AC Grayling: ‘Those who defend religious studies do so only because of vested interests’
Professor AC Grayling, philosopher, author and master of the New College of the Humanities, writes:
Those who have written to you in defence of religious studies, and in opposition to the philosophy GCSE proposals that I and Dr John Taylor have put forward, do it not on intellectual and pedagogical grounds, but because they have a vested interest in keeping RS going.
They have one or both of two motives: to keep themselves in a job and to keep religion appearing to be the main game in town when it comes to world views. In light of the fact that religion is to philosophy what astrology is to astronomy – and to science what astrology is to astrophysics – the main interest that religion has, to an intelligent mind, is sociological and historical.
This is why I proposed in a TES article last autumn that instead of the parochial and tendentious study of religion, there should be a more inclusive and ambitious history of ideas course. In such a course, mythologies, religions, philosophies and the rise of science would all figure, thus putting the beliefs of our less-knowledgeable forebears into perspective, and showing how humankind has progressed from supernaturalistic to naturalistic understandings of our world and ourselves. This, alongside proper philosophy GCSE and A-level courses providing critical in-depth study of concepts and theories across a wide range (and not just on the supposed topic of deity and narrowly related moral views) would be a real education of mind.
Many RS teachers would love to be able to teach proper philosophy and the history of ideas, and to be freed from having to purvey the highly misleading impression that religion is the main resource for thinking about life. Indeed, if RS focused principally on the mayhem that religions have unleashed on the world throughout history and still today, its defenders would doubtless be even more up in arms than they are about the view that it should be replaced by history of ideas and philosophy, based on the following simple fact: that religions consist of false beliefs about the world and distorted views about ethics.
That is why we must seek to educate our youth more responsibly and truthfully, more critically and appropriately, than can ever be offered by RS.