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Why study RE?

To explore the value of RE in the curriculum.

by Helen Bryant

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the value of RE in the curriculum.

Preparation and materials


March is ‘Celebrating RE’ month.

  1. When I tell people that I am an RE teacher, they often comment that I am brave. I have never queried that, just glossed over it, but it seems a good place to start this assembly about the importance of Religious Education.
  2. It seems odd to talk of teaching RE as brave. Is that because some people see it as a waste of time, a subject that isn’t relevant or something that has to be endured? For many of the older generation, that may well be the case. RE used to be known as RI, Religious Instruction, or RK, Religious Knowledge. By ‘religious’, in this country, was meant the sole study of Christianity, and the vast majority of that was the study of the Bible. In some schools you started at the beginning of the Bible with Genesis and didn’t end until you got to Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Now, that’s all very useful, and the study of the Bible has its place as a way to understanding Christianity and various moral ideas, but unless you really pin your colours to that mast, it might be hard to understand how that could be inspiring.
  3. I suggest you have a think about your RE lessons now, and the wealth and variety of topics, religions and issues that you study in comparison with what I have just told you about your parents’ generation.
  4. You will have studied something from all the six main world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism. You may have some idea about their places of worship and where they might go on pilgrimage. You will know about their founders, and be aware of people like Abraham, Moses, the Buddha and Guru Nanak, as well as being able to explain key beliefs such as the Five Ks for Sikhs, the Five Pillars of Islam and the Ten Commandments for Jews and Christians.
  5. RE isn’t just about being able to name and explain what someone does or believes when they belong to a particular religion either. It also encompasses subjects such as life after death, responses to evil and suffering, and ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, prejudice and discrimination and drug use. RE is varied and rich in its subject matter, and yet people sometimes wonder what its relevance and importance is. You have only to pick up a newspaper to see an ethical issue, such as suffering or homelessness to name just two. Your RE lessons allow you to look at those issues, make a balanced judgement about them, and be aware of different points of view. Studying other religions also allows you to be more informed when you read comments that are, for example, inflammatory about Muslims or simply wrong factually about Christians or Sikhs.
  6. RE also allows you to build an understanding of empathy, of what it might be like to be someone else, believing in something different from yourself. It makes you question your own ideas and values, and ponder questions such as ‘What happens to me when I die?’, ‘Was the universe created?’ and many more of the big questions. Although you may not be able to answer them within your lesson, it gives you the opportunity to think and reassess or confirm what you already thought. It allows you the space to be yourself and to have a community of enquiry where it is acceptable to agree or disagree with your peers. It enables you to see what other people think, and compare your own ideas with theirs.
  7. As for needing to be ‘brave’ to be an RE teacher, we learn so much from you as well as teaching you. We challenge opinions, stretch beliefs and grow in our own understanding. It isn’t a case of being brave: it is a case being able to accept that views might be challenged, but that’s OK – you don’t always have to be right. And that is the ultimate joy. Unlike maths, there are no right or wrong answers, and even if there are specifics that have to be learned, studied and understood, we can have a great time on the journey getting to them, and everyone gains from that.

Time for reflection

Think about the understanding of other people that you have gained through RE.
How can you apply that in your relationships with them?


‘Lord of the Dance’ (Come and Praise, 22)

Publication date: March 2011   (Vol.13 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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