Interview with Donald Whittle

Interview with Donald Whittle

Donald Whittle was one of the pioneers of Study of Religions at Bath Spa University, then known as Bath College of Higher Education, leading religious and philosophical studies between 1967 and 1985. Along with Heather Williamson, he was responsible for taking students to a range of religious centres and for establishing the placement programme where students stay for a week in a religious community.

In conversation with Denise Cush, then subject leader for religion, philosophy and ethics, Donald Whittle shares his memories of the 1970s and the reasons why experiential learning was accorded such importance.

In Memoriam: Donald Whittle

It is with great sadness that we learned of the sudden death of Donald Whittle on December 2nd, 2014. Donald was a member of academic staff at Bath College of Higher Education from 1967 until 1985. He led Religious and Philosophical Studies within the teacher education degrees offered at that time. With his colleague, Heather Williamson, he was a pioneer in the subjects of Religious Education and Religious and Philosophical Studies. Examples of this include his key role in the development of the 1970 Bath Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education in schools that was remarkable at the time for proposing that ‘in a pluralistic society there must be an attempt to understand views other than Christianity (e.g. Humanism, Communism, Buddhism)’. This syllabus predated the more famous 1975 Birmingham Agreed Syllabus that made national headlines for similar suggestions. Although Buddhism and other world religions came to be represented more widely in the Religious Education syllabuses nationwide, it was not until 2004 that official guidance mentioned the inclusion of secular worldviews.

Donald gained a national reputation for an inclusive and experiential pedagogy that saw him mentioned in the definitive history of Religious Education in this country (see Terence Copley’s Teaching Religion: Fifty Years of Religious Education in England and Wales, University of Exeter Press, 1997). Another enduring legacy – especially for Bath Spa University – is the introduction in the 1970s of experiential learning in the form of fieldwork placements with religious communities as an essential part of a Religious Studies programme, still a distinctive feature of Study of Religions and Religions, Philosophies and Ethics degrees at Bath Spa. This website stems directly from the tradition he started.