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Why not ‘World Religions’?
Why not ‘World Religions’?

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3 What do we do instead?

A colour photograph of a teacher reading to a group of children.

Despite all these issues, the World Religions model is still the standard approach in education – so much so, in fact, that it can seem difficult to think of different ways to begin teaching the subject. But the fact is, there are lots of alternatives! Here are just a few:

  1. Rather than teaching what members of so-called World Religions supposedly all ‘believe’, we can instead engage with their ideas and behaviours on an individual level. This ‘lived religion’ approach offers a much more dynamic understanding of religion – and a more accurate one. Thinking about what real people actually do, and the reasons why they do it, shows how important individual context is, and how intertwined religious ideas and identities are with other identities – ethnic, political, social, economic, and so on. This is the approach taken in the OpenLearn course Census stories: bringing statistics to life in Milton Keynes [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , created with Religious Studies staff at the OU, which is also free on OpenLearn.
  2. We can start with particular concepts we tend to associate with religion, and then examine these from a variety of perspectives. This is the approach taken by the Open University’s module, A227 Exploring religion: places, practices, texts and experiences, which looks at places, practices, texts and experiences, each time using a mixture of examples taken from well-known and less well-known religions as well as secular examples. OpenLearn also has a free taster for this module: Religious diversity: rethinking religion.
  3. Instead of thinking about religions as self-evident things, we can think about how things come to be classified as religious (or not) in different contexts. For example, we might look at how in secular states, some practices are permissible for members of religions that aren’t permissible to others, such as Sikhs not having to wear motorcycle helmets, or some Christians being allowed to refuse to cater for same-sex weddings. In these cases, what counts as ‘religion’ or not is very important, and is often decided in the court (usually without Religious Studies academics’ input!) – like in this case about Scottish nationalism. The exciting thing about this approach is that we don’t have to decide what a religion is, we can focus instead on thinking of the different ways in which religion can be understood, and become more aware of these different understandings in culture and society. These classifications are not just academic, but affect peoples’ real lives, in many different ways.