Religious Studies and Philosophy

Religious Studies is about considering who you are and how you relate to complex issues in the world.  It challenges preconceptions you take for granted and poses questions which have preoccupied some of the greatest minds over the last three thousand years: How do we know right from wrong? Are some things genuinely evil or is it just opinion? Does God exist? And would it matter if she did?

Do humans have souls? Or are we just bundles of self-important chemicals? Are we free to make moral decisions? Is there life after death? In Religious Studies we explore some of the answers great thinkers have proposed and equip you to draw your own conclusions.

Religious Studies greatly increases understanding of current affairs, ethical issues and different cultures and religions. Pupils also develop abilities in communication, debate and critical thinking – skills that are invaluable in careers such as politics, law, education and for anyone seeking to make their way in the modern world.

13s curriculum

Religious Studies is one of several subjects in which we offer Year 9 students a ‘taster’ year so they can get a feel for the subject before deciding to take it on at GCSE level. In year 9, instead of focusing on learning facts, pupils think about their very existence and the nature of reality. The course is intended both to act as an introduction into the subject of philosophy and to cultivate strong critical thinking skills. In the third term a focus on Buddhist philosophy helps prepare students for Religious Studies GCSE.

Course outline

The topics are presented to the students in the form of a question and involve critical analysis of possible answers to that question. 

  1. Knowledge and Reality
    • What is philosophy?
    • What is an argument?
    • What questions are worth asking?
    • Can you trust your senses?
    • Can knowledge ever be certain?
  2. Ethics
    • How can we tell right from wrong?
    • Is there such thing as evil?
    • Can any action be truly altruistic?
    • Is Love just chemistry?
    • Would you kill someone to save two lives? (Trolley Problems)
    • What is a good life 1? (Aristotle)
    • What is a good life 2? (Epicurus)
    • Should I be useful? (Chuang-tzu)
  3. What is it to be human?
    • In this final area, we assess what it is to be human. We look at the issues raised by our relationship and dealings with animals, clones, robots and zombies.

GCSE curriculum

We follow the AQA GCSE full course (GCSE Religious Studies A, 8062). For full details please see the AQA Website or the Harrodian GCSE Prospectus.

Course introduction:

The course enables pupils to:

  • Develop an in-depth understanding of the key beliefs, teachings and practices of Christianity and Buddhism.
  • Study key ethical issues in modern society such as abortion, euthanasia, the environment and capital punishment.
  • Consider different viewpoints on these issues, formulate their own views and justify them with solid arguments.
  • Reflect on the big questions in life - Who am I? Why are we here? Is there a God? What happens when I die? Can I be a spiritual person without being religious?
  • Develop their own beliefs and values, as well as tolerance and sensitivity towards the beliefs of other people.
Course outline

Buddhism

  • Dhamma; the Buddha and the Four Noble Truths; worship and festivals; Buddhist ethics

Christianity

  • The Nature of God; Jesus Christ and Salvation; worship and festivals; the Church and the worldwide community

Themes

  • Relationships and families
  • Religion and life
  • Religion, crime and punishment
  • Religion, human rights and social justice

A Level

In the Sixth Form the department offers two different A Levels, Religious Studies and Philosophy. Students will not be able to take both options.

Religious Studies

Students follow the AQA Religious Studies A Level syllabus. This course provides them with the opportunity to study and understand some of the most important ideas from the intellectual history of Western Europe. The course looks at various themes in the philosophy of religion and ethics as well as the theology and practice of Christianity.

The course has two components. The first component looks at philosophy and ethics. Philosophy topics include the classical proofs of God, the philosophy of language, the nature of the self and ideas around death and the afterlife. Ethical topics include the critical examination of various theories about how to tell right from wrong as well as application to various issues around life and death. The second component looks at Christianity from an academic standpoint. Students will learn about and evaluate key Christian concepts as well as gain an understanding of Christianity’s place both historically and in modern secular Britain.

Philosophy

Students will follow the AQA Philosophy A Level syllabus. The Philosophy course aims to provide students with an introduction to some of the main themes of analytic philosophy. The course focuses on a number of key philosophical arguments looking at the period from the enlightenment to the present day.

The course is divided into four major topic areas. The first topic is Epistemology. Students look at various theories around the concepts of knowledge and reality. They consider what it is that separates ‘knowing’ from ‘believing’, whether or not knowledge is possible at all, and what it means for a belief to be ‘justified’. The second topic is Ethics. Students examine various theories of justice as well as ask if ethical claims are ever certain. They apply ethical theories to issues including lying, eating meat and simulated killing (in films and computer games). The third topic is Metaphysics of God. Students engage with the classical arguments for God’s existence and sceptical responses. The final topic is Metaphysics of Mind. Students look at various accounts of what a ‘mind’ actually is. They examine both traditional accounts as well as assess the impact that contemporary neuroscience has had on the debate.

Staff

Head of Religious Studiens: Mary Sanders (email: msanders@harrodian.com)

Teacher in chage of Philosophy: Sam Wardell (email:swardell@harrodian.com)

Teachers of Religious Studies: Mary Sanders, Kate Mezger (email:kmezger@harrodian.com), Sam Wardell