|Why study religion anyway?
RS is not just about learning facts and figures - anyone can do that on their own. Among other things studying religion also includes:
Most people expect more out of life than working to pay the bills. Your future life is likely to include all sorts of interests and activities which make the rest of it bearable, even though they may not be directly related to your job. As you go through life these will mature and you will encounter new interests and ideas. You will not be able to get the most out of these unless you have the 'cultural capital' to appreciate them. Religion is a fundamental part of many people's lives and this is often reflected in what they write, say, and do. In the news, literature, music and films, for example, there are often references to religious beliefs and practices. Unless you understand these references you are unlikely to fully appreciate what's going on.
Why, why, why...
We've probably all been irritated by small children who won't let an issue drop and keep asking, "But why?" To shut them up we might eventually respond with the phrase, "Because it just is!" This rarely satisfies them, and it won't satisfy your RS teachers either. In order to answer questions as to why religious people believe or do something, we have to give good reasons. This means making connections between beliefs and behaviour, and looking at how people arrive at their beliefs, decisions, and courses of action.
Many people, even if they are not members of a particular religious group, believe that there is more to life than material existence, and that having a 'spiritual' side is important. 'The spiritual' can be very difficult to define - for some it is connected with specific religious beliefs and practices; for others it is a less easily defined quality connected with the depths of wonder, awe, power and how we relate to nature and our place in the universe. Even though we may not have these feelings ourselves, if others are having this kind of experience of the world, then it is important to come to some understanding of what it means to them.
Why is all this important?
"No man is an island, entire of itself..."
Even if you hold a purely utilitarian view of education, there are good practical reasons for studying religion. When you finish your studies and go off into the big wide world of work you are likely to meet people who have a different outlook on life from your own. Most jobs require you to work together with others - if you understand 'where they're coming from' you'll have a better chance of explaining your own ideas to them. They will appreciate that you understand their viewpoint even if you don't agree with it, and they are likely to be more receptive to your way of thinking. Understanding others - how they think, feel, and are likely to behave - helps society function more efficiently; basically it makes life easier for all of us.
Many of the skills you learn in RS lessons are not exclusive to the subject. Being able to evaluate opinions, understand sources, interpret language, symbolism, metaphors, allegories and so on are all useful in other subjects such as History, English, Music, Classics and Languages. In Science some of the religious and moral issues we examine will also be useful in debates about the use of new technologies.
Questions, questions, questions...
In Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" the inhabitants of the legendary planet of Magrathea build a super-computer called 'Deep Thought' and set it the task of finding the answer to life, the universe, and everything. After thousands of years processing the question, Deep Thought arrives at the answer: 42. When asked, "What kind of an answer is that!?" Deep Thought replies, "What kind of a question is that!?" (or words to that effect). Raising questions is one of the most important activities in RS. But don't expect RS lessons to provide all the answers! Responding to a question with another question is not a new technique. Raising appropriate questions is a way of getting people to think more deeply about an issue - and you will probably leave a lesson with more questions than when you arrived.