What is the purpose of RE?
Critics of RE are all too quick to dismiss the subject as "old fashioned", "irrelevant" or "biased towards one faith or another". In Lincolnshire, Christianity remains the most popular and widely practiced faith; in the 2011 census, 58% of Lincoln residents identified Christianity as their faith, despite its decreasing popularity nationwide. Numbers of Christian adherents have also been growing in Boston and its surrounding areas due to the massive wave of Eastern European immigration. This means that it is probable most RE teachers in Lincs focus on helping students to understand their own Christian values and responsibilities in the hope of moulding them into conforming local citizens.
However, there are RE teachers in Lincolnshire who prefer a much broader RE curriculum that goes beyond exploring local religious beliefs and practices and allowing students to debate moral issues in depth from religious and non-religious viewpoints. Some even prefer to touch upon philosophical concepts to help students to develop crucial critical thinking skills that will prepare them for HE and beyond.
Charlotte Vardy (2014) has talked about the need to explore different purposes for RE in the UK. I believe she has touched on 3 main purposes of RE that even LBGTQIA teachers can agree with:
- Religious Studies is the main opportunity for young people to address ultimate questions and moral issues which affect people of all faiths and none.
- Religious Studies is a sociological exploration of the phenomenon of Religion, comparing different traditions and showing them to be essentially similar responses to the human condition.
- Religious Studies provides the best opportunity to teach higher level skills such as critical analysis, evaluation and argument, which all students need for university and which other subjects often fail to deliver.
How to make LGBTQIA issues relevant for RE Exams Example: A Framework for covering trans issues for Lincs local curriculum:
A discussion about trans issues has to be embedded into the exam syllabuses for GCSE or A Level Religious Studies. Most students will now answer questions on Philosophy (primarily looking at life after death, existence of God etc.) and Ethics (looking at gender identity, abortion, euthanasia etc.) from a religious and non religious point of view. I believe that teachers must focus on at least 3 religions in addition to a discussion about queer theory and feminism to make the discussion impartial.
- What is transgenderism - offer a number of different definitions from trans organisations' websites, from dictionaries and online search engines and from trans people's own testimonies.
- Christian responses to transgenderism - Biblical quotes (especially from New Testament - e.g.. John 8:7 "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", gender neutral characters e.g. Ethiopian Eunuch and Jesus's explanation of Eunuchs and need for acceptance. Catholic Catechism (gender fluidity can lead to the "breakdown in the fabric of society"), Anglian/Methodist doctrine (accept transgender people without endorsing their life choices) vs Liberal Christian doctrine (Situation Ethics- God is Love; Love is the goal for all humans "What Would Jesus Do?" etc.)
- Islamic responses to transgenderism -4 gender divisions : male, female, hermaphrodites (khunsa) and Mukhannas (MTF who want to change their sex through surgery). Qu'ran explicitly recognising trans people (Verses 42:49-42:50). Transgender as genetic "disorder" rather than a matter of choice.
- Jewish responses to transgenderism - Talmud's gender categories - e.g. the androgynos (a hermaphrodite with male and female organs), the tumtum (someone with hidden or underdeveloped genitalia), the eylonit (a masculine woman) and the saris (a feminine man).
- Torah - Deuteronomy 22:5 (Against crossdressing) and need for Jews to follow Jewish ethics (tzedek = justice and briyut = health) and treat trans people as part of the Jewish community if they identify as Jewish.
- Queer Theory - Judith Butler's "Gender as performance" theory. See:http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/life-is-just-one-long-masquerade.html
- Feminist approaches to transgenderism - Germaine Greer's "Pantomime Dames" critiquing MTF transgender people as "parodying women" vs Transfeminist activists such as Julia Serano and Paris Lees.
- Basic GCSE Exam question tie-in: Explain the difference between sex and gender.