The meaning of life

6th December 1996 at 00:00
Beliefs, Values and Traditions By Ann Lovelace and Joy White, Heinemann, #163;9.99

Religion and Life By Victor Watton, Hodder amp; Stoughton, #163;7.99. Pupil's Book and Teacher's Handbook

Thinking about God By Maureen Harrison and Sharon Kippax,Collins #163;7.95

These books are all intended for the same market - that of the GCSE short courses in RE. Religion and Life is particularly directed at pupils taking the London exam and Thinking about God follows the NEAB syllabus, but both claim suitability for other similar courses. All three cover much the same subject matter, but each divides the material up differently.

Beliefs, Values and Traditions is the most substantial of the three and covers the three major Western religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, in an attractive way. At first sight, the progression from the nature of God to morality to the sanctity of life to genetic engineering, embryo technology and abortion might appear arbitrary, but it is well thought out and achieves two things.

First, one realises that one is following a religion's teachings through the life cycle from conception to death while dealing with beliefs, ultimate questions, values and traditions on each issue. Second, we are straight into the major concerns of pupils in their mid-teens without having to argue about relevance and in an unpatronising way.

Each topic follows a similar pattern, an opening stimulus, basic facts, questions designed to recall, explain and evaluate the material, creative assignments and a final re-examination. The three religions are dealt with separately but cross-referencing is easy.

Victor Watton divides his Religion and Life into 58 factfiles under six chapter headings such as Marriage and Family Life, Believing in God, and Religion, Wealth and Poverty. Religions are treated separately on each topic so that we have, for example, a factfile on Christian teaching on marriage and divorce followed by sections on Muslim, Jewish and Hindu teaching on the same subject.

This book is also well illustrated with many colour photographs, although they are not as dynamic and stimulating as those in Lovelace and White's book - far more shots of groups and religious buildings and none of genetically engineered mice!

The accompanying Teacher's Book is a little like teaching by numbers, but that is not a criticism when one realises that many teach these courses because they are enthusiastic rather than experienced.

Thinking about God takes a more traditional approach than the other two books. It begins with ultimate questions and comes to proferred answers later on.

The book separates out Thinking about God and Thinking about Morality as two distinct sections and takes pupils through the traditional (Christian) arguments for the existence of God and Jewish, humanist (sic) and Hindu creation stories before coming to ways of making moral decisions, issues of life and death, relationships and global issues.

The Teacher's Book is more devoted to background material than Victor Watton's and less to tips for teachers.

This book is the most abstract of the three and, although it makes the claim that it is written with students of all abilities in mind and although the questions are graded, I would be inclined to think that, of the three, its form of treatment

will have its greatest appeal in selective schools.

Dr Jack Priestley is principal of West Hill College of Higher Education, Selly Oak, Birmingham

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