Professor Berry Billingsley gives us an insight into the Epistemic Insight Initiative:

What insights do we expect young people to call on when they address the big questions of life and the universe? How can schools prepare young people for a world that is awash with false facts and exaggerated headlines – and equip them with the best ideas and strategies we can offer to help them make decisions rationally and compassionately? What strategies can schools use to give future great minds of science and other disciplines the inspiration and stimulus they need?

Big Questions are questions about the nature of reality and human personhood and some examples of puzzles today include, can a robot be a good companion, can and should genetic engineering be used to make better people, why does life and the universe exist and to what extent is it true to say, ‘you are what you eat’?

These questions bridge science, religion and the wider humanities and are frequently squeezed out of school education because they do not fit into single-discipline subject boxes. They are also squeezed out because they raise issues that are perceived as controversial. And yet these are questions where great scholarly and technological advances are being made and where the conclusions and outputs affect the lives of individuals and society.

The Epistemic Insight Initiative is developing a new approach to teaching the school curriculum by carrying out research in schools and by drawing on the help of trainee teachers. The Epistemic Insight Initiative is particularly interested in students’ capacities to ask and explore Big Questions.

Teaching epistemic insight goes hand in hand with teaching a knowledge-rich, broad and balanced curriculum. We will explore ways to build students’ understanding of different types of disciplinary knowledge and what happens when they are brought to bear on questions that bridge subjects and disciplines.

The Epistemic Insight Initiative will involve eight Higher Education institutions, led by Canterbury Christ Church University, with funding from the Templeton World Charity Foundation, the Royal Academy of Engineering, The National Collaborative Outreach Programme and All Saints Education Trust. The LASAR (Learning about Science and Religion) team and the Faculty of Education have been awarded more than £1.5 million to carry out the research. The Initiative launches on Thursday 16th May with an event for students of all ages at Canterbury Christ Church University. This will showcase some of the activities on offer to schools for formal and informal learning (such as outreach events, clubs and homework). This includes a conference for schools at Westminster Abbey on 12th February 2020.

Through the research we will provide a Framework for Education for use in primary and secondary schools. Already drafted, this explains, key stage by key stage, how to develop students’ expressed curiosity about Big Questions and their capacities to be wise about how knowledge is and can be formed and tested within subjects and across them. In these ways the Epistemic Insight Initiative will develop and test strategies designed to help schools to:

  • Develop students’ curiosity and capacity to express questions that bridge disciplines and subjects including Big Questions (questions about the nature of reality and personhood that bridge science, religion and the wider humanities)
  • Explain the characteristics, potential and limitations of a range of disciplines and areas of knowledge, how they interact to inform our thinking about different types of questions and why the framing of questions matters.
  • Design, carry out and evaluate enquiries that demonstrate a growing ability to think more deeply, compassionately and critically about Big Questions.


Contact Professor Berry Billingsley, Professor of Science Education and Principal Investigator for LASAR (Learning about Science and Religion).

For more information, see,