“The life unexamined is not worth living.”
Aims and Philosophy
In Religious Studies we aim to develop inquiring minds that are open to new ideas as well as being able to critically engage with them. Our aim is to take students on a journey through religion, ethics and philosophy in order to help them develop a better understanding of the world around them and what motivates humans to constantly examine life and question the nature of their own existence.
Inside the classroom we are asking all of life’s big questions: Is there life after death? Do we have a soul? Does life have a meaning? How should we live? Does God exist? Is there such a thing as right and wrong, and how can we know which is which? The discussions students have in RS lessons continue out into the corridor, into common rooms and over dinner. We therefore have the privilege of watching our students develop into original and insightful thinkers.
Key Stage 3
In Key Stage 3 each form spends one term studying a religion, one studying an ethical issue and one tackling a philosophical problem. Of course these three are often interlinked and, as a result, students are ready to begin their GCSE studies with a good understanding of how beliefs impact actions.
When students come into Form I they are plunged straight into the Philosophy unit ‘Ultimate Questions’ which explores identity, life after death, the soul and creation accounts. By the time they begin their GCSE studies 3 years later they will have explored the religions of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, considered the problem of evil and asked God, are you out there? as well as considering how humans can (and if they should) respond to issues such as poverty, animal rights and environmental damage. The Tulipzer Prize is awarded in Form III to our most promising philosopher.
GCSE Religious Studies provides students with a range of transferable skills such as developing arguments, critical analysis, problem solving and essay writing. In addition, the content of the topics naturally encourages students to empathise with others, as well as reflect on their values and what place they intend to take in the world in which they live.
We use OCR World Religions and have chosen to study four units that capture a range of what the subject has to offer: a module in Theology (Mark’s gospel), a module about religious beliefs and practices (Christianity 2) and two modules in contemporary issues (Ethics and World Perspectives).
Experience shows us that students from a variety of religious, social and cultural backgrounds will all find topics that are relevant to their lives and raise profound questions for them. The course provides students with many opportunities to discuss and explore their own beliefs, whether these involve a faith position or not.
In the A Level Religious Studies course we use AQA to teach Ethics at AS and Philosophy of Religion at A2. At AS we explore Utilitarianism, Situation ethics, Kantian ethics, Natural Moral Law theory and modern ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, the environment, bullfighting and the use of torture. At A2 we look at mind, soul and body, life after death, near death experiences, the problem of evil and religious experience.
Students learn how to demonstrate critical analysis in writing and support their conclusions with convincing and insightful arguments. Many RS students have said their written English has improved dramatically because of the sophistication in style they develop through their essay work. However, teaching and learning is also done through art work, displays, making films, interviews, giving presentations, building machines and even by spending a week living by the ethical theories studied.
Students of RS often go on to study Religious Studies, Philosophy and Theology at university.
Beyond the Classroom
Extra-curricular clubs run by the department have always proven to be very popular and successful. In 2012-2013, our LVI Philosophy prefect ran the Junior Philosophy Club (commonly known as the Pheadache Club because of the ‘philosophy headache’ students complained of afterwards), which was open to thinkers from Forms I and II. The Ideas Society, which ran in the same year and attracted students from Forms III, IV and V, promoted discussion of ideas both famous and obscure from a range of disciplines including philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology and politics.
In 2013-2014, students from Forms IV and V ran Life’s Big Questions, where they met to discuss key events in the week’s news and reduce these to four to five thought provoking questions, which went up on a board in the corridor. Passing students were invited to offer their answers to those questions, the best of which were judged weekly by the club’s members. The best answers received the coveted ‘comment of the week’ award.
In 2015-2016, the RS Department launched PEPS: Philosophy, Ethics, Psychology and Sociology. This is a discussion group based around these subjects with topics such as Nature vs Nurture, The Psychopathic Gene and The Philosophy of Harry Potter’. The main point is to allow students to open their minds and think. A smattering of chocolate and film clips often helps to spark the debate!
Both the classroom and the library are well stocked with journals, films and original religious and philosophical texts, which students from all year groups are encouraged to borrow to enrich and deepen their studies.