How will these resources help you? 

A-level Specifications for Religious Studies often have units within them that tackle questions around the nature of religion and the variety of disciplines that can be applied to study it, but this has not always translated down to the curriculum for younger years. Recent national conversations have, however, opened up this area for debate. For example, the Ofsted review in 2021 showed the importance of disciplinary knowledge and the 2018 Core report states that: 'Religion as a category is a crucial object of study.' This list aims to help teachers to explore the theme of religion 'as a category', as well as to discover some key thinkers who have influenced how people view religion within their disciplines and beyond. The list starts with an academic conversation appropriate for teacher knowledge and then progresses into student resources for KS3 and above to engage with. 

Debating the academic definition(s) of religion

What is Religion?: Debating the Academic Study of Religion

by Aaron W. Hughes and Russell T. McCutcheon, published by Oxford University Press USA, (2022), 9780190064983

This collection of essays reads as if you were eavesdropping on an academic conversation between scholars on the definition of religion. With a simple, common prompt, 'Religion is…', articles are in response to one another but also work as standalone pieces on each of their different perspectives. This highlights the contentious nature of how we define the very term that our subject revolves around, with real-world examples given to show why these definitions matter beyond academia. The term 'worldviews' is also explored as an alternative to 'religion' through scholars such as Ann Taves, which resonates with current conversations in the RE world. This resource provides an academic backdrop to the curriculum which a department may develop around this theme. 

World religions lived in Missouri

What is religion?

by Julie Wrocklage, published by Missouri State University, (2013)

Wrocklage’s Senior Honors Project is a compilation of interviews from 20 people from various religions and traditions in Missouri about their faiths. The first of these short videos asks each interviewee one question: 'What is religion?' A rich variety of responses follow. Religion may be about gods and the supernatural to one person, and spirituality to another. It is a way of life for some and a belief system for others. Students could categorise the responses and evaluate and expand on those that they find the most compelling. A comparison of different definitions given within one world 'religion' but from different traditions could also help to show the diverse views that may be held within groups that are too often viewed as monolithic. This resource could be a good starting point for work around the theme of defining religion, or a way to open up a debate. 

Knowing religion

Philosophy and Ethics

by Robert Orme, published by Collins, (2019), 9780008355029

Written for a KS3 audience, this resource focuses on key questions posed within philosophy and ethics around religious belief and religion itself. After dealing with the traditional philosophical approaches of Plato, Descartes, and the cosmological argument, Chapters 1.6 and 1.7 introduce psychological and sociological disciplines to religion through two 'masters of suspicion': Freud and Marx. These disciplines often feature in A-level specifications but this is a unique approach to KS3 that introduces the material in an engaging, readable manner. The sociological discipline can further be explored with Chapter 1.10, which considers the religious make-up of the UK (but using the data from the later 2021 census). This book not only introduces these ideas in an appropriate way for KS3 but would also be beneficial as differentiated work or revision material to A-level Students who may not be studying sociology and/or psychology along with RS. 

Disciplinary approaches: Dawkins, Freud, Marx and Durkheim on Religion

A Teacher Explains: Youtube Playlist for Staff/Students

by Ms R. Marx, published by @MsMarxRE, (2023)

The videos in this collection can be used as standalone clips when taking a multi-disciplinary approach to religion (through thinkers such as: Dawkins, Freud, Marx, and Durkheim), or in conjunction with the resources listed in the further materials section of this list. Secondary school teacher Ruth Marx talks through each of the thinkers and the implications of their views for the understanding of what religion is. Bringing her own experiences of being a Christian student who was greatly challenged and threatened by these views in her youth, she is careful to show that a study of religion in this way does not have to be taken as an 'attack' on faith, but a way to better understand it as students can encounter these influential ideas and evaluate them for themselves. The clips are mostly addressed to students, so could be used in lessons as they stand. Non-specialist teachers would find them useful to assist with their subject knowledge. 

Audiovisual clip

Billy and Us - Billy’s beliefs

published by BBC Scotland, (2020)

Billy Connelly's evolving thoughts on religion and the existence and non-existence of God are shown through archived footage, demonstrating that religion can be up to the individual to interpret.

Further materials

The One About World Views (Series 7, Episode 1) by Louisa Jane Smith, published by The RE Podcast, (2022) Listen to this podcast
What Is Religion? by Andrew Henry, published by Religion for Breakfast, (2016) Watch this video
Football as a Religion: The Church of Maradona, published by Vice Watch this video
Star Wars Debate: Is Jediism a Real Religion?, published by Good Morning Britain, (2017) 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.