Why am I here? Who am I? Can I be sure that I am here, or that there is an ‘I’ at all?
These are just some of the important questions that we consider in Philosophy and Religious Studies lessons. Students learn about different answers to these ‘ultimate questions’ and how to discuss these in an open and intelligent manner. Individuals are encouraged to begin thinking about what their own response to these questions might be.
We cover a whole range of religious responses to different issues, including looking at Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and humanist responses. The lessons do not presume that students have a particular religious background; we acknowledge the Anglican Christian foundation that underlies the ethos of the School, whilst also welcoming all faith and non-faith traditions.
Philosophy and Religious Studies is a unique subject on the curriculum in that the teachers do not know for certain the answers to the questions being considered. Although most of the teachers will have their own views, he or she will probably admit that there is a possibility they might be wrong. In this sense, the whole class (teacher included) is on a journey together in a quest for truth.
The subject is also unique in that it is a matter of dispute as to what the aims of the subject are. Should PRS be aiming at everyone getting along together? Should it be aiming at sympathetic understanding of different cultures? Should it be trying to encourage reflection and spiritual growth amongst students? Is it just about developing useful skills in students, such as logical, evaluative skills? In the PRS department we think all of these things are important, but we also think it is important to be examining religious truth-claims critically and looking at what it is to live truthfully. This is referred to as a ‘critical pedagogy’. This does not mean that we are out to criticise religion. It means that we look at the truths made by religion in an evaluative way and ask what would be the effect on the way we should live our lives if these claims are true. It can be hard grappling with ultimate truth and being asked to make judgements about such difficult questions, but our students also find it very engaging!
We make use of a wide range of resources and teaching methods in the department, including ActivInspire flipcharts for interactive learning, debates, films, ‘Jewish speed dating’, eating symbolic foods, meditation… the list goes on! Trips for PRS students include a visit to the local church during a Year 8 PRS lesson, a trip to Wimbledon Buddhist Temple and a day out at St Paul’s Cathedral and a mosque.
All students study the GCSE RS Short Course and students can opt to take the Full Course modules in order to make up a whole (rather than half) GCSE. The department offers two A-levels: Religious Studies and Philosophy. Religious Studies consists of study of Philosophy of Religion and Moral Philosophy (e.g. arguments for the existence of God, different ethical theories such as utilitarianism and natural law theory, free will and determinism, life after death). Philosophy students look at a wide range of philosophical issues, including Philosophy of Religion, Political Philosophy, Epistemology (Philosophy of Knowledge) and Ethics. Examples of questions we study in Philosophy include: Can knowledge be arrived at without experience? Are we obliged to follow the laws of the state? What sort of constraints, if any, can society legitimately put on me? Is there such a thing as right and wrong?