For two decades, I’ve been teaching Religious Studies. I have lost count of the amount of times in these past 20 years that someone has asked ‘Do they really still teach RE these days?” when I’ve told them what I teach.
I think this response is borne of their own experiences of days gone by when Religious Education was more ‘Religious Instruction’ (as my mum still calls it!) and Religious Education was much more founded on exclusivism rather than inclusivism.
So why is Religious Studies such an important part of Oasis Community Learning’s curriculum?
Its all about the inclusivity.
Understanding the principles of different faiths and cultures is an integral part of a well-rounded education and The Oasis Way. This understanding begins in the Oasis classroom, where inclusivity in Religious Studies can help foster our Nine Habits and respect, understanding, and appreciation for the diversity of human experiences.
Inclusivity in Religious Studies serves as a critical tool for meeting the diverse needs of our Oasis learners. It opens a window of representation for students from all majority and minority groups allowing them to see their beliefs acknowledged and respected within the curriculum. This recognition can profoundly enhance their sense of belonging and validation within our Oasis classrooms, and wider world. They can look at Religious Studies lessons and say ‘I am here, I matter, I am loved’. Conversely, students from majority religious backgrounds benefit from exposure to other faiths, fostering an environment of mutual understanding and respect.
Just like society at large, our Oasis academies are full of people from a vibrant mix of various religious beliefs and traditions. By weaving all these different faiths into the curriculum, we can create an atmosphere where every Oasis learner feels seen, appreciated, and above all, respected. This act of inclusion hopefully goes a long way in curbing incidents of religious intolerance and bullying, thus paving the way for a more congenial, harmonious academy culture. Consequently, Oasis learners are more likely to flourish academically and personally in such a supportive, inclusive environment.
This is because inclusive Religious Studies opens doors to empathy, inviting students to walk a mile in the shoes of others whose beliefs and customs may be different from their own. It paves the way for a broader, more compassionate perspective that transcends borders, encouraging students to look past common stereotypes and engage meaningfully with the rich diversity of global religious traditions. This inclusive approach doesn't merely teach about different religions—it should bring them to life in the classroom, revealing their intricacies and unique aspects. As a result, students can navigate the complexities of diverse beliefs and practices with an empathetic understanding, contributing to a reduction in prejudice and intolerance.
Inclusive Religious Studies not only imparts knowledge about diverse faiths, but it also serves as a powerful tool for honing critical thinking skills. As learners delve into various religious doctrines and rituals, they should engage in a process of self-reflection, analysing their own values and beliefs in light of what they're learning. This deep, introspective journey should challenge their preconceptions and encourage them to question, analyse, and reconsider different viewpoints—a skill set that’s key to their intellectual and personal growth. The intellectual agility they develop through this process extends far beyond the classroom, preparing them for the complexities and nuances of the adult world. Thus, inclusivity in our Oasis Religious Studies classrooms is a gateway to personal development and thoughtful, well-informed decision-making.
Inclusivity in Religious Studies is also a powerful tool that broadens students' global perspective. By delving into the belief systems of various cultures and societies worldwide, students are equipped with a greater understanding of contemporary international events, cultural traditions, human rights, and social justice issues. This isn't just about gaining knowledge; it's about grasping the complexities and nuances of a globally interconnected world. As they traverse different faiths, they become more adept at interpreting world events through a broader, inclusive lens. This global consciousness is instrumental in shaping empathetic, informed citizens who can engage with the world beyond their immediate environment.
Often, religious conflicts are rooted in misunderstanding. An inclusive Religious Studies curriculum can be instrumental in bridging this knowledge gap. OCL Religious Studies lessons, by imparting comprehensive knowledge about various faiths, can stimulate thoughtful discussions, and foster an environment that values understanding over conflict. This proactive approach is more than just churning out facts about different religions; it's about facilitating conversations that challenge preconceived notions and celebrate diversity. It's about teaching students to honour the freedom of others to practice their faith without fear or restriction. By doing so, our academies can cultivate a more considerate, patient and compassionate atmosphere that extends beyond the classroom, shaping a more harmonious society.
Ultimately, the reason we ‘still teach RE’ is because an inclusive Religious Studies curriculum celebrates diversity and cultivates empathy, making our Oasis’ Religious Studies offer more enriching and relevant for every student, regardless of their background, allowing each and every Oasis learner to recognise and achieve their God given potential.