Religious Studies and Philosophy
“Socrates once said that “the life unexamined is not worth living”. In Religious Studies we aim to develop inquiring minds that are open to new ideas as well as being able to critically engage with them. Our aim is to take students on a journey through religion, ethics and Philosophy in order to help them develop a better understanding of the world around them and what motivates humans to constantly examine life and question the nature of their own existence.
Inside the classroom we are asking all of life’s big questions:
Is there life after death?
Do we have a soul?
Does life have a meaning?
How should we live?
Does God exist?
Is there such a thing as right and wrong, and how can we know which is which?
The discussions students have in RS lessons continue out into the corridor, into common rooms and continue over dinner. We therefore have the privilege of watching our students develop into original and insightful thinkers.
The co-curricular life of the department
The department incorporates a very successful Philosophy movement that is really establishing itself as part of the Wellington culture. This includes a well attended weekly Philosophy Club (25-30 students, and often a few staff), a half termly whole-school ‘Flash Philosophy’ competition and yearly entry into the South West Inter-Schools Philosothon (for which we won the title in 2016).
Students can also opt in to a sequence of 4 x Saturday morning Ethical Studies sessions. These operate between 9.30-12.00 and have produced discussions as far reaching as war, immigration, wealth and poverty, gender fluidity and gender equality, racism and homophobia.
Introduction to world religions, ethics and Philosophy
The RS department expects all students to begin their Senior School studies with a high level of religious literacy and we therefore open Year 7 with a term exploring, comparing and contrasting the key beliefs, practices and values of the six main world religions. There is also the opportunity here for the most motivated and confident students to take on independent study of less well known religions such as Bahá’í, Shinto and Taoism. This term offers frequent opportunities for rich and varied discussions, whilst allowing students to explore and express their own views on morality, meaning and identity.
- Exploring the concepts of: leadership, martyrdom, pluralism, equality and symbolism.
Summer: The golden rule inside and outside of religion
- Charity and love in action
- The effective altruism movement
- Can one person really make a difference?
Autumn: Linking up the Abrahamic religions
- The prophet Abraham and his legacy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam
- The prophets Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, Daniel and Jonah
- Predictions by OT prophets of the coming messiah and the apocalypse
- The birth and early life of Jesus
- Jesus as a Jew
Spring: The life of Jesus
- Jesus in conflict with authority
- Jesus with outcasts
- The miracles, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Summer: What happens next? Life after Jesus for Christians.
- The Ascension and Pentecost
- St Paul and St Peter’s travel and letters
- The creeds
- The Great Schism
- Beliefs about judgement day and life after death
Autumn: An introduction to the philosophy of religion
- The nature of God
- Arguments for the existence of God and their criticisms
- The problem of evil
- The life of the Buddha
- The central teachings of Buddhism including karma, rebirth and nirvana
- Introduction to meditation
Summer: On the edges of religion
- Religious arguments for and against the death penalty
- Modern critiques of religion
- Cults and New Religious Movements
- The rise of Islamophobia
We use the reformed Edexcel Religious Studies B specification, which incorporates the key beliefs and teachings of Christianity and Islam, Christian teachings about marriage, contraception and the family, and Islamic teachings on crime and punishment.
Currently, all Key Stage 4 students complete a short course in Religious Studies (Christianity and Islam), with approximately 1 in 4 students opting to attend after school lessons to complete the full course GCSE.
High standards and academic rigour
The RS department is developing a strong academic record. In 2016, 75% of GCSE full course candidates achieved an A grade or better and at A Level 100% achieved grade B or above.
Key Stage 3 students are writing extended written pieces from Year 7 onwards and all age groups are constantly extended through independent work and choice of tasks.
The RS department has been repeatedly commended for its good practice in assessments, marking, teaching and support of students with additional needs.
Making learning fun, challenging and relevant
Students comment that every time they walk into the room the tables have changed position. This perhaps in some way captures the enormous variety of ways they are learning in RS.
A lesson might involve an ‘open pen’ session on the board on what causes poverty, or a group task comparing and contrasting different religions’ moral guidelines. One day, we might do no writing at all and spend our time just discussing the philosophical or ethical implications of some current global - or perhaps even local - event, using what we have been studying to make sense of it and find answers. Another day students might sit on the floor with different case studies of Islamophobia scattered around them, picking and choosing tasks that analyse those events, not talking at all but going into their own thinking ‘bubble’, filling their books with ideas, answers and – most likely – more questions than they began with.
Variety is not just for the younger students. Our current Year 12 class have been tasked with some outlandish learning experiences, such as living by Immanuel Kant’s ethical theory for a week and devising from scratch their own moral theories.
At times students have offered to take lessons, especially if they are particularly knowledgeable on a subject. For example, we have had a Year 8 student present to her class a fascinating evaluation of intensive versus non-intensive farming, referring to her personal experiences growing up on a local farm. More recently, a Year 9 student prepared a lesson on the Westboro Baptist Church, sourcing a range of thought provoking clips, preparing her own slide show and taking on a lively question and answer session. One of our outgoing A Level students will teach a Year 10 class Christian teachings on the apocalypse in the summer term, which will help her to revise and be enormously useful for the GCSE students.