All posts by Greg Barker

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5 Fantastic and Uncommon RE Resources

We are rich in resources – many of which are just the press of a button away.

Besides excellent subject guides, there are a host of online blogs, videos, articles and audio files.  But which ones are the best – based on solid scholarship AND relevant to your teaching?

Here are just 5 outstanding resources I find myself recommending to teachers across Britain.

(I have 6th form students in mind – though you’ll see that some are great for Key Stages 3 and 4):

1. Readable Atheism.

Richard Dawkins is the atheist-of-choice in today’s classroom – few can beat his pithy sound-bytes and debate-inducing barbs! Yet, for those of you who teach philosophy, an incredible resource is the philosopher A. C. Grayling’s book of very short essays, “Against All Gods”. It’s only 67 pages long and each essay is only 7or 8 pages in length.  You can see a preview right here on Amazon.

2.    Go to the Synagogue, Mosque or Temple- Now.

TrueTube (www.truetube.co.uk) has lesson plans, videos and assembly scripts for Key Stage 3 and 4; their series of videos, ‘Holy Cribs’ is a great introduction to diverse places of worship for even older students.   Many of these videos feature a teenager who explains basic features of places of worship – they are fast paced, engaging and filled with key beliefs and practices.  Click and use!

3. Jesus in Pictures.

“Jesus Through the Centuries” is an incredible book for teaching history or theology or BOTH. World-renowned scholar Jaroslav Pelikan wondered what could be learned about history by looking at the ways in which Jesus was portrayed in art in different time periods.  The book shows the values and ideals of each generation – some of which have something to do with Jesus and many of which don’t!   It’s worth getting just for the pictures alone!  See an Amazon preview here.

4.    Short Books on Big Theorists

Did you know about SCM’s “Briefly Series?” They cover a range of great thinkers though the ages – including all of the main figures covered in Philosophy and Ethics at the AS and A2 level.  They are usually less than 100 pages and are “pitched” at Key Stage 5. I expect that only the more able students will plough all the way through one of these – but they are also incredibly useful in your own lesson preparation. The summary book of the series “25 Great Philosophers from Plato to Sartre” gives key ideas and tips for further reading – check it out here. 

5. Judaism in Action

I’ve often been asked, “Is there is a theatrical film which shows Jewish worship and learning in action?”   The slightly dated  historical  Rom-Com ‘Yentl’ is the best bet. There’s an incredible scene of Yentl (played by Barbra Streisand) showing her love of Talmudic study in a European Yeshiva. This lends itself well for showing how engaging Jewish learning can be – getting away from the stereotype of Judaism as “dead legalism.” Yes: it’s available on DVD! 

More Resources Here

Need an Energising General RE Day for your entire 6th Form, GCSE, or specific classes? OR, Want to “Tool Up” Your Students for A-Level Exams?

I visit schools across the Britain – with bespoke days for your students.

Contact me for a free consultation: greg@gregbarkercoaching.com

For Endorsements on my work from Schools go here. For more about my day at your School go here.

 

The Future of Religion In Europe

“Spirituality” and not only “Religion” is declining according to this study.

I’d like to introduce you to my favorite article on the future of Religion in Europe.

You can read a short summary below or just go here for the article: “The Rise and Fall of Fuzzy Fidelity in Europe”

A Short Summary

David Voas is an eminent quantitative social scientist with a background in demography.

He is currently leading an investigation of religious and secular morality in Europe.

In this article he challenges the popular assumption that as religion declines a liberal theology or “spirituality” is flourishing.

The Main Argument

As we all know, traditional religious groups are in decline – no one argues this.

However, what Voas does argue is that the dramatic rise of “fuzzy fidelity” (or liberal, non-traditional spiritual groups) at the beginning of the twentieth centure is NOT a new form of religion destined to grow but is itself a transitional stage on the path to more fully secular culture.

In other words, liberal or non-traditional spiritual groups have not been successful at handing on their orientation to a new generation.

There has been a deep and possibly abiding disconnection. In fact liberal believers have been just as bad at handing on their faith as traditional religious groups, though perhaps for different reasons.

It is a startling study, in part, because it challenges the popular assumption, “if people don’t value religion they at least value spirituality.”

In terms of organizations which represent both groups – they are both drying up according to Voas.

-Greg Barker

Atheism: An Extremely Brief Introduction

A*the*ism (popular meaning:) focusing on the power of science over superstition. synonyms: naturalism, humanism, European enlightenment thought, irreligion and skepticism

This brief article introduces the idea of Atheism and some religious objections to it. It ends with a discussion question.

Atheism, literally “no-God-ism”, arose in societies weary of the power of the clergy and aware of the many ways in which religion could be used to abuse rather than liberate.

As Europe became more aware of scientific explanations for what had been previously considered supernatural phenomena, many intellectuals became emboldened to criticize a religious understanding of the world.

More recently, atheists have even challenged agnostics (those who claim to be uncertain of God’s existence) to get off the fence and join with them to counter what they view as the dark forces of religion: ignorance, bigotry, sexual repression, superstition, manipulation and violence.

A number of recent writers are now using the phrase “spiritual atheist” to describe their views, a combination which tries to balance the “no” of atheism to religion with a “yes” to ideas of beauty, truth and goodness.

These writers insist rather than leading to a dry and analytical approach to life, atheism provides a solid foundation for a sense awe and connection between all of life.

Religion Fights Back

Many religious believers have not been happy with these developments.

They object to the characterization of faith as innately violent and have charged that atheism itself is lacks the ability to teach and inspire that one critical element which the church imparts to society: morality.

Thus, religionists have observed that renowned atheists of the past, like Stalin, have led the world into darkness.

The logical outcome of an atheist future, they charge, is a “godless immorality” resulting in the eventual emergence of one megalomaniac dictator guided by nothing but pride, greed and desire for more power.

What the world truly needs, say these believers, is the moral inoculation of religion. Only then can society be sustained through inevitable “political infections” like atheism.

Peaceful Atheists?

“He [Gene Roddenberry] was a secular humanist and made it well known to writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion and superstition and mystical thinking were not to be part of his universe. On Roddenberry’s future Earth, everyone is an atheist. And that world is the better for it.”
-Brannon Braga, producer with the most writing credits in the Star Trek franchise. ‘Every Religion Has a Mythology’

The dark vision of an atheist future painted by some religionists is at odds, however, with the reality of atheism in many western countries.

In contrast to Stalin, there are many atheists who promote a peaceful political agenda and even a secular spirituality.

Many atheist figures hated by religious people arose in times of social upheaval when the religion of the state was itself complicit in supporting an oppressive status quo.

Discussion:

What if society were to gently and consistently become atheist by nature? Would this future be the immoral night of terror envisioned by some religious adherents?

-Greg Barker
www.gregbarker.consulting

The Divinity of Kate Middleton

The church may be in decline but we still create saints -says Greg Barker

An estate agent showed a news reporter around the home where Katherine Middleton spent her childhood.

There it was: a generously sized brick home in a middle class British neighborhood. Was this special BBC report worthy of the evening news?

I was about to turn channels, but the scene shifted from the house to Kate herself – and kept me glued to my seat as much was revealed about our human religious impulse.

It appears that the estate agent had bumped into a 13-year-old Kate when he sold the home some years ago.

This fact was too hard for the reporter to resist – “What was Katherine like?” “Was she like other girls – was there anything different about her?” “Did she say or do anything that stood out in your mind?”

The estate agent overflowed with praise for Katherine: her fine manners, her maturity, her intelligence…one would have thought that if the lights had been turned out in the house, Katherine would have been seen glowing.

Here we were already we were re-writing her life history so it would better accompany her fairytale marriage to a prince.

Instead of a girl with “ups” and “downs” normal for her social class and cultural context, instead of a girl who could be moody as well as delightful – and even perhaps pick her nose behind closed doors – we were being introduced to…

…a saint.

Even in this modern day and age we can still invent a divine figure: Kate Middleton. She reflects what we associate with contemporary divinity – wealth, good looks and media attention.

This human tendency to re-write history, to see what we want to see, is what makes the study of Religion so fascinating.

Our task, with our students, is to roll up our sleeves and dig around in history – using all of the tools at our disposal – psychology, archaeology, sociology, anthropology – and examine what people believe and why.

We do this to better understand what people in other eras called “divine”. This quest also helps us to become aware of our own “divinities” – and even be a little more skeptical of our “news”.

Gregory A. Barker
www.gregbarker.consulting

The Exotic Religion of Choice

How much do our attitudes about religion have to do with social or political factors? – asks Greg Barker

Ever ask your friends what religion they find intriguing and would like to know more about?

The answer likely won’t be Christianity.

Christianity has not fared too well between the last two UK censuses with a whopping 12% decrease among those who say they belong to it – and a corresponding increase in the “no religion” category.

If your friends are like mine, the answer to the question is Buddhism.

But it wasn’t always so. A few decades ago, it used to be Hinduism.

We used to be mesmerized by Indian gurus who taught us about self-realization, meditation and the deep interrelationship between all living things.

What happened? How did we move from Hinduism to Buddhism as the exotic religion of choice?

How We Choose Religions To Hate and Love…

There were many factors: British interest shifted away from India in the post war period as our colonial presence dramatically declined.

Most Hindu leaders who came to teach in the United Kingdom were well meaning but a few flamboyant and greedy gurus found themselves on the wrong side of the media.

Then China invaded Tibet and a prominent Buddhist came to be known around the world: The Dalai Lama.

Culture wars between religion and science intensified and many British intellectuals promoted Buddhism as compatible with an atheistic stance.

It also doesn’t hurt that Richard Gere and other Hollywood stars have been attracted to this religion.

All of these reasons – and more – have conspired to make Buddhism the current exotic religion of choice.

It’s interesting that many Buddhists living in lands where it has long been the traditional religion wouldn’t recognize the Buddhism described by newcomers to it in the United Kingdom.

Ours is a Buddhism shaped by our own desires and prejudices.

The Big Question

Here’s a question I want to ask you:

Could it be that we find intriguing in religion may have more to do with political and social tides than we may usually think?

…and could it be that what we disdain in a religion has more to do with the fact that familiarity breeds contempt than with a reasoned assessment?

After all, just look at how unpopular Buddhism has been at times in China…and how “exotic” Christianity has appeared to some of those who have disliked traditional forms of Buddhism…

-Greg Barker

Gregory A Barker, PhD is a writer, educational consultant, coach and popular speaker at Schools across the United Kingdom. He can be reached at greg@gregbarkercoaching.com His book, Jesus Beyond Christianity: The Classic Texts, has been published by Oxford University Press.