What's Religious Studies A level about?
In essence, Religious Studies is concerned with thinking about the 'big' questions in life, such as: who am I? (what is the nature of humanity?); where am I? (what is the meaning and nature of the world around me?); how should I live? (is there right and wrong?); and what happens when I die? At d'Overbroeck's you will explore these issues through the study of the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at AS and A Level, rather than through the study of specific religions or scriptures. The aims of the course are to encourage interest in and intelligent understanding of the issues raised by religion and to train you to think knowledgeably and logically about them. The course is equally suitable for those who have a religious commitment and those who have none – fair and rational consideration and evaluation of a range of perspectives is expected.
What does the course consist of?
We follow the AQA specification, which involves two units at AS level (taken at the end of year 12) and two at A Level (in year 13).
Philosophy of Religion
This approaches religious issues from a logical and rational perspective and examines some of the greatest thinkers and ideas that have influenced the modern world. In the first year (AS), you will focus on a variety of central questions relating to religious experience and belief. Is it possible to prove (or disprove) the existence of God by logical reasoning? You will look specifically at the Cosmological argument in this topic. What is the nature of religious experience and can it be used as proof of the reality of God? Can religion be explained (or explained away) in terms of psychological experiences and neuroses? How convincing is the argument for atheism and how has the debate about the existence and nature of God been affected by post-modernism?
In the second year (A2), the focus shifts to a wider range of philosophical issues, including further rational arguments for the existence of God (eg the ontological argument) and the nature of religious language. The course also explores the nature of body, soul and personal identity (including issues of life after death) and examines the problem of evil and suffering. The final unit of the religious studies course is synoptic, enabling students to draw on their experiences, accumulated knowledge and analytical skills and apply these to a variety of questions. Issues arising include whether ideas about the afterlife are relevant in the modern world, inviting students to go beyond the immediate demands of the question to demonstrate reasoning and evaluative abilities.
In this part of the course, you will study a wide range of issues concerning the broad notions of right and wrong (morality). At both AS and A2, you study a combination of ethical theory and applied ethics. Ethical theory involves thinking about how we decide what is right and wrong. So for example, some ethical systems are clearly based on religious authority, whilst others are attempts to base ethical decisions on rational principles (eg 'the greatest good of the greatest number'), or argue that there is a 'Natural Law' that is common to all people. At A2 you also explore more conceptual questions, such as the nature of conscience and the debate as to how far our actions are determined, or based on our individual free will.
Applied ethics takes the various theories including the systems mentioned above and examines how they apply to specific areas of moral controversy. In the first year, this includes such issues as: abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, and the value and nature of human life.
Whom does the subject suit?
From what has already been said you can probably see that Religious Studies (RS) is a subject that covers a very wide range of issues and skills. Most people do not study RS because they want to become theologians or to work in the church (although if these are possible future vocations, you probably should be studying RS at A level). Nor do you have to have any strong religious views yourself (RS involves exploring and challenging religious convictions). You will enjoy RS if you are interested in the type of issues it covers; you will be good at it if you can train yourself to think logically and accurately, to understand a range of theories and to evaluate them critically, to study primary source material carefully and to represent the ideas of others fairly, and to write clear, well-organised essays. RS is principally a subject that involves reading and essay writing, so your ability in subjects such as English and History at GCSE may indicate your likely suitability for the subject at A level. You do not need to have studied RS at GCSE.
Who will teach me?
At d'Overbroeck's you will be taught in a small group, typically of about five students, although this varies with demand. As such, there is plenty of opportunity for participation and one of the big attractions of the subject is the scope for student involvement in discussion and debate in lessons.
RS is taught by Julia Ford, who is a graduate from Oxford University and an experienced tutor.
What might the subject lead onto?
RS is a fascinating subject, which will train you in skills of analysis, logical thought, empathy and literacy. These are quite clearly skills which will prepare you well for both university and beyond. It directly provides a foundation for courses in Philosophy, Religious Studies and Theology. However, the skills and challenges involved in studying RS at A Level are highly relevant to a wide range of courses in the humanities and social sciences.