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Avoiding the melting pot

WORLD BELIEFS AND CULTURES SERIES: Hinduism. Buddhism. Judaism. Christianity. Islam. Sikhism. By Sue Penney. pound;10.99 each. Heinemann, Available from TES Direct

What Christianity all boils down to is..." When people try to boil down Christianity, or any religion, they usually get scalded. This series avoids that danger, because in every case the religion is presented as a world faith and not just a UK one and the idea of unity and diversity within religions is emphasised.

These 48-page hardback books deal with the UK "big six" religions of many agreed syllabuses. The target pupil age is 10-plus. The covers and the colour illustrated contents are visually appealing, sometimes very striking.

The writer generally handles the difficult problem of condensing a religion into so few pages for a specific age group well, although the text is inevitably fact packed. It is perhaps confusing that Jewish interviewees talk about going to "Temple" rather than synagogue, that the chosen illustration of a Christian Bible is antique and unappealing, that a murti is defined simply as an "image" and that Ranjit Singh's closed eye is not explained. But the books include comments from members of the religions themselves, quotations from sacred texts and key figures, a glossary of terms and highlighting of particular customs and symbols.

There are no pupil activities. This is an advantage and a disadvantage. It means that if they are to be used as class texts in RE, the books can be adapted to Years 6 or 7 and as a resource outside these years, for instance as single copies in a classroom or public library. It also means that the limited space available can be used to the full to present information about each religion. In this way these are good "primers" as a prelude to further study.

But teachers have to write supporting activities into their scheme of work, or else improvise at the time of the lesson. A non-specialist teacher might miss key aspects to which pupil tasks in the text would draw attention. Improvised pupil tasks can easily become merely comprehension or literacy support, rather than imaginative or creative follow-up to the text. While it is easy for RE to find ways to support literacy work, it is always better for the RE teacher when literacy work can be legitimately used to support RE.

Terence Copley is professor of religious education at the University of Exeter

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