A Level Religious Studies


What is it about at sixth form level?

Is there a God? How should we live? These two fundamental questions underlie everything you will be looking at in the Religious Studies A level. You will be approaching them in a distinctively philosophical way. You will

be exploring many arguments for God’s existence and problems that argue for atheism. You will be comparing different theories of ethics from across the ages and looking at what they have to say about some very modern ethical problems. The importance of religious belief is being questioned today like never before and you will develop the skills to look at the issues in a sophisticated and critical way.

Many of the arguments and views have emerged within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and studying the New Testament will enrich and give context to these debates. However, the fundamental questions we started with transcend any one faith and this is not a course that tries to get you to make up your mind. Wherever you stand, there is much to be learned and admired from the complexity and subtlety with which theists, agnostics and atheists have addressed the sorts of questions that fascinate everyone.

Lower sixth

The AS qualification consists of three papers. In Paper 1 (Philosophy of Religion) you will begin by looking at three famous arguments for the existence of God: the design, cosmological and ontological arguments. You will then consider whether evil presents a challenge for theists, and examine the nature and influence of religious experiences. In Paper 2 (Religion and Ethics) you will study three ethical theories: Utilitarianism, Situation Ethics and Natural Moral Law. You will then apply them to debates regarding war and peace, and sexual ethics. You will also examine religious and ethical issues concerning the environmental and equality. In Paper 3 (New Testament Studies) you will explore the social, historical and religious context of the New Testament, and focus on interpretations of the Gospel of John.

Upper sixth

The full A level qualification consists of the same three papers covered at AS, with added breadth of material. In Paper 1 (Philosophy of Religion) you will examine issues concerning religious language, life after death, and the significance of scientific debate. In Paper 2 (Religion and Ethics) you will compare Immanuel Kant’s deontological ethics with Aristotle’s virtue ethics. You will then explore medical ethical issues with a focus on debates concerning the beginning and end of life. In Paper 3 (New Testament Studies) you will examine scientific and historical challenges to interpretations of the scripture. You will focus on the Gospel of Luke, including the Kingdom of God, conflict in the ministry of Jesus, and narratives of his crucifixion and resurrection.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

Religious Studies is a much-respected subject. It introduces perennially fascinating theological and philosophical problems that will engage you and develop your critical and analytical skills. You will learn to think in abstract ways and to challenge your own beliefs. You will develop the ability to read and understand complex ideas and the ability to articulate them clearly in essays. All of these are valuable skills across a wide range of disciplines, making it a subject universities look favourably on.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

You do not need Religious Studies GCSE or indeed any other particular qualifications to study the subject at A level. You should be aware that the course requires a good deal of reading and writing and a capacity for logical thought.

How is the course assessed?

AS level

All three AS papers are assessed by 1 hour written exams, each worth a third of the overall qualification. Each paper consists of two sections: four short structured questions followed by an essay question from a choice of two.

A level

All three A level papers are assessed by 2 hour written exams, each worth a third of the overall qualification. Each paper consists of three sections: three short, structured questions; two extended- response questions based on excerpts from an anthology; and an extended essay question from a choice of two.


An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion
By B. Davies
Published by OUP, ISBN 978-0199263479

Being Good
By S. Blackburn
Published by OUP, ISBN 978-0192853776

An anthology of extracts for all three papers is provided by the exam board.

The information above is correct at the time of going to press (April 2016). The specification is currently under review by Ofqual and has not yet been accredited. However, it is likely that the final accredited specification will differ, if at all, only in points of very minor detail.

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: 8RS0, A level: 9RS0 (reformed) 

Oliver Milton
Head of Department