A-level Religious Studies

A-Level Religious Studies complete content and assessment objectives

Philosophical Language and Thought
Ancient philosophical influences

• the philosophical views of Plato, in relation to:
o understanding of reality
o the Forms
o the analogy of the cave
• the philosophical views of Aristotle, in relation to:
o understanding of reality
o the four causes
o the Prime Mover

Key Knowledge
• Plato’s reliance on reason as opposed to the senses
• the nature of the Forms; hierarchy of the Forms
• details of the analogy, its purpose and relation to the theory of the Forms
• Aristotle’s use of teleology
• material, formal, efficient and final causes
• the nature of Aristotle’s Prime Mover and connections between this and the final cause

Soul, mind and body

• the philosophical language of soul, mind and body in the thinking of Plato and Aristotle
• metaphysics of consciousness including:
o substance dualism
o materialism

Key Knowledge
• Plato’s view of the soul as the essential and immaterial part of a human, temporarily united with the body
• Aristotle’s view of the soul as the form of the body; the way the body behaves and lives; something which cannot be separated from the body
• the idea that mind and body are distinct substances
• Descartes’ proposal of material and spiritual substances as a solution to the mind/soul and body problem
• the idea that mind and consciousness can be fully explained by physical or material interactions
• the rejection of a soul as a spiritual substance

The existence of God

Arguments based on observation

• the teleological argument
• the cosmological argument
• challenges to arguments from observation

Key Knowledge
• details this argument including reference to:
o Aquinas’ Fifth Way
o Paley
• details of this argument including reference to:
o Aquinas’ first three ways
• details of Hume’s criticisms of these arguments for the existence of God from natural religion
• the challenge of evolution

Arguments based on reason

• the ontological argument

Key knowledge
• Details of this argument including reference to:
o Anselm
o Gaunilo’s criticisms
o Kant’s criticisms

God and the World

Religious experience

• the nature and influence of religious experience, including:
o mystical experience
o conversion experience
• different ways in which individual religious experiences can be understood

Key Knowledge
• examples of mystical and conversion experiences and views about these, including:
o views and main conclusions of William James
• as union with a greater power
• psychological effect such as illusion
• the product of a physiological effect

The problem of evil

• the problem of evil and suffering:
o different presentations
o theodicies that propose some justification or reason for divine action or inaction in the face of evil

Key Knowledge
• including its logical (the inconsistency between divine attributes and the presence of evil) and evidential (the evidence of so much terrible evil in the world) aspects
• Augustine’s use of original perfection and the Fall
• Hick’s reworking of the Irenaean theodicy which gives some purpose to natural evil in enabling human beings to reach divine likeness

Religion and ethics

Normative Ethical Theories: Religious Approaches
Natural Law

• Aquinas’ natural law, including:
o telos
o the four tiers of law
o the precepts

Key Knowledge
• origins of the significant concept of telos in Aristotle and its religious development in the writing of Aquinas
• what they are and how they are related:
1. Eternal Law: the principles by which God made and controls the universe and which are only fully known to God
2. Divine Law: the law of God revealed in the Bible, particularly in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount
3. Natural Law: the moral law of God within human nature that is discoverable through the use of reason
4. Human Law: the laws of nations
• what they are and how they are related
o the key precept (do good, avoid evil)
o five primary precepts (preservation of life, ordering of society, worship of God, education of children, reproduction)
o secondary precepts

Situation Ethics

• Fletcher’s situation ethics, including:
o agape
o the six propositions
o conscience

Key Knowledge
• origins of agape in the New Testament and its religious development in the writing of Fletcher
• what they are and how they give rise to the theory of situation ethics and its approach to moral decision-making:
1. Love is the only thing that is intrinsically good
2. Love is the ruling norm in ethical decision-making and replaces all laws
3. Love and justice are the same thing –justice is love that is distributed
4. Love wills the neighbour’s good regardless of whether the neighbour is liked or not
5. Love is the goal or end of the act and that justifies any means to achieve that goal
6. Love decides on each situation as it arises without a set of laws to guide it
• what they are and how they are intended to be applied:
1. pragmatism: it is based on experience rather than on theory
2. relativism: it is based on making the absolute laws of Christian ethics relative
3. positivism: it begins with belief in the reality and importance of love
4. personalism: persons, not laws or anything else, are at the centre of situation ethics
• what conscience is and what it is not according to Fletcher, i.e. a verb not a noun; a term that describes attempts to make decisions creatively

Normative Ethical Theories

• Kantian ethics, including:
o duty
o the hypothetical imperative
o the categorical imperative and its three formulations
o the three postulates

Key Knowledge
• origins of the concept of duty (acting morally according to the good regardless of consequences) in deontological and absolutist approaches to ethics
• what it is (a command to act to achieve a desired result) and why it is not the imperative of morality
• what it is (a command to act that is good in itself regardless of consequences) and why it is the imperative of morality based on:
1. Formula of the law of nature (whereby a maxim can be established as a universal law)
2. Formula of the end in itself (whereby people are treated as ends in themselves and not means to an end)
3. Formula of the kingdom of ends (whereby a society of rationality is established in which people treat each other as ends and not means)
• what they are and why in obeying a moral command they are being accepted:
1. Freedom
2. Immortality
3. God


• Utilitarianism, including:
o utility
o the hedonic calculus
o act utilitarianism
o rule utilitarianism

Key Knowledge
• the use of the significant concept of utility (seeking the greatest balance of good over evil, or pleasure over pain) in teleological and relativist approaches to ethics
• what it is (calculating the benefit or harm of an act through its consequences) and its use as a measure of individual pleasure
• what it is (calculating the consequences of each situation on its own merits) and its use in promoting the greatest amount of good over evil, or pleasure over pain
• what it is (following accepted laws that lead to the greatest overall balance of good over evil, or pleasure over pain) and its use in promoting the common good

Applied Ethics

• Key ideas, including:
o sanctity of life
o quality of life
o voluntary euthanasia
o non-voluntary euthanasia

Key Knowledge
• the religious origins of this concept (that human life is made in God’s image and is therefore sacred in value)
• the secular origins of this significant concept (that human life has to possess certain attributes in order to have value)
• what it is (that a person’s life is ended at their request or with their consent) and its use in the case of incurable or terminal illness
• what it is (that a person’s life is ended without their consent but with the consent of someone representing their interests) and its use in the case of a patient who is in a persistent vegetative state

Business Ethics

• Key ideas, including:
o corporate social responsibility
o whistle-blowing
o good ethics is good business
o globalisation

Key Knowledge
• what it is (that a business has responsibility towards the community and environment) and its application to stakeholders, such as employees, customers, the local community, the country as whole and governments
• what it is (that an employee discloses wrongdoing to the employer or the public) and its application to the contract between employee and employer
• what it is (that good business decisions are good ethical decisions) and its application to shareholders and profit-making
• what it is (that around the world economies, industries, markets, cultures and policy-making is integrated) and its impact on stakeholders

Developments in religious thought

Christian thought
Augustine’s Teaching on Human Nature

• Human relationships pre- and post-Fall
• Original Sin and its effects on the will and human societies
• God’s grace

Key Knowledge
• Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis 3 (the Fall) including:
o the state of perfection before the Fall and Adam and Eve’s relationship as friends
o lust and selfish desires after the Fall
• Augustine’s teaching that Original Sin is passed on through sexual intercourse and is the cause of:
o human selfishness and lack of free will
o lack of stability and corruption in all human societies
• Augustine’s teaching that only God’s grace, his generous love, can overcome sin and the rebellious will to achieve the greatest good (summum bonum)

Death and the Afterlife

Christian teaching on:
o heaven
o hell
o purgatory
o election

Knowledge of God’s Existence

• Natural knowledge of God’s existence:
o as an innate human sense of the divine
o as seen in the order of creation
• Revealed knowledge of God’s existence:
o through faith and God’s grace
o revealed knowledge of God in Jesus Christ

The person of Jesus Christ

• Jesus Christ’s authority as:
o the Son of God
o a teacher of wisdom
o a liberator

Christian moral principles

• The diversity reasoning and practices and sources of ethics, including:
o the Bible as the only authority for Christian ethical practices
o Bible, Church and reason as the sources of Christian ethical practices
o love (agape) as the only Christian ethical principle which governs Christian practices

Christian moral action

• The teaching and example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on:
o duty to God and duty to the State
o Church as community and source of spiritual discipline
o the cost of discipleship

Isamic thought

Prophecy and Revelation

• The Muslim view of prophecy (nubuwwa) and revelation (wahy)
• Key prophets of the Abrahamic tradition:
o Ibrahim (Abraham)
o Musa (Moses)
o Isa (Jesus)
o The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)


• Hadith and Sira as sources for the life of the Prophet Muhammad
• The formation of the Sunni and Shi’a traditions, and their differing views on leadership and religious authority following the death of the prophet Muhammad

God is one

• The existence and oneness of God, including:
o theological arguments in the Qur’an
o interpretation of the anthropomorphic descriptions of God as in the Qur’an

Human destiny

• Qur’anic teachings on the meaning of human existence
• The afterlife
• Divine will and human action

The Shari’a

• The Shari’a as an ideal
• The Shari’a in practice, including:
o Islamic law (fiqh) as an interpretive effort (ijtihad)
o Ijtihad in practice


• Islamic spirituality
• Sufism
o theory
o practice

Jewish Thought

Jewish Oral and Written Law

• Introduction to Jewish oral and written sources
• The Babylonian Talmud
• Perkei Avot chapter 1

Covenant in the Torah

• The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1–3, 7; 15:1–21; 17:1–21)
• The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19:1–20:20)

Maimonides: Jewish Theologian and Philosopher

• Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith (Commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10):
o Principles 1–5 (Conception of G-d)
o Principles 6–9 (Revelation)
o Principles 10–13 (G-d’s relationship with man)

Suffering and hope

• Suffering (a study of Job 1–4, 38 and 42)
• Messianic Hope


• Halakhah in relation to food, including:
o kashrut (general)
o meat, dairy, parve
o shehitah
• Halakhah in relation to business ethics, including:
o loans
o deception
• Halakhah in relation to sex, including:
o sex as mitzvoth
o niddah
o ‘prohibited’ sexual acts or relations


• The process of conversion to Judaism as outlined within the Shulkhan Arukh
• Responses within modern Judaism to conversion

Buddhist Thought

The Buddha

• Siddhartha’s life
• the Buddha’s intellectual context
Taking Refuge
• the Three Refuges/Jewels:
o Buddha
o Dhamma/Dharma
o Sangha/Samgha


• samsara and the six realms of existence
• how these relate to:
o punabbhava/punarbhava (rebirth)
o the three fires/poisons
o kamma/karma
o paticcasamuppada/ pratityasamutpada (dependent origination)

The Three Marks of Existence

• anicca/anitya (impermanence)
• dukkha/duhkha (suffering)
• anatta/anatman (no self)

Four Noble Truths

• the Four Noble Truths:
o dukkha/duhkha (suffering)
o tanha/trishna (craving)
o nibbana/nirvana
o magga/marga (path)


• methods of meditation
• the aims and results of meditation

Hindu Thought

Development and Diversity

• the Indus Valley civilisation and its connection with the origins of Hinduism
• the significance of the Vedic period
• the development of theistic traditions, including:
o Vaishnaivism
o Shaivism
o Shaktism

Wisdom and authority

• the multiplicity of Hindu Scriptures
• the importance and role of holy persons, including:
o ascetics or mendicants (Sadhus/Sadhvi)
o practitioners of Yoga (Yogis/Yoginis)
o teachers (Gurus or Swamis)
o renunciates (Sannyasi)


• ways of conceptualising Brahman and the existence of Brahman
• the relationship of Brahman, atman (self) and samsara (cycle of birth, death and rebirth)

Samsara and Karma

• the cycle of birth and death (samsara), including:
o liberation from samsara through surrender and grace
• karma, samsara and liberation, including:
o aspects of karma
o karma in relation to samsara

The Concept of Dharma

• dharma and adharma
• dharma in the context of righteous living

Living in Accordance with Dharma

• varnashramadharma and righteous living according to traditional Hindu virtues
• the virtues of:
o non-violence
o detachment
o self-restraint


• the origins and focus of Vedanta
• the significance of Vedanta for Hinduism
• different schools of Vedanta:
o the Advaita Vedanta of Sankara
o the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Ramanuja
o the Dvaita Vedanta of Madhva

Hinduism as ‘Religion’

• origins of the term ‘Hinduism’
• criticisms of the concept of religion in relation to Hinduism

Hinduism and India

• Hinduism and India, including:
o India as a holy land for Hindu traditions
o Hindutva
o diversity of religions in India and attitudes of Hindus towards these
o religion and the law

Hinduism and the West

• Western understandings of Hinduism and being a Hindu in the West, including:
o Hinduism outside India
o practising traditional Hinduism outside India and in a non-Hindu society
o influence of Vivekananda, Ramakrishna and Gandhi

Hinduism, Equality and Discrimination

• Hindu understandings of issues relating to equality and discrimination, including:
o dalits and the issue of untouchability
o the traditional roles of men and women in Hinduism

Hinduism and Social Reform

• attempts at reform, including:
o feminism and womens’ movements
o dalit movements and networks

Assessment details

Assessment Objectives

  • AO1: Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of religion and belief, including:
    • religious, philosophical and/or ethical thought and teaching
    • influence of beliefs, teachings and practices on individuals, communities and societies
    • cause and significance of similarities and differences in belief, teaching and practice
    • approaches to the study of religion and belief.
  • AO2: Analyse and evaluate aspects of, and approaches to, religion and belief, including their significance, influence and study.
Close Menu