Religion, spirituality and state-funded schooling: Revisiting a fractured relationship with guidance from Habermas

Jacqueline Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Habermas recommends that post-secular societies re-examine their relationship with religion to give religious and spiritual voice a place in the public sphere, a place denied by secularism. This article re-examines one aspect of that broader field, the relationship between religion or spirituality and publicly funded education. Recent interest in faith schools, particularly in the UK and USA, has raised questions about whether the secular, or common, school continues to be the best model for publicly funded education. Meanwhile, anxiety about religion, and concern to develop religious, spiritual and cultural understanding, have raised international awareness of the potential value of religious and spiritual education which, in some countries, is not permitted in publicly funded schools. This article draws on the work of Habermas to argue that post-secular liberal democracies should revisit and rework the relationship between religion and publicly funded schools and aim to include the religious and spiritual without undermining core liberal democratic principles. The article discusses both the role of religious or spiritual education in the post-secular common school, and post-secular liberal democracy’s relationship with faith schools, that is schools which are motivated by a spiritual worldview. The argument is framed by secular liberal democratic principles put forward in the 1980s by Terence McLaughlin and concludes that, in post-secular liberal democracies, publicly funded schools should subscribe to a revised form of McLaughlin’s principles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-202
Number of pages17
JournalJournal for the Study of Spirituality
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • faith schools
  • liberal democracy
  • post-secular society
  • religious education
  • spiritual education

Cite this