Learning about Religion
In Religious Education, students are learning ABOUT religion. In the UK they typically study Christianity and one other religion in some depth. What do people with this religious faith believe today and why? What Holy books do they value? What is the history of this religion – what did people believe in the past and why have people’s beliefs changed over time?
Helping students to develop their own responses to the questions religion(s) ask
Students also learn to think critically about their own and other people’s answers to the kinds of questions that religion(s) ask. So if for example, we could pose the question – “Is there a God who created the Universe?” or “What does it mean to be a ‘good person’?” For their first investigation, students could talk with some trusted adults around them to find out what they believe. This might expand their ideas from the ones they initially held and it might also prompt some new questions that students now realises they want to explore.
“What is the meaning of life?”
On the next occasion, the investigation could be expanded to take in a wider range of types of resources. So let’s take the question, “What is the meaning and purpose of life?” What sources would be relevant here? We could begin with a classroom discussion or conversation at home. This would give students an idea of what people around them believe.
Next we could ask them to read one or more texts selected from religious Holy books and talk about this question when we view it through the lenses of those religions. What are some of the responses that are expressed in popular culture – as a way to bring in a range of religious and non-religious views.
Older students could also consider some examples of the comments that scholars now and in the past have made. What specialisms would those scholars have? They could be scholars in Theology, Philosophy, Archaeology and more. And with this wealth of perspectives to draw on, we could then ask students to revisit and change or defend the answer that they have.
Oh, one more thing. RE only has a limited amount of time in the timetable – so the teacher must also plan which texts and angles they particularly want their students to explore.
Being a Teacher
One of the roles of the teacher – in any subject – is to introduce students to new terms and language that they can use to develop, discuss and evaluate ideas. Take for example, the word ‘parable’. I hope you agree that it’s a term that can add a new dimension to a student’s appreciation and understanding of some religious texts.
Another role is to watch out for unhelpful stereotypes and find ways to counter them. As you know, this is where a student supposes that a commonly expressed idea about a group of people is true of everyone in that group. Classroom teachers use posters on their walls to counter some well known stereotypes. For example, we check our walls to make sure that the posters on display offer students diverse role models and are not all pictures of people who look very similar.
Science and Religion
As part of my research, I watch out for the stereotype that scientists are atheists. To counter this stereotype teachers can ensure that students are introduced to famous scientists with different faith positions – some religious and some not.
The video below is one that my team made about Galileo. Galileo is sometimes called ‘the father of science’ because of the value of his scientific work and ideas. This video introduces the viewer to the way that Galileo negotiated the question of what to believe about the movement of the sun and earth. When he defended his conclusion, Galileo talked about the observational evidence he had gathered in his science. He also talked about what he believed about the roles of science and religion in his life. More specifically, he took a position on the question of whether to read the Bible’s descriptions of our physical universe as literally true.
Our choice of Galileo’s story as a story to share was firstly because there are hundreds (thousands!) of publications about his life and his experiences. These include countless books and scholarly papers that discuss what Galileo said about the relationships between science and religion. This means, for those of us in teaching, there are lots of resources for us to draw on. Secondly – Galileo’s answer is an important one for students to consider. But you decide for yourself – what is his decision? And do you think this would be a useful video to watch with primary school students? If so, what age?
Task with this Session
For this session, you could create a PowerPoint with key questions to go with the video about Galileo.
Your questions could include:
- Two or three recall questions that are about remembering information presented in the video – make them easy ones to answer.
- Two or three questions to find out if students can explain Galileo’s big idea in science. Have they understood the scientific methods and observations he used to develop his scientific ideas?
- Two questions that ask students to identify Galileo’s big idea in religion. Can they explain why it was a big idea at the time?
- One or two questions to find out what questions and ideas this video prompts for your student.
At the end of the slides for students in your PowerPoint, add some further slides with suggested answers and key points you want your students to notice.
And/or if you prefer …
This primary school website sets out their approach to Religious Education. What three things jump out as interesting or important to notice in your view and why?
Next steps with your planning
If you are aged 16 or over, you can send us your work if you’d like to – to LASAR @ canterbury.ac.uk (take out the spaces). Otherwise, you can share it with your teacher and ask your teacher to forward it to us.
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