Research in Science Education

, Volume 49, Issue 5, pp 1301–1317 | Cite as

Student Agency in Negotiating the Relationship Between Science and Religion

  • Kok-Sing TangEmail author
  • Xiangyu Yang


Research examining the relationship between science and religion has often painted a narrative of conflict for students with various religious beliefs. The purpose of this paper is to present a counter-narrative based on a study carried out in Singapore, which provides a unique multi-ethnic and multi-religious environment and geopolitical context to study the phenomenon. Informed by the theories of collateral learning, situated cognition and agency, the study examined how a group of high school biology students viewed and negotiated the relationship between biological evolution and their beliefs in Christianity. Case study methodology and semi-structured interviews were used to generate thick descriptions of their views. Findings from the study illustrate how the students exhibited agency in deliberately creating multiple resolution mechanisms as they recognised and negotiated the conceptual and social tensions between the worldviews of evolution and creationism. The findings suggest that the students exhibited more agency in resolving the perceived conflict between science and religion than we tend to ascribe based on previous interpretative accounts that emphasised confrontation, alienation and marginalisation. The implication is that students’ agency in negotiating the differing worldviews between science and religion should be seen as a resource for the learning of evolution, rather than a hindrance.


Agency Religion Evolution Multi-culturalism 



We wish to express our gratitude to the students and teachers who participated in this study as well as Aik-Ling Tan and Yew-Jin Lee for their useful comments on an earlier version of this paper. The views expressed in this paper are the authors’ and do not represent the views of their affiliations.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationCurtin University of TechnologyBentleyAustralia
  2. 2.National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

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