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Project aims to raise environmental awareness through Religious Education

A Shropshire teacher is working with academics from the University of Chester to increase environmental awareness as part of pupils’ studies on religion, ethics and philosophy.

Charlie Syson, an Ethics and Philosophy teacher at Ercall Wood Academy in Telford, is looking into the subject with the University’s Theology and Religious Studies Department, after being awarded a prestigious Farmington Scholarship. The Farmington Institute funds teachers and head-teachers to undertake research beneficial to their school and to the Religious Education curriculum more widely.

Charlie’s project is entitled Green Worldviews: Cultivating Environmental Awareness as part of an Ethics and Philosophy Curriculum.

Inspired as he is by the activism of Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough, Charlie is keen for Key Stage Three (Years Seven, Eight and Nine) students to consider the ways religious worldviews interact with environmentalist perspectives.

The research and resources being developed take into account how religious traditions can be rich sources of wisdom about the relationship between humans and the planet, but how they can also foster attitudes that contribute to environmental degradation.

The lesson plans Charlie is constructing for the project will explore such topics as sacred places, climate justice, and the question of whether God is within or outside the environment.

Charlie said: “Young people care passionately about the environment but may be less aware of what religions have to say about it.

“The project has two aims; first to engage the students’ interest in the environment to help make their study of religion, ethics and philosophy rich and relevant, but also to create greater awareness of the lives of non-human animals and the beauty and value of our natural surroundings.

“I hope these lesson plans will boost curiosity and interest in caring for the environment, and offer an encounter with the notions of stewardship, environmental responsibility and sustainability.”

Charlie’s work is being supervised by Dr Wendy Dossett, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Chester.

She said: “Charlie’s search for wisdom about the environment is taking him into the Jain tradition and Japanese Shintō, as well as to traditions of animism found all over the world. He’s engaging with contemporary ideas around Deep Ecology and the Gaia Hypothesis, systems of thought that both draw on and go beyond religious traditions. He’s also reckoning with modern philosophers such as Peter Singer and John Muir, who might be familiar at A Level, but less so at Key Stage Three.” 

Charlie’s project will comprise a scheme of learning and other additional resources to help teach this topic. These resources will be made freely available through the Farmington Institute.

He will present his findings and resources at the Farmington Summer Conference hosted at the University of Oxford in July 2022.

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