Religious Studies is a popular and dynamic discipline taught with enthusiasm and creativity. Highly respected as an academic subject, students are encouraged to be curious, independent and analytical in their evaluation of religious and philosophical traditions. Many girls go on to study philosophy of religion and ethics at A level and achieve excellent results, setting them in good stead for their undergraduate careers. Each year significant numbers of students go on to study Theology, Philosophy and Religious studies at university.
The department is well resourced, both in terms of the breadth of expertise of staff and the range of media through which pupils can access their studies. Lessons are taught in specialist rooms, with access to ICT, artefacts and a well stocked library, including relevant journals and magazines.
A compulsory subject in these years, the schemes of study encourage girls to develop their understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition through studies of the Old and New Testaments, Jewish practice, the life of Jesus and the core beliefs of Christianity. They are then able to compare and contrast this tradition with other world religions through a study of Islam and Sikhism. In UIV the focus shifts to the major ethical theories, for example utilitarianism and situation ethics, and the application of these to the universal dilemmas posed by issues such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and war and peace. Students then embark on an analysis of the nature of religion, considering critiques levelled by sociologists and psychologists such as Marx and Freud, and evaluate these with reference to a study Buddhism and Hinduism. The girls emerge with a sophisticated understanding of religion, well-prepared to embark on their GCSE study.
Pupils are assessed by written work, oral contributions to lessons and their ability to undertake independent research. Mid-unit tests are taken in the Autumn and Spring terms and an examination is set in the Summer term.
During the Autumn and Spring terms pupils are introduced to the stories and characters of the Old Testament and the importance of tradition in modern Jewish practice. The study of the Bible as a library of books also underpins future study and develops an appreciation of scripture as one of the main sources of Western culture.
Topics covered include the stories of Genesis and their implications for Jewish living e.g. Shabbat, keeping Kosher and the importance of Covenant; the origins of Pesach, Moses and the Exodus; the place of the Law in Judaism and the origins of Jewish worship including Tabernacle, Temple and Synagogue.
The Summer term is devoted to a study of Sikhism, including its emphasis on equality and community. Pupils explore the history, beliefs and practices of the Sikh religion including the Ten Gurus; the revelations of Guru Nanak; Guru Gobind Singh and the origin of the Khalsa; the importance of the Guru Granth Sahib and its use in the Gurdwara and the Langar as an expression of equality and community.
There are several pieces of software on the school network for Religious Studies, includingThe Jewish Way of Life. Resources are also available on the intranet. Pupils will be given the opportunity to use ICT to create a newspaper, to carry out research, to design a Synagogue brochure and plan a visit to the Gurdwara.
Christianity – During the Autumn and Spring terms students undertake a study of Christianity, investigating the historical Jesus; the Gospels (with a focus on the synoptic problem); the life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus; Ascension and Pentecost and the birth of the Christian church. At the end of the Spring term there is a project in which groups create their own church company aimed at promoting the Early Church and compete with their peers to devise the best sales pitch and marketing strategies.
Islam – The faith of Islam is studied in the Summer term and pupils are encouraged to investigate the teachings and beliefs of Islam and the religion as a way of living. Girls are encouraged to explore and expel popular stereotypes and misconceptions associated with the Muslim community. Topics covered include central Muslim beliefs as expressed in the Five Pillars (Shahadah, Salah, Sawm, Zakat and Hajj); sources of authority and the importance of the Qur'an; and current issues in Islam such as the role of women within the faith.
There are a range of resources available through the school intranet and pupils will be given the opportunity to carry out research and present work using ICT - most notably when creating and promoting their own Early Church companies in the Spring term.
The Autumn term provides an opportunity to explore moral issues and ethical decision-making. Consequential and deontological ethical theories are studied and their application considered in relation to the sacred and secular law, punishment and the value of human life. In addition, pupils will be expected to produce a Moral Issues Project by the end of the Autumn term, offering an in-depth study of one area of morality (examples include abortion, euthanasia, and the environment) and the contributions made by Christian teaching and that of at least one other major world religion.
During the Spring term pupils study a scheme of work exploring the features and function of religion through the traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Pupils investigate the contributions of sociology and psychology to the study of religion, alongside the place of religious experience, before considering how eastern religions address questions of ultimate meaning.
During the Summer term pupils conclude their study of Buddhism, before exploring philosophical debate regarding the nature of the soul, including the dualist theories of Plato and Descartes and contrasting materialist views. This investigation informs a study of religious beliefs concerning life after death and reincarnation.
Pupils will be given the opportunity to use ICT in order to research and present their Moral Issues Projects and are encouraged to use the resources available on the Intranet.
Optional at GCSE, Religious Studies (OCR Syllabus B - Philosophy and Ethics) is a popular choice, in which pupils attain exceptional results. The course provides an introduction to philosophical inquiry and covers topics including the nature of God, the problem of evil and suffering and beliefs about the soul and the afterlife. In addition, Christian and alternative religious and secular responses to a range of challenging ethical debates are studied, most notably medical ethics, issues of equality and the portrayal of religion in the media. Girls not only gain academic benefit from the course, but also the ability to form and justify a line of argument, both on paper and in discussion, whilst understanding the importance of balanced evaluative skills.
Pupils are assessed by written work, oral contributions to lessons and their ability to undertake independent research. Examination questions will be given as prep and under controlled conditions throughout the course, with particular emphasis on developing examination technique. In addition, girls will sit an end of year examination, covering both aspects of the course. Pupils will receive information on assessment at the beginning of the Lower Fifth year. In addition girls will sit a mock GCSE examination towards the end of the Autumn term in their UV year. The final Summer GCSE examination will consist of four papers, each an hour in length. There is no coursework component.
The School intranet provides a valuable source for recommended links to the web, with sites of particular use for GCSE students. In addition, pupils are encouraged to use ICT as a tool for research and as a means of presenting extended pieces of work. During the course of the year pupils might also be expected to produce presentations using PowerPoint or to access the Exploring Christianity CD-ROM.
Philosophy 1: Deity, Religious and Spiritual Experience, End of Life – This paper is concerned with the fundamental belief in a Divine Being and explores arguments for the existence of God and the philosophical validity of the view that God can act in the world through miracles. It also covers the implications of such beliefs in the modern world, analysing their effects in relation to worship and practice within Christianity. There is also the opportunity to explore philosophical teachings about the soul and the body, and the relationship between these ideas and Christian beliefs about death and the afterlife.
Ethics 1: Relationships, Medical Ethics, Poverty and Wealth – Controversial topics including abortion, euthanasia and the use of animals in medical research are covered as part of this paper in applied ethics. Ethical and religious teachings relating to marriage, divorce, sexual relationships and the issues raised by poverty in the world are also studied.
The School Intranet provides a valuable source for recommended links to the web, with sites of particular use for GCSE pupils. In addition, girls are encouraged to use ICT as a tool for research and as a means of presenting extended pieces of work. During the course of the year pupils might also be expected to produce presentations using PowerPoint.
The course builds upon the topics and the skills developed in the Lower Fifth year. Pupils continue to study the principles of the philosophy of religion and its relationship to the social and natural sciences.
Philosophy 2: Good and Evil, Revelation and Science – This paper is concerned with Christian beliefs about good and evil and the problem suffering poses for belief in the God of Classical Theism. It also covers the importance of revelation within the Christian tradition and the value placed upon the Bible as a sacred text. Finally the issues arising when scientific accounts of the origins of the world are compared with Genesis creation accounts are considered. Christian teaching on the environment and nature of stewardship are also covered.
Ethics 2: Peace and Justice, Equality and Media – The nature of justice is analysed and discussed in relation to punishment and theories relating to war and peace. This paper also explores Christian teaching relating to equality, including responses to racism and the role of women within society and the church. Finally the portrayal of religion within the media is explored with particular reference to the tension between freedom of speech and censorship on religious grounds.
At AS and A2 the Edexcel Religious Studies syllabus in Philosophy and Ethics covers philosophical arguments for the existence of God, critiques of religious beliefs, and ethical theories such as virtue ethics and Kant's categorical imperative. InYear 12there is an opportunity to specialise in an area related to the study of philosophy, religion and morality and students thrive on the challenge of independent academic research, producing impressive papers. Popular topics include the mind/body problem, the sociology and psychology of religion and medical ethics. At A2 at anthology of text relating to an analysis of religious experience, the meaning of religious experience, the meaning of religious language (with reference to logical positivism) and the emergence of modern philosophy of religion are studied and their implications discussed.
The use of ICT is greatly encouraged, particularly when writing extended projects. The School Intranet provides a valuable source of recommended links to the web and the use of software, such as Inspiration, is developed when planning essays and as a tool for revision. There is also a networked CD Rom outlining ethical theory which can be accessed within school.
Unit 1 - Foundations (50% of AS) - This unit explores the foundations of the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics and students are required to study a range of topics including the God of Classical Theism, design and cosmological arguments for the existence of God; the problem of evil and suffering and philosophical debates concerning miracles, with specific reference to the work of David Hume. The Ethics element of the course covers the relationship between religion and morality, the strengths and weaknesses of consequential ethical theories such as utilitarianism and situation ethics and questions of applied ethics, specifically in relation to sexual ethics and war and peace.
Unit 2 - Investigations (50% of AS) – Students are required to write a single assignment of no less than 2000 words by the end of the Spring term on either a philosophical or ethical issue. This will be supervised by a member of the department and there are regular meetings to discuss ideas and plans. Students need to carry out a significant amount of independent research and it is advisable that they begin your reading during the Christmas break, so that you can start work in January. Although hard work, this is an opportunity to explore concepts which appeal to the individual student and is a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Popular topics for consideration include the Philosophy of Mind, sociological critiques of religion, the work of Freud and Jung and medical ethical issues.
Unit 1 is assessed by a written examination of 1 hour 45 minutes and students are expected to answer three questions across four topic areas.
Unit 2 is assessed by a written examination of one hour 15 minutes and students are expected to answer one question relating to their chosen area of specialism.
The course builds upon the themes studied at AS Level and increasingly requires the student to make connections between subject areas and to study texts from the Philosophy of Religion in some depth. Unit 3 is assessed by 1¾-hour written examination and Unit 4 by a 1¼-hour written examination.
There may be the opportunity to attend a one day conference, held usually in London or Oxford, and to hear visiting speakers.
Unit 3 - Developments (25% of A Level)
This unit explores developments in the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics and students are required to study a range of topics including proof and probability; the argument from religious experience and the ontological argument; critiques of religion, including an in depth study of the problem of religious language and a philosophical analysis of the afterlife. The Ethics element of the course covers deontological theory, such as Natural Moral Law and the Categorical Imperative; Virtue Ethics; the problems which arise when analysing the meaning of good and issues related to justice and punishment.
Unit 4 - Implications (25% of A Level)
Here topics such as religion and human experience are considered with reference to selected texts from the A2 Anthology, focusing on themes in philosophy and drawing upon the topics studied in Units 1 and 3. The texts studied are Peter Donovan, Can we know God by experience?, A J Ayer, God–talk is evidently nonsense, and Merold Westphal, The emergence of modern philosophy of religion.