A Short Case for R.E. in a Secular Britain

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A-level Religious Studies By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: A-level Religious Studies
Last updated: 22/06/2016
Tags: a levels, a-level religious studies, philosphy, religion, theology

Religion is an umbrella term.

Every object of human study has been included within it: ethics, philosophy, politics, jurisprudence and law, literature, psychology, sociology, science and of course, most centrally, the question of death and meaning. Questions within all these fields have, rightly or wrongly, at some point in history been given religious answers.

What is the legal system? A Hasidic Jew will answer ‘the Torah’ (the law of Moses found in the Hebrew bible and expanded on in the Talmud). What is the best system of government? A Catholic of the Middle Ages might have answered ‘one whose temporal power is under the pope’s jurisdiction’. What are the most beautiful words that have ever been written on paper? Muslims will very often respond ‘the Holy Quran’.

For the entirety of human history and for billions of people (both alive today and those who have been dead for hundreds or thousands of years), religion has been a central reservoir of answers and therefore of meaning. This is why the study of religion is in general, I believe, a duty of every single conscientious person, particularly those hoping to enter into further education, whatever the faith or lack thereof of the student. To reject theological studies, is, in a sense, rejecting dialogue with alien cultures and rejecting continuity with history precisely because this lens of religion has been the only way to view the world for innumerable cultures throughout history and countless people even today.

Of course, as is known, western society (and British society as a prominent example of it) is increasingly secularised and traditional religion more and more discarded with each successive generation. Contrary to the idea that this minimises the need for religious studies, I believe it makes it more urgent; if the religious person has become someone else rather than a group which we ourselves belong to, the need to approach that person on their own terms and the attempt to see the world as they see it becomes an immediate duty in order to avoid a patronising cultural imperialism. Similarly, for those who keep to their faith, the study of religion is a chance both for a deeper appreciation of exactly what they believe while simultaneously being a stimulation to inter-religious dialogue, a project desperately needed in a violent world.

Scientia est potestas; ‘knowledge is power’. While the scientific knowledge which Francis Bacon was describing with this quote is, undoubtedly, ‘power’ over the natural world and therefore a degree of control of our own destiny (only a degree…); the kind of interpersonal understanding which is generated by the study of religion is the power to understand people. Psychology objectively studies the mind like an external observer, revealing to the person what they were unaware of about the operation of their own consciousness; religion is studying people as they themselves see the world, as their minds function and is consciously aware of. And for this religion is unique. A common complaint against philosophy is that it is too ethereal, detached from the real world and entrenched in a stuffy scholarly nebular of circularities and meaningless aphorisms. I personally disagree with this position but I can understand why it's made and being honest, I would be surprised if any person ever became a better, more moral person through the study of philosophical ethics.

The reason that I would agree, on the other hand, that the study of religion and theology is more urgent than philosophy, for example, is (as I have been arguing in this article) that religion is so relevant to so many lives. For every person that seeks comfort reading Satre, there are a million that open a bible. For that reason alone, studying the bible (just one example of studying religion), is engaging with billions of people on their level, connecting with their pain and their joy, and understanding where they find their comfort as well as their hope.

Of course, this is all rather grandiose if I'm arguing specifically that you need to study Religious Studies as a A level (as a Religious Studies tutor myself, claiming ‘if you don't study the subject I teach you are a cultural imperialist’ would truly be a laughable piece of self-promotion!). Instead I am arguing two things, firstly that the study of religion in general is one of the most exciting, noble and worthwhile academic ventures, whatever one’s own beliefs. Secondly (this is where I come in…) that for a young student about to enter sixth form, or for those deciding on which GCSEs they want to to take, taking R.E is a good way in which to study the subject systematically, and as I have stated, for many reasons, studying the subject systematically has never been more urgent.

Harrie Bamford-Lyons A-level Religious Studies Tutor (West London)

About The Author

Hi! My name is Harrie Lyons and I am 21 years old. I believe actions speak louder than words, so I have offered money back to any student not satisfied with their first lesson. So far I haven't had to give back anything!

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