Religious Studies: diversity and inclusion in the study of beliefs and worldviews

Wednesday 11 May 2022

Our Head of Curriculum for Religious Studies, Esther Zarifi, talks about the work her team has been doing, and reflects on what equality, diversity and inclusion means for the study of beliefs and worldviews.

According to Theos Think Tank’s popular video resource,‘nobody stands nowhere’, all people see the world through individual lenses, and thus we all have a worldview.

Taking this claim as a starting point can lend itself directly to subject thinking around equality, diversity and inclusion. As such, Religious Studies, although not at the forefront of educational debates, should not be overlooked.

But, since it is centred around the study of beliefs and worldviews, surely RS by its nature is intrinsically diverse and inclusive? Arguably it is, but arguably we should also be actively doing more, since in inaction lies complicity with systemic biases.

Ensuring diverse and contrasting perspectives

Equality is itself a topic on our specifications; diversity is represented through the required assessment objectives and subject content for both GCSE and A-level RS qualifications; thus by examining a range of perspectives we are inherently promoting inclusion.

These statements are true, which reflects an important facet of our subject discipline. Yet there are deeper epistemic questions at play here and these must be critically examined.

For example, whose construction of ‘diverse’ and ‘contrasting’ perspectives are we assessing? Whose ‘Islam’ is included in our specification content? Whose vision of equality and inclusion are we promoting?

These are huge questions and also relate to ongoing discussions around the nature and purpose of RS/RE on the school-level curriculum, as well as the direction of travel in wider subject thinking. It is not my place here to attempt an answer to these questions, but at AQA we want to do our part in developing the subject and our qualifications accordingly.

Gaining valuable insights

Part of this work has involved attending conferences such as NATRE’s Strictly RE and a recent curriculum policymakers event hosted by the Faith & Belief Forum in order to gain valuable insights from subject experts and influencers.

For example, Strictly RE 2021 included an excellent panel discussion on Anti-Racist RE, an important area for which NATRE have also published some useful free resources. I have also held preliminary discussions with colleagues from HE and with teachers and teacher/researchers, including Krystian McInnis whose work on Decolonising RE was recently featured by RE:Online.

Much of the subject thinking around ‘religions and worldviews’ speaks to a curriculum that promotes greater inclusivity and diversity. By considering a broad range of worldviews and lived, contextual experiences we can begin to move away from the restrictive constructs of the world religions paradigm.

Further, the consideration of disciplinary knowledge can allow scope for exploring the contexts and complex histories of religious traditions as well as acknowledging their sociological and anthropological structures.

Updated resources and assessment materials

In addition to thinking through these wider themes and future planning for the next round of specification reform, we have also taken some smaller tangible actions.

One of these actions was producing an updated scheme of work for GCSE Spec A Christianity. The newly revised resource, developed with teachers, features extension opportunities and links to disciplinary lenses that can be included to enhance the delivery of the current specification.

The next updated scheme of work is now in production; look out for the Islam resource later this year.

In December 2021 we published revised versions of some past mark schemes for our GCSE Themes papers, after we listened to feedback and changed some of the language.

Our assessment writers are also committed to embedding the updated wording in any future assessment materials to ensure we are dealing with these topics as sensitively as possible.

Language evolves, as do religious and non-religious views and interpretations – recognising the fluidity of language, and of course of worldviews, is vital for all of us in the subject community.

As an ever-evolving sphere, this work will be ongoing as we move towards the next specification reforms.

If you would like to be involved or have ideas about specific topics or units I’d be keen to hear from you. You can get in touch by emailing religiousstudies@aqa.org.uk