Sunday, 23 November 2014

Humanism and the proposed revisions to A level Religious Studies

When I first read the complaint by the British Humanist Association that Humanism had been left out of the proposed revised subject content for A level RS, I felt immediate sympathy for their position, for it seemed obvious that Humanism deserved to be studied alongside other religious traditions. I am still of that opinion, and feel that humanism can indeed to set alongside the traditional religions and should have its origins, beliefs and moral claims open to equal scrutiny.

But is all lost if it is not included? On reflection I’m not so sure, and wonder whether the proposed revisions may actually do a general humanist viewpoint a favour.

If by ‘religion’ we mean a set of beliefs, attitudes, values and ethics reflecting an understand of the place of humankind within the overall scheme of things, then Humanism can indeed be studied as a religion. It offers a clear set of values, an emphasis on moral responsibility and an approach to matters of belief that reflects rationalist and philosophical traditions going back to Ancient Greece. But…. and it is a major but… I believe there are two reasons why it may be best, from a humanist point of view, to accept the proposal on offer and not simply allow itself to be one of the possible religions, to be selected or ignored depending on the religious tradition of the school, the inclinations and qualifications of the teaching staff or the availability of teaching materials.

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