Faith in our time

16th February 1996 at 00:00

ISLAM. By Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood Heinemann Pounds 8.50 each ROMAN CATHOLIC CHRISTIANITY. By Clare Richards Heinemann Pounds 7.99 Age range 14-16

Chris Arthur on books revised to address GCSE

First published in 1989, the Examining Religions series has proved its worth many times over in schools up and down the country. So it is good to see new editions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam appearing, and Roman Catholic Christianity being added to the series. The new editions are designed to take account of new GCSE criteria and revised syllabuses, but by far the most obvious difference between the two editions lies in the illustrations. The new editions are almost entirely in colour (and the pictures are new), giving a very attractive format.

Well conceived and clearly written, the series offers reliable introductions to the religions in question. Commendably, both pictures and "things to do" sections are properly tied to points that the authors are trying to make in the text. Purely decorative or space-filling pictures and exercises slavishly added to each chapter just for the sake of uniformity are, mercifully, absent.

The introduction to Christianity is exemplary in the way that it sets the scene. Indeed for their next edition Heinemann would do well to ask Joe Jenkins to provide an introduction to the series as a whole, since so much of what he says is relevant to RE in general. The section on dialogue in the old edition has been replaced with an extremely good chapter on World Religions. The choice of illustrations is consistently excellent, but one does wonder why the artist's name is sometimes given, sometimes omitted. I can see no good reason to identify Dali's "Crucifixion" on one page, but to say nothing about the provenance of Gruenewald's "Resurrection" on the next.

Among the welcome additions to Arye Forta's Judaism is a newly thought-out chapter on Jewish moral teaching, with sections on bio-ethics, animal welfare, the planet and so on. Rosalynd Kendrick becomes Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood for the new edition of Islam (a name change that might, perhaps, have been mentioned, making clear that we are dealing with the same person). Again, what was already a reliable introduction has been carefully re-thought with some useful new material added. It is particularly good to have a section on "Moderation, Extremism and Fundamentalism".

Clare Richard's draws heavily on Catechism of the Catholic Church and offers a useful introduction to this important area of Christianity.

In her final chapter she identifies one of the factors which gives the series as a whole its strength. "Looking back through this book you will have found all the texts and wordy paragraphs about religious beliefs less interesting than the people. You need to have understood the words, but it is far more important that you remember the people". In dealing with any religion we are dealing first and foremost with individuals, a fact which the authors of Examining Religions never lose sight of.

Chris Arthur is senior lecturer at the University of Wales, Lampeter

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