Four faiths in one

16th January 1998 at 00:00
Examining Four Religions. By Michael Keene, Collins Pounds 13.99

In many secondary schools there is only one GCSE RE option group and so the range of ability can be very wide, even if pupil numbers are small.

In some schools, all key stage 4 pupils are entered for the "half GCSE" in RE instead and the spread of ability is just as wide. Textbooks therefore have to avoid the danger of being grammar school texts with added pictures on the one hand, or comics with a few lines of writing thrown in on the other.

Examining Four Religions is a good mix. The length of the book allows adequate treatment of the four religions - Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam - and the text has been made appealing by use of profuse, mainly colour photographs and boxed sections to isolate focusing questions and discussion.

One problem faced by all new multi-faith texts is that as RE raises its own standards in the depth and manner in which religions are presented, it becomes very difficult for any writer alone to present multiple religions accurately, especially within limited space. Joint authorship is an advantage for such books. Otherwise small errors can occur. In this book a photograph from the Hindu section of "a mandala being used" looks remarkably like a family game of Carrom.

But as is so often the case, it is Christianity which, because of its diversity, is least accurately presented. We are told that the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church cannot be changed as "they are passed down by successive popes speaking infallibly". Presbyterians in Scotland are labelled nonconformists; Baptists are committed to "adult baptism" rather than believer's baptism; Methodists and the Salvation Army are described as "early nonconformists".

Some of the questions might puzzle adults. I was stuck, using the text alone, on what it means that death 3is considered a reversal by Hindus. Captions can sometimes provide unintended amusement. A question caption to a photo asks why bread and wine are taken to people in their seats in a Baptist church. The people in the photo suggest it is because the congregation are all old crocks.

But these and other niggles aside, this is an attractive, well-structured book with plenty of meat for the more able pupil, and it joins a growing number of books for examination work that pupils will enjoy.

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

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