This article sheds light on the factors that contributed to the development of ‘multifaith’ Religious Education (RE) in Zambia after 1964. Our analysis makes a contribution to the discourse on inter-religious RE in Zambia by demonstrating how Zambia became a multifaith society, a context in which political statements and ideologies have influenced the framing of the aim, and selection of, the content of the subject. Research for this article consisted of interviews with Christian missionaries who shared with us their involvement in developing, teaching and evaluating standards of the teaching of RE. We also carried out an appraisal of literature related to the topic so as to complement our arguments.

Contrary to widely held perceptions which attribute RE to the missionaries’ influence, this article argues that Christian missionaries, immigrants and local politics all had their own influence on the move to develop a ‘multifaith’ RE. Missionaries developed the kind of RE that responded to Zambia’s religious context, local politics, the multiracial, multicultural and multifaith situation in the country, and invested their time, energy and money in the subject. These efforts to move towards ‘multifaith’ RE were challenged by internal and external forces. In the context of shifting political ideologies, the current nature and content of RE has been challenged to reflect a multifaith RE which mirrors the religious context of the country.

We argue that Zambian scholars of RE can learn a number of valuable lessons from the missionaries such as their hard work and passion to ensure that RE remains a curriculum subject with required books. As the next RE research agenda in Zambia, we propose researching on the subject in terms of its rationale and its educational basis.