Religious Studies does not require any personal religious commitment; it is about the ‘academic study of religion’ and is not ‘educating pupils to be religious’! The nature of the course will appeal to pupils wherever they are on a ‘spectrum of belief’ – from those with a strong religious faith in a world religion, to agnostics, atheists and humanists. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates famously stated that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Hence the course will attract pupils with enquiring minds who are interested in the intellectual exploration of fundamental Philosophical, Ethical (Moral) and Theological (Religious) questions of human life such as: If God exists, why is there evil in the world? How do we know what is right or wrong? Is religion a force for good or bad in the world?
6 in one of the following GCSE subjects: Religious Studies, English Language, English Literature or History.
The course enables learners to adopt an enquiring, critical and reflective approach to the way in which Philosophy, Ethics and Theology influence life. By studying a wide range of issues pupils will find that the topics have relevance to many careers, as well as helping them to engage with some major questions of human existence. Questions such as: Does God exist, and how can we know? Do science and religion complement each other? Can we trust ancient texts such as the Bible? Why is there something rather than nothing? Who was Jesus? Does religion discriminate against women? Should businesses be moral? Is there gender equality in society? Is Marxism a helpful ideology? Is euthanasia moral? Do humans have free will? Is one religion better than another? Do miracles happen? What ethical principles should guide our lives? Can businesses be moral? How should human beings behave sexually? Would society be better or worse without religion? Are human beings good or evil? What happens when we die? These are just a sample of the myriad of questions that the course tackles.
Central to the course is the study of some of the most famous philosophers, thinkers and theologians in world history such as: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Stuart Mill, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, David Hume, Martin Luther, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
The course is taught by three specialist teachers and there are three written examinations at the end of the Upper Sixth; namely a two-hour paper in each component – Philosophy, Ethics and Theology – in which pupils will need to construct their own arguments within a series of essays.
Pupils of Philosophy, Ethics and Theology have sometimes been called ‘conceptual engineers’ – those who analyse human thinking to ensure that ideas and arguments have strong ‘foundations’ and solid ‘structures’. Thus the A-level course enables pupils to develop a range of intellectual skills which are highly valued by universities and employers such as: independent critical thinking; empathy and openness to diverse views; the ability to construct and defend logical arguments; identifying false premises and invalid reasoning; thinking and problem solving; writing skills and clarity of expression.
However, the subject also expects and encourages wide-ranging discussion and debate in the classroom – ‘soft skills’ which are not formally examined, but which are useful in all walks of life and enable pupils to build self-confidence and powers of expression.
Far from being a ‘soft’ option (a common misconception from a bygone era), Religious Studies is academically rigorous. It features on the list of good choices for Arts and Social Sciences courses at the University of Cambridge as well as being recognized by the Russell Group of universities. A-level can lead to Single Honours degrees in Philosophy or Theology at most major UK universities, or it will enable pupils to study a Joint Honours degree, for example Philosophy and English, or Theology and History. In addition, because of its academic standing at universities RS A-level will not be a barrier to accessing the vast majority of Higher Education courses.
For Philosophy and Theology graduates there is a wide range of possible career paths, which according to UCAS encompasses: Law, Education, Journalism and the Media, Social and Pastoral Care, Government, Publishing, Charity Work, Personnel, Business, Computer and Information Technology, Teaching and in all contexts where precision, clarity and high level abstract planning and analysis are required; hence it is excellent preparation for all Management and Leadership roles.
Rev Dr R J Warden, Head of Religious Studies and Foundation Chaplain