Across the line between religious and religion

4th October 1996 at 01:00
Religious Education Ideas Bank series. Hinduism. By Christine Moorcroft. Buddhism. By Lesley Prior. Bible Stories, Old Testament By Louis Fidge. Christianity. By Elaine McCreery. Islam. By Christine Moorcroft. Sikhism. By Lesley Prior, Folens Pounds 9.99 each. Age range 7-11

This series provides a wealth of photocopiable worksheets, and enough background information to enable even non-specialist teachers to use them effectively. They offer good introductions to the different religions covered and are well-judged in terms of the level of understanding and ability which might be expected from a primary readership.

It is unfortunate, though, that the volume on Old Testament Bible stories blurs that most crucial of lines in this subject area, namely that which separates being religious from learning about religion. To have as key ideas, flagged up at the top of the page, such things as "God's promise", "God's power", "God's mercy", etc, is surely misguided - unless each is prefaced with "How Christians understand". And to include on a worksheet the blunt instruction to "Write your own prayer of thanks to God" is simply not appropriate in a modern RE textbook. It is also strange not to have included a glossary in this book since it forms such a useful part of all the others.

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism are vastly more satisfactory and constitute good first stage introductions to these faiths. Sikhism, in particular, is handled well with admirably clear sections on symbolism and on the 10 gurus. It is extremely good to find the Hindu trimurti presented so well. Too often Shiva is seen merely as a god of destruction, without making clear how intimately destruction and creation are linked.

The definition of satyagraha, though, is questionable. "Non-violent protest" is surely more accurate than "standing up for your rights". The term literally means "holding to truth", but Gandhi's famous use of it highlights the importance of passive non-violent civil disobedience in the face of injustice.

The rather naive handling of supposed miracles attending the birth of the Buddha is not helpful, nor is the failure to make clear that dukkha is all-pervading. And asking children to adopt the lotus position is perhaps unwise given all the cautions issued by Buddhists about the perils of embarking on the path of meditation without a proper teacher.

Christianity and Islam are likewise mostly very good, though "Times we might pray", listed on page 6 of Christianity, might have been better phrased as "Times when Christians might pray". But it is refreshing to find such carefully stated aims as "understanding the importance to Muslims of obeying the will of Allah", something which makes no unwarranted theological assumptions and keeps the focus properly neutral in terms of asserting or denying the existence of deity.

It is peculiar, though, to read in Islam, that "men and women can be Buddhist monks". Buddhist nuns are a known quantity; I would be fascinated to encounter a woman Buddhist monk!

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