Secondary Sociology – The weird and the wonderful!

My main subject specialism is RE, and so in my second year of teaching when offered KS3 Geography or A2 Sociology of Religion I jumped at the chance to explore ‘religion’ with the students from an angle other than Philosophy of Religion and Ethics!

Our A2 sociologists are usually pretty eager, but sometimes the thought of a year of the ‘religion’ unit isn’t too appealing. However, along with the usual games and activities, the New Religious Movements (NRM) / New Age section is a total crowd pleaser! I tend to introduce them to as many weird and wonderful movements as possible, as I believe they need a broader perspective on what it means to be ‘religious’ in the 21st Century. These ideas also really complement the section on Postmodernism, Spiritual Shopping and the Religious Revival.

A few ideas:

  • Visit a local centre – ISKCON ( are very accommodating here in Newcastle and I imagine they would be most places. They do charge £2 a head, but it is well worth it – especially since they don’t see themselves as a NRM (despite what our text book says!), so it gives the students a great example of how sociologists’ perceptions may be different to that of the actual subjects.
  • Video clips – BBC Learning Zone Broadband Class Clips has some great Peter Owen-Jones clips from his amazing ‘Around the World in 80 Faiths’ (search ‘Peter Owen Jones’ from the main page). I like his Tennessee Snake Handlers, New Age Spirituality in Brasilia, Rastafarianism – always gets a good discussion going, especially the snakes!
  • Again, from ‘Around the World in 80 Faiths’ (youtube have the episodes in parts) try Summum in the US, paganism in Australia.
  • Mr Men books – divide class into pairs and assign each a Mr Men character based on NRMs – they need to produce a ‘book’ or Powerpoint to be ‘read’ to the class to illustrate their life in the movement, reasons why they joined etc. (E.g Little Miss Scientologist, Mr Summum, Mr Hare Krishna, Little Miss People’s Temple etc).
  • Talking heads – use to create avatars of different sociologists (or NRM members) who describe their views – students have to guess who they are as a starter. This is a little time-consuming to set up, but once you have them saved they can be handy for revision.
  • Bruce’s bonus ball – Bruce, a Unit 3 favourite, makes a simple starter or plenary. Give students a list of 5 key concepts for a topic and give them a few minutes to get ready, then simply throw a ball around and ask for explanations of each concept (I originally did this with Bruce on secularisation, but they get so sick of him throughout the unit that this cheesy gimmick works quite well, as does a picture of his face on a snooker ball on the board to accompany the game!)
  • Reflexology charts – Get students to draw around their foot, and having seen a reflexology chart, get them to create one with their notes on the New Age divided into relevant sections.

Overall, the Beliefs in Society unit is a great one for raising awareness of different expressions of spirituality, and hopefully really getting them thinking about what is out there…

Esther Zarifi
Prudhoe High School, Northumberland

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