Ethics Online

Celebrating RS A Level Results this week!

Getting your results


Congratulations to all students who will be getting their results this week – and an even more heartfelt congratulation to the teachers who have supported, coaxed, galvanised and inspired them to get there. 2017 has been a challenging year for Religious Studies – one of the most challenging, perhaps, people can remember. With the final year of the legacy spec running alongside the first year of delivering the new, teachers have had to battle with a truly colossal workload. Just in terms of accessing the new content there have been huge demands, but coupled with also writing and delivering new GCSEs, while nurturing (in the inimitable way RS teachers do) another cohort of young people – it’s a staggering achievement. Teachers should feel very proud.

To study religion is to study issues more debated in society than any other. No wonder ‘A level’ entries in 2016 increased more than any arts, humanity or social science subject. It could be almost taken as read that the Russell Group would recognise the subject as being a suitable preparation for university but why? What exactly does RS equip us to do?

Now I recently had a run-in with a friend who holds a medical PhD from Cambridge and who I had (plausibly enough I reckoned) labelled a ‘scientist’ as opposed to a ‘dreamer’. His reply was – to put it politely – robust! Einstein, he told me, had also been a dreamer and had leant out of his patent office window to dream what it would be like to ride on a beam of light into the heavens. Scientists are per se dreamers – it’s just that they can’t stand pseudo-science; or things that purport to be ‘true’ when they – demonstrably – are not.

I huffed a bit at that word ‘true’. Religious Studies peeps tend to – we can’t help but feel our antennae prick up whenever a debate about what may or may not be ‘true’ swims into the room. Deep in our bones lies an understanding that not all things are true in the same way. That, I think, is was Religious Studies teaches us (among, of course, a billion other things) and that’s what I told my friend.  In doing so, I was reminded of a lovely article written by David Bentley Hart which has recently started doing the internet rounds but which meets the debate head on. Hart is talking about a common pitfall he perceives among atheists who need only trot out the ‘reliable’ witticism “I believe neither in God nor in the fairies at the bottom of my garden” to elicit a warm response. “Admittedly” continues Hart,” one ought not judge a movement by its jokes, but neither should one be overly patient with those who delight in their own ignorance of elementary conceptual categories.” And then he goes on to explore the ontology of God (

That, I think, is why the Russell group so warmly recognise Religious Studies as a perfect way to ripen young minds. That is why teachers continue to grapple with impossible demands on their time, energy and good will but nevertheless deliver lessons that consistently turn brains on rather than off. That is why Religious Studies is one ‘A level’ that matters much more than the result you pass them in the envelope tomorrow. There is mystery in this world and there is science and there is truth. And Religious Studies – almost uniquely – takes that trio in its stride. When you add to the trio instability on a global scale, with bigotry and appalling hate crimes on the rise, an appreciation of religious diversity and also religious unity is one small way of fighting back. Religious Studies changes the way people think – you change the way people chose to think by showing there is a choice. And it’s one that can inform a life. In any book, that’s a result well worth having.



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