The Use of Foucauldian Discourse Analysis to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Religious Education Pedagogy 

This is the title of the paper I prepared for the Third International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society. The Conference was held at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona on 8-9 March, 2013. You can access the paper here. The paper has been peer-reviewed and published in Volume 3, Issue 3 of The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

The Application of FDA to the Teaching of Religious Education 


The task of writing a religious education text provides a timely opportunity to explore the use of Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) to evaluate the text and the pedagogy built into its structure. FDA will be used in two ways: first, to monitor how the content is delivered (pedagogy), and second, to guide the construction of the text so that students' dignity as learners is enhanced. The structure of the analysis, and particularly the analytic concepts, will be used to design the content and pedagogical strategies of the unit of work. It is hoped the outcome will be a text that will engage learners in their own religious quest as well as assist them to understand and appreciate certain aspects of the Catholic faith.

The Catholic Bishops of Western Australia have mandated the use of religious education texts developed by the Catholic Education Office of Western Australia (CEOWA) for use in Catholic schools in their dioceses. The decision has been taken to focus attention on the Year 9 syllabus, which has four units, one for each Term of the school year. The first unit is titled "The Human Search for Truth" and its focus is on what God reveals about how adolescents can develop intellectually. 

The average length of a school term in Western Australia is ten weeks. In the school for which the proposed text is being written, the decision has been taken to shorten the unit length to seven weeks. Therefore, only the main ideas (referred to as "key understandings") will be addressed in the text. 

What is FDA?

Willig (2008) describes discursive objects, action orientation, positioning, practice and subjectivity as analytic concepts. 

Discursive objects are the themes or foci of discourses used to construct a personal worldview. 

Action orientation refers to the indicators of personal stance(s) being taken in statements about discursive objects, which prompt questions about motives for recalling events related to the discursive objects. 

Positioning identifies subjects within the structure of rights and responsibilities – as will be shown in the analysis, the positions adopted by parents and children regarding Sunday Mass attendance. 

Practice refers to the ways in which “discursive constructions and the subject positions contained within them open up or close down opportunities for action” (Willig 2008, 116). By constructing particular versions of the world, and by positioning subjects within them in particular ways, discourses limit what can be said and done. 

Finally, subjectivity, describes what is “felt, thought and experienced from within various subject positions” (Willig 2008, 117). These concepts will be used as guides to the data analysis. 

Applying Discursive Objects to the Teaching / Learning Situation 

Discursive objects are the themes or foci of discourses used to construct a personal worldview. The theme of the unit - the human search for truth - suggests the discursive object under consideration in this example. In FDA, "the first stage of analysis involves the identification of the different ways in which the discursive object is constructed in the text" (Willig, 2008, p.115). 

The discursive object does not - and often is not - have to be stated explicitly. Nor does it have to be presented with the same set of terms each time.