Hodder History Expert Blog

Making sense of (religious) history (cont)
By Alec Fisher
17 Nov
How do we teach about religion in KS3 History? Part 2

As an author and teacher I have been trying to think more deeply about how best to teach religion and matters of faith in history lessons.

Religion in the British Empire
Empire seems another fertile area for development.

Christianity was not always compatible with the traditions and customs of indigenous populations in the British Empire. Neil Bates and I have written a section on the British Empire for Making Sense of History 1745-1901. One of our chapters considers the role that religion played in causing the 1857 Indian Mutiny. Greased cartridges were less of an issue than the muscular evangelism Sepoys were increasingly being subjected to. In the classroom, students could investigate the causes of the mutiny before improving on interpretations (there are many) that focus too narrowly on pig and cow fat!

In the classroom, you can ask broader questions that require students to weigh up the factors leading to imperial expansion, including religion and missionary zeal. Alternatively, you could pose the question, ‘Did the British Empire live up to its Christian ideals during the Victorian period?’

There is much to go on here. How Christian was gunboat diplomacy and the enforced sale of opium to the people of China? Does the overthrow of the Oba in Benin provide a more positive example, his human sacrifices brought to an end?

In Making Sense of History 1745-1901, Neil Bates has done some groundbreaking work on Irish history, (a much neglected aspect of British imperial history) looking at the breakdown in the relationship between Britain and Ireland.

Judging the Victorians by their own standards seems impossible without some reference to religion.

The Twentieth Century

What then of the twentieth century? Some of us expanding our coverage of WW1 have the opportunity to look at those brave men, many of them deeply religious, who defied the draft and were punished as Conscientious Objectors. When looking at Hitler’s Germany in KS3, could we ask students to explore how elements within the Catholic Church, and some individuals within the Protestant Church, opposed the regime?

Terrorism now features as a unit of study in many schools. Do we help our students understand the complex nature of Northern Irish sectarian politics and the Troubles? Could we get them to unpick the role religion played a compared with other factors? With Islamic fundamentalism never far from the headlines it is vital that History teachers combat the knee-jerk reactions that our children (and their parents) sometimes have.

Therefore, a worthwhile question might ask how far religion contributed to the events of 9/11? This is the approach we will be taking in the final book of the Making Sense of History series. There can be little doubt that this will be a contentious chapter to write. We plan to look first at the immediate causes, before working backwards trough the medium and long-term reasons, all the while encouraging the students to make links. But how far back should we go?

In blogs that raise more questions than they seek to answer, this seems a fitting point at which to end! If you have ideas to share about how best to teach about religion in Key Stage 3 I look forward to hearing from you! Send me message on Twitter: @alec_fisher.

I have permission from my publisher to award a Making Sense of History 50% discount voucher to the one I like the best - but there is a deadline - Sunday 23rd November.

Alec Fisher

Head of History at Mill Chase Academy, Bordon.
Co-Author of the Making Sense of History series.
Twitter: @alec_fisher
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