How will these resources help you? 

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is quoted as saying, ‘Time is the most unknown of unknown things.’ This resource list will help teachers and students explore the different ways that religion, science, philosophy, anthropology and linguistics have sought to understand this elusive aspect of the human experience. The list introduces explanations of time from physics and linguistics, and shows how anthropology can help us see that the understanding of time may be culturally relative, and how the ways that different religious worldviews see time may influence the outlook of those who follow them. The resources aim to support discussions around the nature of God, ultimate reality and the universe around us at KS3–5, and would make an engaging non-examined topic for KS4 and 5. 

What is time?

What Is Time? An Enquiry

by Truls Wyller, published by Reaktion Books, (2020), 9781789142365

In this accessible exploration, Wyller takes the reader on a journey through the different understandings of time, from the mythologies of ancient Athens to the modern day. He starts with the dominance of the clock in modern society and considers its significance in how we experience time. He looks at the scientific discoveries of Einstein, the philosophical debates of Heidegger and Husserl, and the huge variety of representations of time in religions and the arts. The book considers human stories and how understandings of time can influence our interpretation of them, and concludes with reflections on what it means to use the term 'now' and how living in the moment can have far-reaching consequences for us. It would be suitable for teacher-led use for younger students or for independent reading by older students. 

Language and time

Does time work differently in different languages? – Hopi Time

by NativLang, published by YouTube, (2017)

This accessible resource offers an exploration into how humans understand and therefore experience time, from anthropological and linguistic perspectives. By delving into the controversy over 'Hopi Time', where researchers over the last 150 years have debated whether there is an idea of time within this Native American language comparable to the European understanding, the video shows that discussions on how the language we speak shapes our experience of time have fascinated linguists and anthropologists alike. Students could consider how they themselves perceive time and how this may influence their outlook on life. 

Monotheism’s God and time

What is God’s Eternity? An interview with Eleonore Stump

by Closer to Truth, published by YouTube, (2017)

In the traditional monotheistic understandings of 'God' that is spoken of in religions such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity, 'God' is eternal, and not bound by space or time. This concept can seem intuitive to many religious believers who refer to God in ways that imply eternity, such as 'the alpha and the omega' in Christianity; 'al-Malik' in Islam; and 'El Olam' in Judaism. However, the idea can pose some interesting and challenging philosophical questions, such as: How can this timeless God relate to beings in creation who are bound by space and time? Professor Stump explains one solution to this problem proposed by medieval Christian scholar Boethius: that God may experience time with us as a 'moveable now' and how God does not see 'the future' or know 'the past', but experiences every moment with humanity that has ever happened, or ever will happen. The God of classical monotheism is seen to be so much bigger than our universe that this way of knowing time and eternity is presented as logically sound. Students could be invited to pose challenges to this understanding of God’s eternity and to explore the Closer to Truth channel for responses that others (such as Swinburne and William Lane Craig) have made.

The future is behind us

How Time Flies

by Laura Spinney, published by The Guardian, (2005)

This article explores further how the Aymara people of the Andes in South America view time and the reflections this has caused scholars such as anthropologist Marta Hardman to have about their own cultural understandings of time. In contrast to European understandings, for the Aymara people the future is behind, and the past is ahead. This has implications for how the people in the community view their lives, where the future is unknown 'behind' them and the past can be seen 'in front'. A focus on ancestry and who has come before and a great patience and acceptance for what may lie ahead mark this worldview. Hardman considers how Europeans view the past as finished and to be moved on from, and asks if the Aymara understanding could help us reconcile more with our histories as we move into our futures. 

Further materials

Time in Buddhism by Ian Withy-Berry, published by YouTube, (2019) Watch this video
The Arrow of Time – Wonders of the Universe by Professor Brian Cox, published by BBC, (2011) Watch this video
Mindbending explanation of time according to the Vedas: An interview with Om Dhumatkar, published by TRS clips, (2022) Watch this video
Which of these two ways do you perceive time? by Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, published by AsapSCIENCE, (2020) Watch this video
Ruth Marx teaches Religion and Worldviews, is a Consultant for Religious Studies and PSHE, a Farmington Fellowship Scholar and a published blogger on Re:Online.

Text © Ruth Marx, 2023.