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Including humanist perspectives in RE/RME

Introduction

Religious Education (as it is known in England and Wales) and Religious and Moral Education (as it is known in Scotland) contribute dynamically to children and young people’s education in schools by provoking challenging questions about meaning and purpose in life, beliefs about God, ultimate reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human. At its worst, RE and RME will convey the idea that religious answers to these questions are the only ones worth considering, or it is exhaustively devoted to studying religious practice.

RE and RME can help ‘pupils develop their sense of identity and belonging’ (QCA guidance, 2000), but for the non-religious, RE and RME can be alienating, merely ‘a spectator sport’, as one Standing Advisory Council for RE Chair put it.

RE and RME should be relevant to the increasing numbers of young people who describe themselves as not religious.

How can a humanist perspective be included in lessons?

Arguments about the existence and nature of God
See Does God Exist? (PDF, age 11+/KS3+); Miracles and Faith Healing (PDF, age 11+/KS3+);  Evil and Suffering (PDF, age 11+/KS3+)

Artefacts
Humanists tend to value human artefacts that contribute to our understanding of the world around us, and human creations (e g medicine, art, literature, music) that contribute to our well-being and pleasure in the world. For example, fossils and meteorites can be used in discussions about evidence for a naturalistic view of the world.

Awe and wonder
These feelings may be felt by humanists at our growing understanding of the universe, at its size and complexity, and at the richness and beauty of the natural world, human ingenuity, and creativity.  They may even view supernatural entities and ‘higher realms’ – not as an embellishment of – but as a kind of distraction from the awe and wonder of the real world.

Creation stories
It is not only humanists who accept the scientific theories about the beginning of the Universe and the evolution of life on earth.
See How the Earth Began (PDF, age 4-11/KS1-2).

Death and the afterlife
See Death and Other Big Questions (PDF, age 11+/KS3+)

Morality and moral issues
See Thinking about ethics (PDF, age 11+/KS3+) and a range of other  Humanist Perspectives on social and moral issues.

Our shared humanity
Humanists are very aware of human similarities and the evolutionary realisation that we are all a part of ‘the human family’. Many experiences and emotions are shared by everyone, regardless of worldview. For example, humanists believe that the ‘Golden Rule’ is so widespread because it based on our common humanity –  we all want to be treated well and we all need to live harmoniously with others. Download a printable Golden Rule poster.

People
There are figures in history who exemplified humanist ideals in their lives and who are widely respected by humanists.
See Humanists working for a better world (PDF, age 11+/KS3+).

Prayer
Humanists do not pray, because they do not think there is anyone to pray to, but they do think and reflect, and they do have hopes, feelings, fears, and anxieties that they express to themselves, and to others, or in creative work.

Rites of passage
There are non-religious ceremonies available for atheists, agnostics, humanists and those who, for one reason or another, cannot participate in religious ceremonies or would prefer an alternative.
See Celebrations and Ceremonies (PDF, age 11+/KS3+).

Science and religion
Humanists favour science and scientific method in this perennial debate.  Many think that the “conflict” between science and religion is real – and who can blame them, given the space this debate takes up!  Humanists tend to think of science as illuminating, rather than destroying mystery, and believe that scientific knowledge brings untold advancement – and great responsibility – to humankind.
See NatureDeath and Other Big QuestionsEnvironmental IssuesMiracles and Faith HealingEmbryo ResearchGenetic research and engineering (all PDF, age 11+/KS3+).

Symbols
The symbol of the ‘happy human’ is widely used in humanist organisations.
See The Happy Human (PDF, age 4-11/KS1-2).

Texts
Humanists do not have sacred or obligatory texts, but many humanists respect and value books as storehouses of human knowledge, ideas and creativity.

Humanism for Schools

Humanism is a non-religious approach to life, which the 2013 national framework for RE in England recommends be studied in schools as an example of a 'non-religious worldview'.

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education@humanism.org.uk