My endeavour to include more women in A Level Religious Studies led to an invitation to speak on this topic at the NATRE (National Association of Teachers of Religious Education) yearly conference, Strictly RE 2022. In particular, the talk and this blog focus on how modern female scholars can be incorporated into modules on Philosophy of Religion, Ethics and Developments in Christian Thought.
Here are just a few suggestions of how female scholars can be incorporated into A Level Religious Studies. Hopefully they will help to support your students in seeing how the areas they study are still relevant and researched today.
- Professor Carol Gilligan’s theory, the ethics of care, provides a critique of deontological and consequential theories. For example, questioning whether actions are right if they can be universalised, or if they benefit the majority. She suggests instead this should be based on whether it responds to the needs of individuals, even if this means we act differently towards others in the same situation.
- Dr Hannah Critchlow, in her book, The Science of Fate, provides insights for discussions surrounding whether we are truly free. She shows how biological factors or the way the brain processes information can unconsciously shape our choices.
- If you are studying Kant, Baroness Onora O’Neill is a must as she provides numerous examples of how his work applies to modern dilemmas. She also highlights how, for this philosopher, freedom means acting according to universal rational principles, rather than doing what you want – an interesting thought for those considering debates surrounding Covid vaccinations.
- If you are exploring topics connected to sexual ethics, particularly going beyond a focus on heterosexuality, the work of Dr Susanna Cornwell and Marcella Althaus-Reid are both eminently relevant.
Philosophy of Religion
- God: An Anatomy, written by Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou, is very useful. Here, she argues for a corporeal view of God in the Jewish scriptures and the Christian Bible. Numerous passages are provided to support her thesis as she moves from looking at those which focus on his feet, to his legs, torso and finally head. The book is useful for exploring how language about God should be understood (via analogy, symbols, the via negativa or something else). It also provides further thought for units focusing on the attributes of God, especially discussions surrounding whether the philosophical concept of God is supported by the Bible.
- Dr Mary Midgley (who famously, with Iris Murdoch, Phillipa Foot and Elizabeth Anscombe, made up a quartet of British female philosophers who studied together at university during the Second World War) links well to topics looking at the human person. She argues that both materialism, as seen in the work of Hobbes, and dualism, such as the view of Descartes, are problematic. Dualism makes us forget we are part of the natural world, which leads to unethical consequences such as environmental abuse, and materialism ignores the inner experience, narrowing our views so that we think only science has the answers. Instead, Midgley claims, we need aspects of both in order to fully understand the person.
- Women in Western Political Thought by Professor Susan Moller Okin explores the view of women in the works of philosophers including Plato, Aristotle and Mill, which many students study at A Level.
Developments in Christian Thought
In some specifications on the Developments in Christian Thought, there are units on liberation theology and feminism. Both of these can include discussions surrounding the work of various womanist scholars.
- The Black Christ, by Dr Kelly Brown Douglas provides a thorough insight into the roots of this understanding of Christ, as well as developments during the 1960s within Black theology. She argues that womanism, with its focus on wholeness, can be used to criticise not only Black theology but also feminism during this time.
- Courtney Hall Lee in her book, Black Madonna, develops this further by showing how womanism not only applies to Jesus, but also to Mary.
- The numerous works of Dr Paula Gooder are highly relevant to the specification. Her book, Phoebe, provides a novel insight into the early Jesus movement and the actions of Paul. It is also useful for considering the importance of hermeneutics when reading various biblical passages, particularly those relating to women, sexuality, marriage and the family.
- Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean, written by a trio of female scholars (Dr Sara Parks, Dr Shayna Sheinfeld and Dr Meredith J. C. Warren) is an excellent companion to Phoebe as it helps provide further information into the significant role women played in the early Jesus movement.
Dr Rachael Jackson-Royal (@rroyal110) is a head of RE in a school in the West Midlands. She is also an author for Oxford University Press and is the research and exams officer for NATRE.