When philosophers scaremonger!

This is a response to an article in the Guardian Newspaper published today:

Philosophy is not religion. It must not be taught that way

The piece seems a little oversimplified to me. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with the new syllabus or the lack or choice (in more ways than one). However, to suggest that an AS level in epistemology and philosophy of religion would not qualify as a “real philosophy course” is, to be honest, absurd.

Philosophy of religion has a long and distinguished history as part of the discipline and many fine modern philosophers have shown how the field overlaps with other disciplines such as philosophy of mind, metaphysics and (meta)ethics. This does not mean to say that the other areas Saffrey mentions don’t matter. It just means that philosophy of religion matters as well. How well can one understand the philosophy of, well frankly, all the greatest philosophers in the western tradition if one has done no philosophy of religion?

Philosophy of religion may not be highest on the ‘to-do’ list for modern ‘secular’ students but so what? [1] It was high on the to-do list for the philosophers they should be studying. I also wonder if that is true. Where is the evidence that modern ‘secular’ students are not interested in philosophy of religion? Where is the evidence that they are lining up for metaphysics or philosophy of mind instead?

I’m also less than keen on the scaremongering toward the end. The suggestion that the teaching of philosophy of religion will almost single-handedly bring down the entire established tradition of doing philosophy in this country must be deliberate hyperbole?

I would suggest that instead of making the academic discipline of philosophy of religion the scapegoat we look at the real problem with this course (the board who construct it).

To end anecdotally, I would say that I have been teaching philosophy of religion for over a decade and have seen a good many students go on to do philosophy at some of the finest universities this country has to offer. When I see them they often comment on how glad they were to have started their journey into philosophy with a course as vibrant, engaging and, of course, highly controversial subject as philosophy of religion.

NB. In fairness to the author, he has since made it clear that he did not intend to belittle philosophy of religion at all. That being the case, it’s a shame he worded parts of his article so badly.

Here is the draft spec from the AQA.

If the author followed the logic of his argument he’d have to conclude that lots of these philosophy degrees aren’t real philosophy degrees at all!

List of Undergraduate degrees in philosophy at Heythrop College, London


[1] I was pretty sure that claim is not true before looking it up but if you look up this study published in 2013 by the University of Cambridge it appears that currently religious studies is nearly seven times more popular at A-level compared to philosophy!

For people in other countries, with other educational systems, the British A-level is the qualification students would be expected to achieve between high school and university. They normally take two years but if you do one year of study you get what is called an AS level.


About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
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