I'm an atheist. But I've got faith in Religious Studies

MPs said yesterday that the potential for conflict in multi-faith areas would be reduced if young people were given classes on different religions

Share

I was brought up by painfully atheistic parents. As a family, the closest we came to worship was listening with absolute reverence to Radio 4’s Today programme every morning, and even that was turned off if ‘Thought for the Day’ got a bit too spiritual.

My primary school was Church of England though, and from the age of five I prayed before lunch, sang hymns after school and listened to Bible readings in assembly. Throughout my education I became fascinated by the notion of different belief systems and eventually managed to persuade my reluctant parents to let me study Religious Studies at A-Level and ultimately university, convincing them that choosing a degree in RS was not akin to taking holy orders.  (If anything, I felt my agnostic approach allowed me to consider different religions with an open mind.)

I chose the subject, in part, because I could see its relevance in a world eaten up by its obsession with faith. Whether you follow the teachings of Christ, Buddha or Wayne Rooney, worship plays an important role in modern life. However, many religions, Islam being the most obvious, are portrayed inaccurately by the mainstream media, feeding pre-existing prejudices and stereotypes. It’s terrifying to think that reading sensationalist, anti-Muslim headlines could one day be the only religious education available to children.

MPs said yesterday that the potential for conflict in multi-faith areas would be reduced if young people were given classes on different faiths. According to Stephen Lloyd MP, religious education “prepares children for the challenges and opportunities of multicultural life, and helps them live harmoniously with others”. So why don’t we take religious education seriously?

Often seen as a “soft” subject, Religious Studies has, in recent years, been edged out of the school timetable, a casualty of the government GCSE reform programme.

In November 2013, a study found 33 per cent of non-religious secondary schools and 35 per cent of academies were failing to offer the subject at all for students aged 14 to 16, and of the schools which did offer the subject, 16 per cent reported a reduction in the amount of time devoted to it in Year 10, the first year of GCSEs. Staggeringly, over 50 per cent of secondary school RE teachers have no qualification or expertise in the subject, a statistic that would surely horrify parents if applied to Maths, History or Biology.

It strikes me as absurd, not to mention dangerous, to relegate Religious Studies to the status of a second-class subject, taught by class assistants and teachers trained in other disciplines. As well as teaching children about different faiths, a good Religious Studies teacher should also address contentious issues such as abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and religious extremism, providing students with a safe environment in which to ask difficult questions. Lumping it in the same pot as Media Studies and Food Technology diminishes its significance and implies that learning about other cultures is not important.

If prejudice stems from a lack of information, and I think we can all agree that it does, it’s foolhardy to dismiss a subject which offers a solution. Properly taught Religious Studies is the first step towards harmony in multi-faith communities and a victory in the battle against extremism. Not such a soft subject now, eh?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PPC Co-Ordinator – Permanent - West Sussex – £24-£30k

£24000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Are you a Marketin...

Senior Asset Manager

£70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

IT Support Analyst (2nd Line Support) - City, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare: Ashdown Group: IT Support Ana...

KS1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: KS1 Teaching Specialist Leic...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor