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Does the Body Matter? Effects of Body-Based Learning in Religious Education

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Given present-day conditions, pupils today have fewer religious experiences than their classmates of previous generations — and this is a challenge to religious education in public schools. In consequence, many in Germany are opting for a “performative” religious education. The aim of this didactic approach is to offer pupils an encounter with religious practice. It replaces mere knowledge about religion with experience of religion. In this context the pupil’s body becomes an elementary medium of learning. However, the performative approach has not as yet been empirically evaluated. Does it make a difference in religious education? The ELLRU Project researched this question by means of a quasi-experimental design: 624 4th-graders (average age: 9,16 years; denomination: 81% Protestant, 8% Catholic, 11% none) in 31 Bavarian classrooms completed two curricula, one about Moses and one about Martin Luther. Half the children were taught by performative methods and the other half by methods based purely on the imagination. Results were assessed by one pre-test and a post-test after each curriculum; a post-test at the end of school year checked on the sustainability of the two approaches. The results show few differences. They do not suggest that performative learning is a master method in religious education. But they do identify distinct didactic constellations in which performative learning helps pupils to understand religious stories and convictions better.

Affiliations: 1: University of Siegen Germany, Email:; 2: University of Regensburg Germany, Email:; 3: University of Siegen Germany, Email:


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