The RS and Philosophy Department has a unique and vital role in the intellectual life of the School – we empower students to form and evaluate their own beliefs in critical relation to those of others. We invite pupils to wrestle with questions about the meaning, value and purpose of ultimate reality, calling upon them not only to justify their opinions with wisdom and clarity, but to appreciate and value the differences and perspectives of others in a complexly religious and secular world.
Religious studies is part of the core curriculum in Years 7 to 9. Pupils opting to take a qualification in the subject begin the IGCSE in Year 10, and may choose to take an A level in religious studies or a Pre-U in philosophy and theology in the Sixth Form.
- Learning journey - Years 7 to 9
In Year 7, students begin the year by investigating the philosophical debates which surround morality. They start by considering such things as the notion of absolute and relative morality before moving on to learn about different approaches to making moral decisions. During the course of the year they will also investigate: the nature and importance of sacred space; the meaning of Christmas; the significance of worship in Hinduism; how different narratives can help to understand the Easter Story and its importance for Christianity; and whether Buddhism can solve suffering. Throughout the year we encourage them to develop and use their dialogic skills in order to have meaningful discussions about every topic covered. They will also learn the skills needed to describe, explain, and evaluate concepts and beliefs. We aim to enable pupils to develop the crucial ability to empathise with, respect, and learn from perspectives and ideas which are different from their own.
Year 8 students spend their three terms in RS trying to dispel the myths, misnomers, and misunderstandings about Islam and Judaism which pervade western media and culture. Having learnt that there is a point to religion in the first half of term, pupils go on to gain an understanding of what it is really like to be a Muslim or a Jew in the twenty-first century through a range of creative and more formally academic activities, using figures such as Malala Yusufzai as case studies. In the second half of the year pupils continue to explore controversial topics, considering why some religions get such bad press, how religious views can help – and hinder – international development and diplomacy. The year is rounded off by investigating the work of the Cambridge Interfaith Project, asking whether a close study of ancient texts (The Bible, Torah, and Qur’an) can have any effect in reaching peaceful settlements in the modern world. The lessons and homeworks build on the skills inculcated in Year 7, and – we hope – their tolerance and understanding of religious diversity will have been extended.
In Year 9 students undertake a year-long study of philosophy, engaging with the great thinkers from Aristotle to Russell, and focusing on three key enquiry questions in relation to which they must develop their own beliefs and opinions. In the Michaelmas term students respond to the question of ‘what is right and wrong?’ (moral philosophy); during the Lent term they wrestle with the theory of knowledge (epistemology), asking ‘what can we know for sure?’; and in the Summer term pupils examine the rationality of religious faith, asking ‘does God exist?’ (philosophy of religion). During each enquiry phase pupils are given the chance to relate the study of philosophy to a range of popular culture novels and films including the philosophy of Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Batman, The Matrix, and many more!
- Learning journey - IGCSE
Students have the option to begin the IGCSE in Year 10.
The IGCSE course comprises a study of the role and influence of religious and non-religious beliefs, values and traditions. It is far from traditional – the course aims to open up some key areas of thought and introduce philosophical questions and skills, and considers the history of thought and how different eras have formed new ideas and possibilities.
We explore issues such as abortion and euthanasia, arguments for the existence of God, religious texts and sources of authority, and the problem of evil.
The course is divided into two distinct sections: beliefs and values (philosophy and ethics) and the religious community (exploring religious practice).
- Providing stretch
Students wishing to take their learning further can carry out one of the optional investigations set each term, from finding a recipe for challah (Jewish ceremonial bread) and baking it at home to surveying people for the five words they believe sum up their identity.
Trips can help bring religion to life by enabling pupils to experience sacred spaces and to meet those who practice the faith they are exploring. From living a day in the life of a monk at Ely Cathedral to visiting the Sri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, North London, the largest Hindu temple outside India, the programme of trips ensures pupils can witness worship first-hand.
- Beyond the classroom
Issues of faith are often the subject of talks by speakers in the lunchtime 42 society. Dr Rowan Williams addressed students on the topic of religion and creativity, while ethical issues around assisted dying were explored by Professor Philip Graham. The role of religion in politics and current affairs is often debated in both the Politics and Current Affairs Discussion Group and in The Forum clubs – both of which meet weekly.