I wonder if you have ever been engaged in the educational ‘game’ of tipping out the contents of your pocket or bag to be analysed by your peers — in the manner of hypothetical archaeologists — for what they reveal of your life-style, your value systems or even your deeply held beliefs . . . Or perhaps you have given a farewell speech for a dear colleague and you have trembled at the prospect of summing up their achievements and experiences . . . Some of these sensations infused the initial task of selecting for a retrospective volume articles from the annual Journal (which began formally in 1978).

Among Working Party members, the project quickly became known as “The Best of Shap” and we certainly knew which articles had been most in demand over the years. A small survey of cross-phase teachers who had been looking at the way religion is portrayed in print revealed other pieces of rare reflection. Many colleagues also felt that some items should be included which indicated the development in R.E. over the twenty year period — a development in which the Working Party has had a guiding hand. Still there were some glaring omissions in the anthology so two articles were especially commissioned for this volume. So we began to talk about “The Shape of Shap” — when we could pronounce it, that is!

A lively collection has resulted. It focuses on some aspects of religion which have not been written about elsewhere or which are generally inaccessible; it permits a healthy tension between contributions within some of the sections on religions; it offers academic rigour and child’s-eye viewpoints, both sensitivity and dynamism. No attempt has been made to impose a house style and while this may have produced some idiosyncrasies, it has also given individual writers a great deal of scope. This had made for some very authentic writing. Indeed, all the contributors whose original work was selected were invited to revisit it and some made substantial changes. R.E. has long been understood as a process not a product and this book bears witness to the fact that we never arrive; we are always arriving

In only one aspect of the material has there been an editorial stamp — that concerning ‘technical terms’. In some publications religious vocabulary from a non- English language is italicised or slipped between inverted commas or perhaps bolded. The result is that by and large Christian words — which are usually in English — are treated as matter-of-fact while others are made into a special case. It is an artificial state of affairs in the history of religions and I suggest a norm-and-deviation model which is offensive in the language of world religions today. In this publication all terms are ‘normal’ and italics are used only to emphasise meaning.

Another unifying factor is the art work. The illustrator has used the same basic style throughout and has connected the sections with certain running motifs. She has tried to balance this commonality by eliciting the particular qualities of each tradition or each educational aspect. The intention is a theme of diversity within unity. In the case of the illustrations of religious traditions, she has selected a central image and embedded it in contextualised details drawn from the articles she is depicting. To be fully appreciated, the art belongs with the words.

Shap has been Working very hard for twenty years; this book is a bit of the Party.

by the Editor Angela Wood

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