A-Level Religious Studies

Examining Religious Beliefs And How They Shape Our Society

Exam Board and Specification Codes: OCR

Course Outline

Can God’s existence be demonstrated rationally, or is belief merely a matter of (blind) faith? If God exists, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?

Are some actions inherently good or bad, or is their moral status influenced by other considerations, such as the intentions of the agent or the consequences of the action? Can euthanasia (mercy killing) be justified?

Should a Christian get his moral principles exclusively from the Bible, or follow the instruction of the Church? What attitude should a Christian adopt towards other religions?

The above are just a small sample of the fascinating questions raised by the new RS syllabus, but they give a flavour of the kinds of discussion and debate in which a pupil of the subject at ‘A’ level will be invited to engage.

The arrangement of these questions into three groups reflects the division of the new syllabus (and of the exams the pupil will be required to sit) into the Philosophy of Religion (Paper one), Ethics (Paper two) and the developing outlook of one particular religion, in our case Christianity (Paper three).

Since, as a so-called Phase Two subject, Religious Studies has not yet swept aside the old syllabus, those wishing to continue with the subject at A2 or to undertake the whole ‘A’ level from scratch in one year will follow the outgoing specification and thus focus more exclusively on questions in the first two categories above.

Whichever option is taken, the RS ‘A’ level has much to offer, helping the committed pupil to develop important transferable skills, such as the capacity to analyse and evaluate other people’s arguments and the ability to construct persuasive arguments of one’s own.

If you have an open and enquiring mind, and are drawn to fundamental questions about the nature of the world we inhabit, RS may well be the ideal subject for you.

For these reasons, the Russell Group of top universities has identified Religious Studies ‘A’ level as a qualification which provides ‘suitable preparation for University generally’.

Course Description

Under the new dispensation, at both AS and ‘A’ level the pupil sits three papers, each of them 1hr 15 minutes long in the former case, and 2 hours long in the latter.

All of the content covered at AS remains relevant at ‘A’ level, so AS and ‘A’ are perfectly co-teachable.

The following AS topics will be covered in the first year:

Paper One

  • Ancient philosophical influences (Plato’s theory of Forms; Aristotle’s ideas about causation)
  • Soul, mind and body (dualism and materialism)
  • Arguments for God’s existence based on observation (cosmological and teleological)
  • Arguments based reason (ontological)
  • Religious Experience (mystical experiences; conversion experiences)
  • The problem of Evil (Augustine, Irenaeus)

Paper Two

  • Natural Law
  • Situation Ethics
  • Kantian Ethics
  • Utilitarianism
  • Euthanasia
  • Business Ethics

Paper Three

  • Augustine’s Teaching on Human Nature (original sin, grace)
  • Death and the Afterlife (heaven, hell and purgatory; election)
  • Knowledge of God’s Existence (man’s innate sense of the divine, creation as revelatory of God, God revealed through faith, God revealed in Christ)
  • The person of Jesus Christ (Christ as son of God, as teacher, as liberator)
  • Christian moral principles (the Bible as their source; the church; love as the sole principle)
  • Moral actions (the case of Bonhoeffer)

In the second year, all of the AS content will be revised and the following elements introduced: 

Paper One

  • The nature or attributes of God (omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, eternality, free will)
  • Religious language (negative, analogical or symbolic)
  • Twentieth-century perspectives and philosophical comparisons (logical positivism, language games)

Paper Two

  • Meta-ethical theories (naturalism, intuitionism, emotivism)
  • Conscience (Aquinas & Freud)
  • Sexual Ethics (pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, homosexuality)

Paper Three

  • Religious pluralism and theology (exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism)
  • Religious pluralism and society (multi-faith societies, inter-faith dialogue, the scriptural reasoning movement)
  • Gender and society (Christian teaching on the roles of men and women, the Church’s response to secular views of those roles)
  • Gender and theology (feminist theologians: Ruether, Daly)
  • The challenge of secularism (God as wish-fulfilling illusion; the attempted exclusion of Christianity from public life)
  • Liberation Theology and Marx (alienation and exploitation; ‘the preferential option for the poor’)

What the Course Entails:

There is no coursework component to the Religious Studies ‘A’-level course, so the sole method of testing employed is the written exam.

Accordingly, our approach to the ‘A’ level combines an emphasis on classroom discussion, designed to strengthen the pupil’s grasp of the questions at stake and of the arguments to be conducted, with frequent testing under timed conditions.

Related courses you might be interested in:

The valuable transferable skills gained through Religious Studies set pupils up well for any arts or humanities course at university. The courses the most closely linked are, of course, Theology and Philosophy, but, owing to its interdisciplinary nature, pupils also emerge from the ‘A’ level well-equipped to study subjects as diverse as Law, English, and the Social Sciences. The way of thinking it promotes, the breadth of subject matter it covers, and the academic skills it imparts provide a good grounding for a variety of careers.