Making sense of the new A Level

I have been reflecting on how best to plan and deliver the new A Level in Religious Studies for a long time!  Having explored several different options through my own planning and teaching and through preparations that I have made for delivering teacher training on the new specifications, I think I now have the answer.  🙂

I have concluded that the only way to get through the increased content is to ignore the way in which the exam boards divide it up into topics and even papers and to use it as the ingredients of a story which will make sense of the course as you deliver it, whether that is all through one teacher, through two or three.

Here is a draft outline of how I can see this working out, based on the assumption that you have two teachers, about four hours’ teaching per week and that you would like to hang on to the notional division between “The Philosophy of Religion” and “Ethics”…  This outline is, by the way, based on the OCR content, although I can see that you could do something similar with content from other specifications.

Philosophy of Religion
The Year 12 course will begin with an exploration of how human beings have knowledge of God.  Revealed Knowledge of God will be considered first, with a particular focus on Religious Experience both in terms of what it consists in and what it reveals.  Students will then consider the difficulties with relying on revelation for knowledge of God, including physiological and psychological explanations for mystical experiences and sociological explanations for corporate religious experiences.  Just before October half-term, a link will be made across the course to Ethics, considering the difficulty in basing religious beliefs and doctrines on revealed texts. 
After October half-term, the course will move on to consider reason as a way to develop knowledge of God.  Students will consider Aristotle’s approach to Philosophy, providing context for Aquinas’ ways to God.  They will study the Cosmological Argument and then the Teleological Argument, in each case considering later developments of the arguments and evaluating the success of the arguments individually. 
After Christmas students will explore the philosophical approach of Plato before moving on to explore the Ontological Argument from Anselm (and Descartes).  Criticisms of the Ontological argument from Gaunilo, Kant (and Aquinas) lead into broader evaluation of the idea that human beings have innate knowledge of God in the weeks leading up to examinations, with reference to Calvin’s Institutes, Anselm’s Proslogion, Aquinas Summa 1:2:1 and Biblical Texts such as Romans 1:18-21 and Acts 17:16-34.  Revision will draw together the exploration of how human beings develop knowledge of God – through revelation, reason and through innate knowledge. 
  • A synoptic question concerning the point of arguing for God will be part of the April internal school examination, along with a more straightforward question on an argument for God’s existence.
The Summer Term will explore challenges to Religious belief.  Starting with the challenges from Secularism (and Science) we will move on to explore the problem of evil and suffering in depth, considering St.  Augustine’s response as a particular focus, including Augustine’s teaching on the Fall, Original Sin and God’s Grace from the Christianity module.  Summer readings will be from John Hick’s Evil and the God of Love and Augustine’s Confessions.
The Year 13 Course will begin with an exploration of Christian beliefs about Death and the Afterlife (from the Christianity module), including consideration of Philosophical perspectives on the relationship between soul and body.  This will provide an opportunity to revise Plato and Aristotle and Descartes as well as to draw together the topic of challenges to religious belief.
After Half Term students will go on to study the nature and attributes of God (including a LINK with the Gender and Theology topic 5 from the Christianity Module), considering the implications of beliefs about death and the afterlife for concepts of God and the different models of God supported by arguments for God’s existence and by revelation.  The impact of the different concepts of God will be considered before the topic of Religious Language is started just before Christmas.  Holiday reading will focus on Religious Language.
In January, after mocks, students will explore different approaches to Religious Language, starting with Medieval approaches to symbol and univocal language, the via negativa and equivocal approach to language and Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy.  This will provide an opportunity to revise Aquinas’ ways to God and Anselm’s Ontological Argument and criticisms as well as to make connections with the nature and attributes of God just covered.  In February students will explore 20th Century developments of the Religious Language debate, including Logical Positivism, Verification and Falsification and Wittgenstein’s Language Games. 
After February Half-Term, the course will conclude with an exploration of the issues caused by Religious pluralism for Theology and for Society.  Insights from across the topics of Religious Language, the Nature and Attributes of God, Death and the Afterlife and the Problem of Evil will be brought to bear in considering the truth-claims in Christianity, whether they are exclusive or whether inclusivism or pluralist approaches are plausible.  The Church’s response to Pluralism, and to other challenges such as Secularism and the view that religion should play no part in schools or public life (Secularism, topic 6 from Christianity Module), will be the final topic of the course before formal revision begins after Easter.
Religious Ethics
The Year 12 course will begin with an exploration of the person of Jesus (from topic 2 of the Christianity module) and will move into an analysis of Christian Moral Principles (topic 3 from Christianity module) including and how these might guide moral action (through Divine Command Ethics).  In October, students will move on to study Situation Ethics as proposed by both Dietrich Bonhoeffer (explored in detail as a case-study for Christian Moral Action, topic 3 of the Christianity module) and Joseph Fletcher.  The course will move on to consider the weaknesses of Situation Ethics, particularly in relation to Euthanasia. 
After half term Natural Law will be considered as an alternative – starting with its origins in Aristotle and in Romans 1:18-21, the course will consider Aquinas’ development of Natural Law as a Christian approach to decision making, evaluating it with particular reference to the issue of Euthanasia.  The term will conclude with a consideration of the question “how do Christians make moral decisions” drawing out the diversity in approaches – including Biblical Divine-Command Theory, the Bible, Church and Reason or simply agape. Links will be made with Philosophy of Religion in relation to Aristotle’s approach to Philosophy and the concept of telos/teleology.
In January, the course will move on to consider non-religious approaches to ethical decision making.  Utilitarianism will be explored first, comparing and contrasting the approaches of Bentham, Mill and Singer to/with Christian approaches.  In February students will start to consider the ideas of Immanuel Kant, exploring his concepts of duty, good will and his categorical imperative and what they suggest about decision making. 
  • The April school examination will offer a choice of two questions, one on Christian Ethical responses to Euthanasia and one asking students to compare the merits of Kant and Utilitarianism.
The Summer Term will open with a 3 week exploration of Business Ethics, considering how Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics would cope with questions arising (and if Christianity offers useful guidance).  The course will proceed to an exploration of Gender and Society (topic 5 from the Christianity module).  This will provide an opportunity to revise early work on the person of Jesus and pick up the story of the early Church, considering the role of female disciples and early-church leaders as well as Paul’s teaching on Sex, women and the family and the contribution of St Augustine (Link to Philosophy of Religion, Original Sin).  The year will end with a brief look at Feminism within and outside the Church.
After spending the first three weeks of Year 13 on Gender and Theology, the course will turn to Sexual Ethics; the perspectives of all the ethical approaches studied through Year 12 will be considered and revised as they are applied to a new applied issue. 
After October Half-Term students will begin to study theological and psychological ideas about the conscience (including a focus on the ideas of Feuerbach, Freud and Dawkins about religion as wish-fulfilment from topic 6 Secularism on the Christianity module).  Lessons will pick up and revise ideas covered in the topics of Gender and Sex as well as considering the role of conscience (howsoever defined)  in Christian decision making.  An obvious opportunity to revise early work on Situation Ethics, particularly Bonhoeffer, exists here – as well as the change to tie in Aquinas’ teaching on Conscience with his Natural Law theory and note the influence of Aristotle on both. 
In January, after mocks, students will go on to study Liberation Theology and Marx, picking up on the opportunities to revise early work on the person of Jesus, Christian Moral Principles and Christian Moral Action.  The implications of Marxism as a challenge to religious belief will be considered before the use of Marxism by Liberation Theologians is considered.
In February, the final topic will be Meta-Ethics… picking up the link with Religious Language and looking back through all the work done to ask questions about the meaning of Ethical terminology and the plausibility of Ethical Language.  Formal Revision will commence after February half-term.


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