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Morality, Religion, Character, and Virtue Education: Unravelling the ‘Minefield’

Morality, Religion, Character, and Virtue Education: Unravelling the ‘Minefield’

For decades the terms morality, religion, character, and virtue have been used interchangeably within the academic literature. Consequently, in education, they have also been synonymous within policies and various curricula around the world. The overlapping nature of these concepts has led to the language used being described plainly by Berkowitz (2016) as a ‘semantic minefield’.

This raises one question to ponder: do we really need to distinguish between these four terms?

In his own blog, Berkowitz (2016) stated that when it comes to this domain of education, you can ‘call it what you will’. If it is implemented effectively then it shouldn’t matter if it is defined as moral, religious, character or virtue education.  Is that enough in today’s education system?

Within the context of the Scottish education system alone, there is a need to highlight the differences between at least two of these terms: religion and morality. Historically, morality and religion have been deeply interconnected with one curricular area even combining these terms as Religious and Moral Education (Education Scotland, 2023). However, a rise in secularism within Scotland has been published by the Humanist Society (2022). The survey carried out by YouGov found that over half of their respondents identified as having ‘no religion’. Furthermore, Nixon and colleagues (2021) found similar identifications amongst secondary school educators in Scotland. Therefore, these findings highlight that now may be the time to define these terms individually.

My own ongoing thesis aims to examine the implementation of moral education in Scottish primary schools. One early finding emphasises that educators are in search for clarification around these key terminologies.

Therefore, morality, religion, character, and virtue have long been used interchangeably both in literature and policies. But is now the time we being to unravel this ‘minefield’ of terminology to further understand and implement these areas of education?


Berkowitz, W. M., 2016. Navigating the semantic minefield of promoting moral development. [online] Available at:  Accessed 5th January 2024.

Education Scotland, 2023. Religious and moral education. [online] Available at:  Accessed 5th January 2024.

Humanist Society Scotland, 2022. Non-religious people encouraged to ‘be honest’ about their beliefs in 2022 census. [online] Available at: Accessed 10th January 2024. Nixon, G., Smith, D. and Fraser-Pearce, J., 2021. Irreligious educators? An empirical study of the academic qualification, (a)theistic positionality, and religious belief of religious education teachers in England and Scotland. Religions, 12(3). pp. 184

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