Following reports published recently in the British media, the state of Religious Studies in secondary schools across the country has been criticised greatly. The poor quality of education is being delivered by teachers who either have no extensive knowledge of the subject, or who are not at all qualified to teach RS; needless to say this has a negative impact on young people’s understanding of the world faiths and ultimately may lead to a skewed and flawed impression of religions that are (perhaps) foreign to their own, if any, religious orientation.
However, the apparent poor state of affairs concerning RS in state secondary schools does not appear to be affecting all students in all schools across the UK. As a newly appointed General Teaching Assistant at a secondary school in Knaresborough, I’ve had the opportunity to assist in a number of different classes, one of which being a year 9 Religious Studies lesson. The topic of the lesson was the relationship between science and religion (something which, I only covered as part of my degree!) and the differing degrees of religiosity; theism, atheism and agnosticism. Following a short test on what they had learned over the previous weeks, the question of whether or not scientists could be religious was put to debate and I have to say, some of the responses that I heard appeared to falsify the recent claims by the BBC.
One particular response caught my attention more than the others. When asked what their own thoughts on their beliefs were, one female student responded by saying that she thought of God as being something similar to the concept of conscience; some form of psychological/sociological construct that provides humanity with a ‘moral compass’. An interesting theological idea coming from somebody so young. It begs the question as to what has prompted such theological self-enquiry.
It appears to me that RS lessons in schools are perhaps not as hopeless as initially feared. If a 14 year old can construct an idea that appears to combine aspects of Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Don Cupitt’s Non-Realism, something somewhere down the line, must have gone well! Either that, or it is striking evidence that religion is not as dead as scholars claim; I was delighted to hear such interesting ideas not only from the student in the above example, but from the rest of the class as a whole. Increasing religiosity in young people is a great concern for me, and this observation (of which I hope there are many more) just re-enforces the point for my PhD study; the theological ideas from young people and the influence on them from religious studies lessons.
It is said that the future of the church is in the children of the world. If this is truly the case, then the church and scholars from all spectrums of Christianity need to pay closer attention to the new generation of emerging theologians, by looking at theology from the classroom.