When the GCSE short course in RE caught on, many people, including me, feared that full GCSE would go into terminal decline. We were wrong. The full GCSE is alive and well. Another sign of life is the continuing stream of new texts to support it.
On the first page of her book, Veronica Voiels presents a colour photo of a priest devoted to Shiva and asks: what would it be like to be that priest? How does he see the world ? She wants students to understand "the Hindu point of view" and reflect on how far it makes sense from their perspective.
Writing as a chief examiner in Hinduism at GCSE and A-level, she notes how difficult Hinduism can be for secular or nominally Christian westerners, intellectually, emotionally and culturally. She moves from Hinduism as a way of life via the nature of God, human life and freedom, scriptures, worship, festivals, pilgrimage, rites of passage, to moral issues.
Super colour photos run through this text and the series. There are short questions, extension work, longer assignments and discussion starters as pupil activities. The customary and, in this book, unusually clear picture of Hindu cremation appears, set in Nepal. This is a trap Hindu texts easily fall into. Without also presenting a picture of what happens at Hindu funerals in Surbiton, it's easy to make Hinduism appear visually fascinating but yukky.
Christianity can be also made yukky by UK photos of it as a white religion for the middle-aged. In Christianity, Kevin O'Donnell presents it as an all-age, multicultural world religion. There's a bit of yuk in a photo of devout use of the rosary. Perhaps we shouldn't photograph people at devotion at all. Maybe it should be private, like sex.
Jesus is sensitively presented, although a line drawing of his baptism and the relevant text from Mark is offered without comment, presuming a literal, audible voice from heaven. Some activities require pupils to parrot the text, although the writer is conscious of the exam for which they need basic notes. Creative and imaginative activities are fewer. It is good to see Bonhoeffer as an exemplar alongside golden oldies like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King.
In Islam Jan Thompson starts off with six good reasons for studying the religion. I like this attempt to get pupils on board, rather than assuming that because it's in the exam or because it's a world religion, pupils will automatically be thrilled to be studying it. Islam is then dealt with via mosque, prayer, Muhammad, scriptures and beliefs, Ramadan, pilgrimage, the growth of Islam and growing up.
This is a clear and attractive series. As in a number of GCSE texts, there is a key stage 3 overlap: it's dispiriting rather than reassuring for pupils to set off on stuff they've already done. This is not the writers' problem but more the examination syllabus. Perhaps the next round of revisions should make more assumptions about pupils' prior knowledge before they embark on the full GCSE.