Moonies and Druids win place in RE

3rd April 2009 at 01:00
New GCSE on beliefs covers agnosticism and atheism as well as the world's six major religions

Humanism, atheism and agnosticism will make up a major part of a religious studies GCSE for the first time in a new exam that also covers druids, Rastafarianism and the Moonies.

The publication of the draft "religious studies C" GCSE is being greeted as a victory by humanists, who have been fighting for two decades to have their beliefs studied as part of RE in schools.

The qualification, developed by the OCR exam board, features humanism in three of the four modules. A section on the rise of religious movements asks candidates to study two in depth, from a list including the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, Rastafarianism - including the influence of Bob Marley in the 1970s - and the Unification Church, often known as the Moonies.

The inclusion of the Moonies may prove particularly controversial because of accusations that it is a cult that breaks up families and brainwashes young people.

The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Korean founder who claims to have communicated with God and met Jesus Christ, Moses and Buddha, has twice been banned from visiting the UK. Explaining the last ban which ran for a decade until 2005, Michael Howard, home secretary in 1995, said Reverend Moon's presence was against "the public good" because of the "very great misery" he had caused by alienating young vulnerable people from their parents.

The new exam will be piloted in 50 schools from September until 2015. The draft specification shows that in the first module pupils will examine the impact of humanism and secularisation around the world, including the influence of atheism and Marxism. The second module includes rap music, Stonehenge and multiculturalism in Britain. The last two modules require pupils to look at a range of issues from the perspective of two belief systems, selected from a list that includes humanism and the six major world religions.

One section, entitled "Truth and the Individual", asks pupils to focus on agnosticism and atheism.

Andrew Copson, the British Humanist Association's director of education, said: "It is good to see a serious study of humanism included. It is very significant and a reflection of the increased importance of non-religious beliefs in the world."

Knowledge that the new GCSE was being developed was one factor in the association's October withdrawal of legal action against Ofqual's decision to remove humanism from another OCR religious studies GCSE specification.

The exams regulator had ruled that humanism was a "body of belief" rather than a religion and the course should therefore not give it equal weighting with the six major religions.

Clara Kenyon, OCR's qualifications director, said it was "highly unlikely" that humanism would meet a similar fate in the latest GCSE because the course was titled "Religion and Belief in Today's World".

"This new GCSE pilot allows us take a fresh look at how religious studies is taught," she said. "It addresses a range of issues relevant to students today, who often see religious issues in the news without necessarily having an understanding of the background."

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