Mon 02nd Mar 2015

‘RE and philosophy are complementary, not alternatives’

Professor Robert Jackson, professor of religions and education at the University of Warwick, and professor and special adviser at the European Wergeland Centre, Oslo, has responded to a call from A C Grayling for a GCSE in Philosophy. 

Professor Jackson writes that:

The development of more philosophical knowledge and skills among school students is an excellent objective. AC Grayling is right to encourage a greater use of philosophy in the curriculum. However, he is quite wrong to do this by – so it seems according to a recent TES article – attacking reforms in religious education examinations. The study of religions is a multidisciplinary field which requires philosophical skill as well as knowledge and understanding of religious claims and practices in their diversity.

A further response to A C Grayling's comments on RE has been received by Denise Cush, professor of Religion and Education in the Religions, Philosophies and Ethics team at Bath Spa university, and Member of the Executive Committee at TRS-UK: 

It seems somewhat perverse of some RE teachers (see tes news and editorial 20/2/15) to complain about GCSE or A level Religious Studies examinations including the study of religions (the clue's in the name, as they say). It is true that papers on philosophy of religion and ethics in examinations have contributed to the popularity of the subject, but to dismiss the study of religions and worldviews as 'learning facts' is disingenuous. Studying religions is not just about 'doctrines' but includes understanding how religions and worldviews affect people's daily lives, values and sense of identity, and young people are encouraged to think critically about their own beliefs, values, customs and sense of identity in the light of studying those of others. In today's world it is crucial to have the knowledge and skills to discuss religions intelligently, and develop an understanding of diversity.  To claim that this is sacrificing the subject 'on the altar of "British Values" ' is simply unwarranted.

It is important to note that what is studied in GCSE and A level RS is not philosophy per se, but philosophy of religion and ethics, subdisciplines of both Philosophy and Theology/Religious Studies. It would be great to see more philosophy taught in schools - especially if it included Indian, Chinese and feminist philosophy and not just the usual ancient Greeks and Enlightenment Europeans. Philosophy and Religious Studies are not the same subject nor can they replace each other - they can however complement each other very well.

To view Professor Grayling’s article click here. You can access Professor Jackson’s full reply here.