A History of Experiential Placement Learning at Bath Spa University

A History of Experiential Placement Learning
at Bath Spa University


Bath Spa University has roots in the nineteenth century but its more recent origins lie in the Bath Teacher Training College that, in 1975, merged with Bath College of Domestic Science to create Bath College of Higher Education. The Bath Academy of Art joined the merged institution in 1983. In 1992, Bath College of Higher Education received degree- awarding powers followed, in 1997, by a change of name to Bath Spa University College. In 2005, on receipt of university status, Bath Spa University came into being.

Located in the context of a Higher Education institution with no particular religious affiliation, Study of Religions at Bath Spa University has a comparatively long history as part of teacher education before becoming part of subject-based degree programmes. The placement in a religious community dates from the mid-1970s and, while it has evolved in a number of ways, partly to accommodate larger student numbers, and has been located in different contexts, reflecting changing modes of delivery, the placement remains foundational.

Over the years, beginning with Donald Whittle and Heather Williamson who pioneered the experiential approach towards religion that continues to characterise Study of Religions at Bath Spa University, various members of staff have played a leading part in maintaining and developing the placement. Among them were Brian Bocking, now Professor and Head of Department at University College Cork, who succeeded Donald Whittle and Marion Bowman, now Head of Department at the Open University, who contributed her own considerable expertise in fieldwork.

The current staff, including Catherine Robinson who has worked on this project, and Denise Cush who has now retired, are deeply indebted to past colleagues for their role in ensuring that the placement in a religious community has remained a vital part of students’ experience for over thirty-five years.

This project arises out of our desire to improve the fieldwork placement for our own students, curiosity about what other departments were offering in terms of experiential learning and hope that good practice could be shared. Accordingly, our main project aim was to facilitate fieldwork placements in Theology and Religious Studies by producing a website containing research and resources, and encouraging dialogue between religious communities, tutors and students.