From bad to worse…

The more often I read the DfE’s proposed content for GCSE and A Level Religious Studies, the more I find that causes me real concern.

Tonight I copied the content of the three different elements of the proposed GCSE into the left hand column of a table and then pasted in the content of the three elements of the proposed AS/A Level.  There is an amazing amount of overlap between the GCSE and the AS content.

I thought that a central aim of this process was to move on from the narrow focus of existing Philosophy of Religion and Ethics courses, forcing students to get a broader understanding of the subject.  Why, then, has the subject matter of two of the three elements of the GCSE been almost entirely duplicated in the AS Level… and some of the content of the third option to boot?  Sure, the level expected will be higher at AS or A, but that does nothing to broaden students’ appreciation of the subject.

Imagine a Roman Catholic faith school.  Under the new proposals they will be able to do 50% Christianity and 25% Gospel at GCSE (with a token 25% of Judaism) and then do the same aspects of Christianity and the same aspects of the same Gospel at AS Level (though in greater depth) – is this really broader or more rigorous than the present system.  I think not.

You might like to try playing the matching game my 5 year old so much enjoys… find the best match for things in column 1 in column 2 and join the two together with a line…

Our subject area is remarkable for its breadth and diversity; why should we lurch from one over-narrow sequence of courses to another, less popular but potentially equally narrow sequence, when we could stipulate the study of quite different areas at GCSE and A Level and so give students a real flavour of what RS has to offer?  To use an analogy, what would we say if exam boards specified the same texts for English Literature at both GCSE and A Level, or the same periods of History?  It is not as if we don’t have plenty of choice in RS.  Why not specify 2 religions, in depth and including (alongside phenomenology) consideration of their origins, histories and ethical teaching in relation to some contemporary issues and their responses to the challenge of science, at GCSE and then open up Texts and the Philosophy of Religion at A Level?  It is a thought…

 

GCSE Content AS/A Content
STUDY OF RELIGIONS(2 religions 25%+25% or 50%+25%) beliefs and teachings of religion: beliefs about God, gods or ultimate reality; the role of communities of faith, key moral principles and the meanings and purposes of human life

  • sources of wisdom and authority: the nature, history and treatment of key religious texts or scriptures; and where appropriate, of key religious figures and/or teachers from the early history of the tradition and/or the modern age
  •  practices: the application of beliefs and teachings to the lives of modern believers including the study of places and forms of worship (as appropriate to each religion) rituals, prayer, meditation, festivals and celebrations, fasting, rites of passage, religious journeys and pilgrimage
  •  forms of expression and ways of life: the impact of beliefs on individuals, communities and societies through ways of life and moral codes, through art forms such as drama, dance, literature, architecture and music inspired by religions and belief, and the role of these art forms in worship or ritual
(1 religion, could be one studied for 50% of GCSE)religious beliefs, values and teaching in their diverse manifestations in history and in the contemporary world, including those linked to the nature and existence of God  or ultimate reality,  the role of the community of believers, key moral principles, beliefs about the self, death and afterlife, beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life

  •  sources of authority and wisdom including, where appropriate; scripture and/or sacred texts and how they are used and treated by believers; key religious figures and/or teachers and how they are regarded in relation to other sources of wisdom and authority
  •  practices including prayer/meditation, ritual, festivals and celebration
  •  forms of expression inspired and influenced by religion and religious belief

 

In addition at A level this includes the study of:

  • significant social and historical developments in theology or religious thought including the challenges of secularism, science, responses to pluralism and diversity within traditions, migration, the changing roles of men and women, feminist and liberationist approaches
  • a comparison of the work of at least two theologians/thinkers
  • two themes related to issues of identity and belonging for religious believers today such as dietary and dress codes, the compatibility of religious and other forms of identity, issues of equality in the freedom to practice a religion
  • religious tolerance, respect and recognition, interfaith dialogue and the ways that religious traditions view other religious traditions and their truth-claims
  • how developments in beliefs and practices have, over time, influenced and been influenced by developments in philosophical, ethical and social scientific studies of religion or by textual interpretation
TEXTUAL STUDIES 

  • the significance, importance and impact of stories and/or parables that communicate religious, moral and spiritual truths. How varied interpretations of the meaning of such texts may give rise to diversity within traditions  (textual study only)
  •  the significance, importance and impact of religious texts as a source for religious law making and codes for living in the 21st century. How varied interpretations of the meaning of these sources may give rise to diversity within traditions (textual study only)
  •  how far communities give authority to such texts especially in relation to other sources of contemporary authority
  •   how varied interpretations of the meaning of such texts may give rise to diversity within traditions
  •  the significance, importance and impact of the texts for individuals, communities and societies
  •  accounts in texts of key events in the lives of founders or important religious figures, their significance and impact, including on life in the 21st century. How varied interpretations of the meaning of such texts may give rise to diversity within traditions (textual study only) 

 

 

examining the meaning of the material, its literary features, ideas, authorship and audience and its relationship with other texts and/or sources of wisdom and authority from the religion.

  • legal/ theological/ ethical content and the role of a text or texts in religious law making and codes for living
  •  issues that arise from the formation, transmission and translation of the text(s)
  • the origin, social and historical context of the text(s)
  •  the ways in which the text(s) are interpreted and used by religious communities and how these have changed over time
  • the religious, cultural and other significance of the text(s) including its reception and influence beyond a religious community

 

  1. In addition at A level this includes the study of:
  • modern and historical commentary on the selected texts, including allegorical or other interpretations
  • methods and methodology in interpretation
  • the scientific and historical-critical challenges to the authority of texts and religious responses to these
  • modern critical scholarship including different contemporary approaches, religious and non-religious, to the primary text or corpus, and the religious or intellectual assumptions that underpin them
  • how textual interpretations have, over time, influenced and been influenced by developments in philosophical, ethical and social scientific studies of religion or developments in religious thought (as set out above for systematic study of religion)
PHILOSOPHY, ETHICS, SOCIAL SCIENCE 

  • relationships and families, religious teachings about the nature and purpose of families in the 21st century, sex, marriage, cohabitation and divorce. Issues related to the nature and purpose of families; roles of men and women; equality; gender prejudice and discrimination. How varied interpretations of sources and/or of teachings may give rise to diversity within traditions (textual study or religious, philosophical and ethical studies in the modern world)

 

  • religious views of the world, including their relationship to scientific views; beliefs about death and an afterlife; explanations of the origins of the universe. How varied interpretations of sources and/or of teachings may give rise to diversity within traditions. (textual study or religious, philosophical and ethical studies in the modern world)

 

  • the existence of God, gods and ultimate reality, and ways in which God, gods or ultimate reality might be understood; through revelation, visions, miracles or enlightenment. How varied interpretations of sources or of teachings may give rise to diversity within traditions. (textual study or religious, philosophical and ethical studies in the modern world)

 

  • religion, peace and conflict; violence, war, pacifism, terrorism, just war theory, holy war; the role of religion and belief in 21st century conflict and peace making; the concepts of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation (religious, philosophical and ethical studies in the modern world only)

 

  1. crime and punishment; causes of crime, aims of punishment, the concepts of forgiveness, retribution, deterrence, reformation; the death penalty, treatment of criminals; good, evil and suffering (religious, philosophical and ethical studies in the modern world only)

 

  • dialogue within and between religions and non-religious beliefs; how those with religious and non-religious beliefs respond to critiques of their beliefs including the study of a range of attitudes towards those with different religious views – inclusivist, exclusivist and pluralist approaches (religious, philosophical and ethical studies in the modern world only)

 

  • religion, human rights and social justice; issues of equality and freedom of religion or belief; prejudice and discrimination in religion and belief; human rights; wealth and poverty; racial prejudice and discrimination (religious, philosophical and ethical studies in the modern world only)
 

 

 

 

  • philosophical issues and questions raised by religion and belief including at least two contrasting arguments about: the existence and non-existence of God, gods or ultimate reality; the nature and impact of religious experience; the problems of evil and suffering

 

  • two ethical theories such as utilitarianism and virtue ethics and their application to issues related and applied to religious belief such as matters of life and death, poverty and world development

 

  • two contrasting approaches to religion and religious experience chosen from the fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology

 

  1. In addition at A level this includes the study of:
  • how views of religious language have changed over time; the challenges posed by the verification/falsification debate and language games theory over whether religious language should be viewed cognitively; and a consideration of at least two different views about talk about God being understood symbolically and analogically.

 

  • a comparison of the key ideas presented in works of at least two key scholars selected from the fields of the philosophy of religion, religious ethics and/or social scientific study of religion and developments in the way these ideas are applied to contemporary issues in religion and belief

 

  • how philosophical, ethical and social scientific studies have, over time, influenced and been influenced by developments in religious beliefs and practices or textual interpretation
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