Religious Studies rapidly growing in England and Wales

Entries for Religious Studies A level rising faster than for any other Arts, Humanity or Social Science

The key outcomes of the 2015 A level results in England and Wales for Religious Education are as follows:

  • 23,372 RS A level entries were recorded, an increase of 6.5% on 2014 and more than double the number is 2003 (11,132 entries were recorded in 2003)
  • The number of entries for RS A level has increased by 110% since 2003, more than for any arts, humanity or social science subject (the nearest subject is Political Studies with an increase of 62%). Among all subjects, only Further Maths has seen a more rapid growth than RS
  • 23.3% of entries for RS A level were awarded an A or A*
  • There were 37,365 entries for RS at AS level, an increase of 5% on 2014 and more than double the number in 2003 (15,482 entries were recorded in 2003)

The contextual evidence shows the growing status of RS as a subject for Higher Education entry:

  • The Russell Group of top universities has made it clear that RS A level provides ‘suitable preparation for University generally’
  • Both Oxford and Cambridge University include Religious Studies in the top level list of ‘generally suitable Arts A levels’
  • Applicants with Religious Studies A level were more likely to gain admission to study History at Oxford University in 2012 than those with A levels in many ‘facilitating’ subjects
  • 20% of students admitted to Oxford University to study mathematics in 2012 had an RS A level (more than those with Economics, Physics and Business Studies A levels)
  • Research from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University on the comparative difficulty of different subjects at A level showed that RS was ‘in the middle difficulty range, similar to Geography and more demanding than English’ {1}

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Ecology in Cities – Sea of Faith seminar open to all.

Sea of Faith in Australia

MINI-CONFERENCE 2017

urban ecology

What Can We Learn about Ecology in Cities

from the Queens Wharf Casino Project?

10:30am to 2:30pm, Saturday 10 June 2017

with optional preview from 9:00am

South Bank, Brisbane

The massive Queens Wharf Development Project in Brisbane’s CBD is already well under way. What are the implications for the ecology of the area?

(See http://www.statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/major-projects/queens-wharf-brisbane.html )

If you are interested in or concerned about this project, this function is an opportunity for you to see the site, hear informed speakers and discuss some of the political, social and ethical issues arising. The guest speakers will be:

Steve Keating, State Development Department;

Irina Anastasiu, Urban Planner, QUT;

Jonathan Sri, BCC Councillor.

Program

Optional preview

09:00-09:45    View Queens Wharf site from George Street (meet at Queens Gardens)

09:45-10:00    Walk to South Bank

10:00-10:30    Informal morning tea (participants to arrange at local cafés)

Main program

10:30-11:15    Riverwalk, South Bank (in front of the Nepalese Pagoda)

                        View Queens Wharf site, short briefing followed by informal discussion

11:15-11:30    Move to Meeting Room 1B, State Library of Queensland

11:30-12:30    Presentation and discussion

Speaker: Steve Keating (State Development Department)

12:30-01:30    Lunch (light lunch available, $20)

01:30-02:30    Presentations and discussion

Speakers: Irina Anastasiu (Urban Planning, QUT) and Jonathan Sri (BCC Councillor)

The Mini-Conference will be followed at 2.30 pm by the AGM of SoFiA. (Optional)

There will be no charge for the Mini-Conference, but a donation of $10 per person would help defray the costs of the meeting room.

A light lunch will be available for $20.

Please let us know if you intend to come so that we can order lunches and send you further information on the event.

RSVP by Saturday 3 June, to: johncarr@ozemail.com.au

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ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART – via APCV

Spokespersons for the AUSTRALIAN PROGRESSIVE CHRISTAN VOICE [APCV] today urged fellow Australians to accept the invitation of the ULURU STATEMENT OF THE HEART” to “walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”.

Australian Progressive Christian Voice is calling on the Prime Minister, other political leaders, the media and all Australian institutions to give strong, compassionate and urgent  leadership as the nation processes the Uluru statement and its legitimate proposals. As in the 1967 Constitutional referendum, APCV believe there is widespread goodwill in our nation to be harnessed for this historic journey.

Chair of the APCV, Rev Dr Peter Catt, Dean of St John’s Cathedral Brisbane, endorsed the Statement’s claim that “with substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood”. Dr Catt added: “There is nothing for non-indigenous Australians to fear here.”

Rev Dr Noel Preston AM (of the Uniting Church) added: “The Uluru Statement is the culmination of widespread consultation. It is a modest but significant appeal for substantial progress in the unfinished business of reconciliation between the First Australians and us, the other citizens of our nation.”

Dr Preston further observed: “When the constitution of 1901 was drafted the voice of the original Australians was not present. It is now time to right that wrong.”

“As progressive Christians we especially appeal to our fellow Christians and the leaders of all faith communities to give support  to a process which should lead to a referendum in the near future and subsequent decisions by the federal Parliament.”

These decisions include the recognition “establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution” and (not in the Constitution) a Makarrata Commission “to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”. (“Makarrata” is term meaning “the coming together after a struggle”). END

CONTACT  Dr Noel Preston  0419 789 249 and 07 3822 7400 or

n.preston@griffith.edu.au

Noel Preston  1 June, 2017

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Bursaries to encourage progressive reading by theology students

A call for expressions of interest in proposed scholarships to support theological studies at Trinity Theological College, Brisbane.

Paul Inglis, 7th May 2017

It is clear that maPaul-150x150ny of today’s congregations include people who have been educated to think critically, have opinions and judge knowledge that is presented to them on its merits and their own life experiences and education. It is also clear that many congregations welcome people who ask questions and have doubts about many taken for granted theological shibboleths. It is always refreshing to hear a preacher say that what he or she is about to say is open to examination and critical study. Congregations of the future are likely to be more diverse in their thinking and require leadership that facilitates a safe environment for a range of perspectives. We want to support the development of this leadership.

The Uniting Church was quite adamant at its formation that there will be flexibility and more to learn about the scriptures as new scholarship emerges.

The Basis of Union stands as witness:

” PARAGRAPH 11 11. SCHOLARLY INTERPRETERS The Uniting Church acknowledges that God has never left the Church without faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture, or without those who have reflected deeply upon, and acted trustingly in obedience to, God’s living Word. In particular the Uniting Church enters into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiry which has characterised recent centuries, and gives thanks for the knowledge of God’s ways with humanity which are open to an informed faith. The Uniting Church lives within a worldwide fellowship of Churches in which it will learn to sharpen its understanding of the will and purpose of God by contact with contemporary thought. Within that fellowship the Uniting Church also stands in relation to contemporary societies in ways which will help it to understand its own nature and mission. The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr. It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.”

Through the generosity of the UCFORUM chairperson, Rodney Eivers, we will be maRodney2king available an annual sum of $10,000 to be distributed to students who are prepared to show evidence of reading, but not necessarily endorsing, the thinking of contemporary progressive theologians. The amount of individual bursaries is dependent on interest and further discussions with the Queensland Synod’s Board of Christian Formation. The manner of selecting these students will not be complex and involve writing a short reflection that makes reference to some progressive writers. A comprehensive reading list will be made available. Many of the authors are now represented in Trinity College library and other texts will be accessible from the UCFORUM.

More details will be made available in the near future, but in the meantime we are keen to gather expressions of interest from prospective and current students. We would like to have an email list of people we can send information to when the bursaries are launched. Perhaps you have some study plans yourself or know someone who would value being on our mailing list. Please pass on this information.

Please send your name and email contact details to: ucbursaries@bigpond.com

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OVERSEAS AID: A MORAL AND PRACTICAL IMPERATIVE

OVERSEAS AID: A MORAL AND PRACTICAL IMPERATIVE

There is little of the policy of the current government that resonates with John Donne’s truth that no man is an island unto himself. With the reduction of Australia’s overseas aid at an all-time low of 23 cents in every hundred dollars of national income, the shoreline of our island home marks the boundary of our official compassion.

The guardians of our collective wealth, our treasurers, plead the need at home and budget repair. Countries in a more stretched financial situation than us do much better. For example, in the United Kingdom at the urging of David Cameron, Parliament embodied the British commitment of 0.7% of GDP into legislation.

The Australian Commonwealth Government aid represents 1% of the national budget.

So Australian charity largely begins and ends at home. But at stake are national interests. Our meagre engagement with the world surrenders our capacity to address three global challenges from which our Antipodean remoteness cannot shield us: inequality, climate change and movement of people. This has significant moral implications for Christians as Matthew Anslow of TEAR Australia explains,

“The fundamental failure of the Government is not so much the immorality of failing to   increase aid to 0.5% of GNI by 2015 as per our commitment; it is failing to positively invest in a more moral world for the twenty-first century.

Now, this is not to say that aid stands alone in its moral status, especially given there are other policy priorities in our budget that include a strong moral claim. But foreign aid is a signal that we, as Australians, are willing to face up to the world’s broken political economy and our place in it, and deal with the downsides of globalisation, even as we enjoy basking in its benefits.

We should thus look again [at] the Zacchaeus story [Luke 19], and be reminded that our liberation is intrinsically connected to the liberation of all peoples.

Foreign aid is the expression of the idea that Australians are willing to look beyond our borders and immediate interests, and act to build a better world-system where everyone has a seat at the table, where all have a fair share of the world’s resources.”

According to an Oxfam study, “the globe’s richest eight men have a staggering net wealth of $621bn – co-existing in a world of extreme poverty where one in 10 people are surviving on less than US$2 a day, and where one in nine people go to bed hungry every night.”

People are not moved to uproot themselves from home and embark on perilous boat journeys when their homeland is secure and respects human rights. These values, secured by a vibrant civil society, are threatened by destabilising gross inequality, a situation ameliorated by programs of Australian aid organisations now subject to crippling cutbacks ? programs that strengthened civil society and improved governance in societies. Political capture is taking place with those at the top, the wealthiest, excluding the poorest from the common wealth and services. The resulting instability and the inevitable consequences of climate change will create a tsunami of refugees when sea level rise displaces the inhabitants of the Ganges, Irrawaddy and Mekong deltas. Enhancing local capacity to mitigate and adapt to the consequences requires aid. Reducing our own greenhouse emissions and establishment of distributed renewable energy systems can both head off the worst of climate change and lift the poorest out of poverty.

Politicians feel they can get away with savage cuts because there are thought to be no votes in overseas aid and some argue that it disempowers the recipient. Yes, fostering trade is important but projects carefully crafted between aid organisations and local partners are incontrovertibly effective. Australia ranks as an outlier among countries with whom we like to compare ourselves. These aspire to contribute 70 cents in every hundred dollars of national income to overseas aid as recommended by the Sustainable Development Goals. We lose our self-respect, our humanity and imperil our long-term interests.

Bill BushBill Bush

Bill is a member of the Uniting Church, taught in Malaysia for two and a half years as an Australian Volunteer Abroad. On his return to Australia he worked as an international lawyer in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for treaties and Antarctica. Since leaving the public service he has been heavily involved in drug law reform and social justice issues.

FURTHER READING

TEXT:

Action Aid – http://www.actionaid.org/australia

World Economic Forum, Outlook on the global agenda, 2015, trend 1, deepening income inequality at http://reports.weforum.org/outlook-global-agenda-2015/top-10-trends-of-2015/1-deepening-income-inequality/,

World Vision Australia: https://www.worldvision.com.au/home2203201701

Commonwealth of Australia, DFAT, Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability, June 2014 http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Documents/australian-aid-development-policy.pdf  and  http://dfat.gov.au/aid/Pages/australias-aid-program.aspx

Robin Davies, Measuring Australia’s foreign aid generosity, from Menzies to Turnbull at http://devpolicy.org/measuring-australias-foreign-aid-generosity-menzies-turnbull-20170203/.

General Assembly of the Unitied Nations, Resolution 70/1 adopted on 25 September 2015 on Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  [the Sustainable Development Goals] at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E

Matt Grudnoff, Charity ends at home – The decline of foreign aid in Australia (The Australia Institute) at http://www.tai.org.au/sites/defualt/files/P168%20Charity%20ends%20at%20home%20-%20foreign%20aid%20by%20foreign%20minister%20%28C%29_1.pdf.

Lowy Institute, The facts on foreign aid spending at https://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/australian-foreign-aid and a fact check here https://theconversation.com/factcheck-what-are-the-facts-on-australias-foreign-aid-spending-71146

AUDIOS

Helen Szoke CEO, Oxfam Australia, “Strategy, not charity: why we need effective aid now”, 21 September 2016 at http://ces.org.au/forums/2016/Szoke-audio/SzokeSpeech.mp3

Rev Tim Costello, “Fortress Australia – myth or reality?” Dinner forum, Thursday 27 August 2015 at http://ces.org.au/forums/2015/Costello-audio/CostelloSpeech.mp3

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The Kingdom of God: Why Progressive Christians think it is important

The Kingdom of God: Why Progressive Christians think it is important

For modern and postmodern readers, the phrase “Kingdom of God” seems archaic. The idea of Kings and Queens who sit at the top of a hierarchy and who “reign” seems highly romantic, or if you know any history, highly dodgy. The tyrannical self-centred nasty Kings far outnumber the benevolent ones. However, this is not a bad starting point. The way the gospel writers use the “Kingdom of God” challenges expected ideas of Kingship (and Empire, the Greek translation of Kingdom) and opens up new possibilities. In a sense, it is akin to Derrida’s discussions of Democracy in which the term is deconstructed, showing up the underlying power relations that distort current realities and impede future possibilities.

Unfortunately, for many years, actually millennia, most churches chose to ignore the critique of Kingdom explicit in the Gospels. This came to a head in the West when the church began to identify itself as the total embodiment of the Kingdom after they became a State religion under Constantine and his successors. The Russian Orthodox church under Putin is currently making the same mistake.

The Kingdom of God portrayed in Scripture is a strange, uncanny place that overturns expectations and which does not lend itself to easy definition. At the start of the Beatitudes we hear “How blessed are you who are poor: the Kingdom of God is yours” (Luke 6: 20). In our context this is like saying blessed are you who are on welfare and struggling to survive, working at poorly paid jobs and not making ends meet, sick with insufficient healthcare, homeless because you have fallen through the cracks of the welfare system, an Aboriginal person still suffering from historical and ongoing oppression or a refugee whose life is being made difficult by the State. This is far from the expected Kingdom where the rich and famous have pride of place. Later Jesus is recorded as making this very explicit when he says “In truth, I tell you, it is hard for someone rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 19:23-24). The disciples are recorded as being astonished by this response.

Matthew in his gospel often uses the term Kingdom of Heaven as a synonym for Kingdom of God. This appears to reflect the Jewish scruple which substituted metaphor for the divine name. Unfortunately, later Christians often replaced Kingdom of Heaven with simply “Heaven” depriving the term of its immanence. Hence the problem for the rich person of entering the Kingdom of God/Heaven is delayed till after death, as is the blessedness of the poor who also have to wait till they die and so then supposedly enter the blessed state. This is clearly not what is meant in the Scriptures. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand” (Mt 4:17): “The Kingdom of God is very near to you” (Lk 10:10): “I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God” (Lk 9:27).

Announcing the good news of the Kingdom of God is central to Jesus’ teaching (Mt 4:43). Yet paradoxically much of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom is done in parables which on first reading or hearing are not altogether clear, a point Jesus himself is recorded as acknowledging (Mt 13:10-11). One of the reasons for this seems to be that for Jesus, the Kingdom of God is not a concept but a reality that is both about to happen, is happening and will happen and that only those who follow him can hope to grasp the reality by entering and helping to create it. The Kingdom of God is not just another concept or principle that can be held at arm’s length and thought about. To begin to understand it, you need to help build it. The poor have a head start, the rich have huge difficulty getting to first base.

The Beatitudes adds other groups for whom features of the Kingdom of God becomes a lived reality: the gentle, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for uprightness (or justice), those who are merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness (Mt 5:4-10). This is an action plan for the new community of the Kingdom that is unfolding.

In his actions, Jesus also teaches that the Kingdom of God is a place of healing. This is made explicit in the response Jesus gives to John the Baptist when he asks if Jesus is the Messiah or should they wait for someone else, “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Lk 7:22).

There is an expectation on Jesus’ part that his followers will continue the work of the Kingdom in the here and now.  One of the clearest theologians I have found who has written on the Kingdom of God is the American Walter Rauschenbusch who was writing at the beginning of the 20th century but whose prose still feels amazingly fresh.

The Kingdom ideal contains the revolutionary force of Christianity. When this ideal faded out of the systematic thought of the Church, it became a conservative social influence and increased the weight of the other stationary forces of society. If the Kingdom of God had remained part of the theological and Christian consciousness, the Church could not, down to our own times, have been salaried by autocratic class governments to keep the democratic and economic impulses of the people under check (Rauschenbusch, A TheologyLen Baglow for the Social Gospel, 1918).

To enter the Kingdom of God is to embark on a great adventure. Personal survival is not guaranteed. Jesus and most of the apostles did not live long lives. It is costly in terms of personal wealth, security and fame. The goal of a just, loving, equitable and peaceful kingdom seems not only improbable but impossible. And yet! What a wonder it is! To work always for a better world. To be amazed, surprised, humbled, grateful for the ongoing love present in the world.

Len Baglow

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Book review: Beyond Power (Marilyn French)

Rodney Eivers, Chair of our UCFORUM Executive, has managed some reading over the Easter break.

Beyond Power,  – on Women, Men and Morals

Marilyn French (November 21, 1929 – May 2, 2009)

Being away from the pull of my at-home office for an Easter break gave me the opportunity to catch up with a bit of general reading. For the rare occasions  on which I have done this , oveMarilyn Frenchr the past 12 months or more, I have been working my way through, Marilyn French’s “Beyond Power – On men women and morals.”

Marilyn French was a flavour of the month feminist writer of a previous generation. Her best known title was probably, The Women’s Room. Beyond Power would probably claim to be an academic study on the tragic and demeaning effect that patriarchy has had on both women and men over many years – it has 640 closely-written pages with several thousand notes and references. I have no quarrel at all with her argument and it is one which needs to put. It does need to be kept in mind that being first published in 1985 the world had moved on in some respects. And yet as the daily newspapers remind us, the treatment of women by men and society’s attitudes even in our “enlightened” Western society still leaves much to be desired.

As I made my way through the book and its litany of “complaints” I found myself from time to time thinking, “Yes, all right, but what do we do about it?” Ms French does not seem to come up with any specific solution other than we can hope to educate people to “do the right thing”. There is no religious orientation. There is plenty to regret and condemnation at  the history of religions, including Christianity in their response to the place of women in our culture. The book does not hold back in describing instances of oppression.

Imagine my surprise, then when I reached the penultimate page of “Beyond Power” to find this paragraph:

But I am heartened by the thought of the early followers of Jesus’s ideas: slaves, women, publicans, poor Jews, Greeks, and Roman soldiers, prostitutes, respectable housewives, intellectuals, people who craved a new and more tolerant way of life; people who were sickened  by the Beyond Powerways of power. Of course, if their success stands as an example , the subsequent fate of their religion, which was swallowed whole by patriarchy, stands as a warning.“

Isn’t this what we are trying to achieve by revitalising the Jesus message through Progressive Christianity. I take heart that a relatively secular observer can come to the same conclusion.

Rodney Eivers,   April 2017

Canadian Conference – 1-3 September 2017

Planning a visit to Canada?

Why not attend this event in Edmonton Everwonder

Ever Wonder: An Expansive Spirituality Conference

For details and registrations go to:  Everwonder

What could spiritual community look like for those who have journeyed beyond a system of beliefs?

Ever Wonder…

What ethical compass do we have for navigating these times in which we live?

What do humanists, spiritual but not religious, atheists, and progressive Christians have in common and offer to the common good?

Whether there is a place for spirituality in our activism for a better world?

How to nurture an expansive spirituality rooted in values rather than beliefs?

What teachings the universe story might hold for us?

How to cultivate meaningful community while preserving individual freedom?

Where to find a hospitable place to explore these and other questions?

Ever Wonder is a conference for spiritual seekers who are open to wisdom from many sources, eager to learn from one another and willing to explore beyond the boundaries of belief systems.

Join us to experience meaningful music, inspiring spiritual gatherings, informative theme presentations, panel discussions, and workshops along with opportunities to have meaningful conversations with others exploring values based spirituality.  We will also celebrate the work of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity (2004-2016) and explore ways to cultivate an expansive spiritual network to serve us now.

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God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism

The Transhumanism topic has been exercising the minds of members of the UCFORUM Executive thanks to Paul Wildman. He has drawn our attention to this very interesting paper in the Guardian’s “Long Read” on 18th April 2017. The author is Meghan O’Gieblyn. Meghan is a writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work has appeared most recently in the Oxford American, Guernica and Indiana Review

Extracts:

“After losing her faith, a former evangelical Christian felt adrift in the world. She then found solace in a radical technological philosophy – but its promises of immortality and spiritual transcendence soon seemed unsettlingly familiar……”

“At Bible school, I had studied a branch of theology that divided all of history into successive stages by which God revealed his truth. We were told we were living in the “Dispensation of Grace”, the penultimate era, which precedes that glorious culmination, the “Millennial Kingdom”, when the clouds part and Christ returns and life is altered beyond comprehension. But I no longer believed in this future. More than the death of God, I was mourning the dissolution of this narrative, which envisioned all of history as an arc bending towards a moment of final redemption. It was a loss that had fractured even my experience of time. My hours had become non-hours. Days seemed to unravel and circle back on themselves………”

“Transhumanists, in their eagerness to preempt charges of dualism, tend to sound an awful lot like these early church fathers. Eric Steinhart, a “digitalist” philosopher at William Paterson University, is among the transhumanists who insist the resurrection must be physical. “Uploading does not aim to leave the flesh behind,” he writes, “on the contrary, it aims at the intensification of the flesh.” The irony is that transhumanists are arguing these questions as though they were the first to consider them. Their discussions give no indication that these debates belong to a theological tradition that stretches back to the earliest centuries of the Common Era……”

To read the article go to: God in the machine and be disturbed or challenged to find out more.

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