Class Vol. 30, No. 4, April/June 1989, Your Daily Dose: Racism and the Sun, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, 1989.

Soler, Jean ‘The Semiotics of Food in the Bible’ in Robert Forster and Orest Ranum (eds), Food and Drink in History London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

Other writings by John M Hull on the implications of the 1988 Education Reform Act for religious education

The Act Unpacked – The Meaning of the 1988 Education Reform Act for Religious Education CEM 1989.

‘Religion and the Education Reform Bill’ (editorial) British Journal of Religious Education Vol. 10, Summer 1988, pp. 119-121.

‘Religion in the Education Reform Bill’ (editorial) British Journal of Religious Education Vol. 11, Autumn 1988, pp. 1-3.

‘The Content of Religious Education and the 1988 Education Reform Act’ (editorial) British Joumal of Religious Education Vol. 11, Spring 1988, pp. 59-61, 91.

‘School Worship and the 1988 Education Reform Act’ (editorial) British Journal of Religious Education Vol. 11, Summer 1989, pp. 119-125.

‘Agreed Syllabuses since the 1988 Education Reform Act’ (editorial) British Journal of Religious Education Vol. 12, Autumn 1989, pp. 1-5.

‘Religious Worship and School Worship’ (editorial) British Joumal of Religious Education Vol. 12, Spring 1990, pp. 63-67.

‘Religious Education after the 1988 Education Reform Act’ (editorial) British Journal of Religious Education Vol. 13, Summer 1991, pp. 133-135.

‘Religious Education and Christian Values in the 1988 Education Reform Act’ Ecclesiastical Law Journal Vol. 7 No. 2, July 1990, pp. 63-81.

‘Should Agreed Syllabuses be mainly Christian?’ (editorial) British Journal of Religious Education Vol. 14, Autumn 1991, pp. 1-3, 65.

Agreed Syllabus Reform in Birmingham (CREDAR Lecture Series No. 3) School of Education, University of Birmingham, 1991.

‘Agreed Syllabuses and the Law’ Resource (Professional Council for Religious Education) Vol. 14, Autumn 1991, pp. 1-3.

Other titles in this series

#1 John M Hull, The Act Unpacked: the meaning of the 1988 Education Reform Act for religious education. 1989. 35 pages. ISBN 1851000607. £4.00 including p&p. This booklet offers clear explanations for each clause in the 1988 Education Reform Act which deals with religious education, collective worship and the duties of SACREs. An educational interpretation of the these clauses is offered against the background of recent developments in religious education.

#2 John M Hull, God-Talk with Young Children: notes for parents and teachers. 1991. 56 pages. ISBN 1851000240. Price £4.50 including p&p. More than thirty examples of theological conversation with children aged three to eight are discussed. The conversations are arranged around such themes as God, prayer, Jesus and the Bible.

John Hull Biography 2012

John M Hull taught in schools and colleges in his native country, Australia, and in England before becoming Professor of Religious Education in the University of Birmingham, the first chair of Religious Education in a British university. He was editor of the British Journal of Religious Education from 1971-96, and founder of the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values (ISREV), and was General Secretary from 1978-2010, when ISREV conferred upon him the title “President Emeritus”. He was Dean of the Faculty of Education and Continuing Studies from 1990-1993, and when he left his university post in 2002, he was granted the title “Emeritus Professor of Religious Education”. Since 2005 he has been Honorary Professor of Practical Theology in The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham, where he teaches Christian mission, and is the lead tutor for the programme social justice or prophetic witness. In addition to bachelor and master degrees in education and theology from Melbourne and Cambridge, he has degrees of PhD from the University of Birmingham and LittD from Cambridge, an Honorary Doctorate from the Free University of Amsterdam and an Honorary DTheol from Frankfort.

He is totally blind, having lost sight in 1980, and has written extensively about blindness. His writings on education, theology and disability are translated into more than a dozen languages. In July 2012 the RNIB granted him a life-long achievement award for his services to the literature of blindness and the Association of University Lecturers in Religion and Education awarded him life time honorary membership. His fourth book on blindness, “The Tactile Heart, Blindness and Faith” will be published in 2013.

His web site is www.johnmhull.biz.

John Hull, who was brought up in Australian Methodism, is a practising Anglican layperson and an elder of the United Reformed Church. He is married to Marilyn, who was head teacher of a Birmingham primary school until her retirement in 2012. They have five adult children.

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