Online resources for 16+ learners
The St Giles’ Centre identifies and creates resources according to what is needed here in Wrexham. For 16+ learners, this focuses on AS/A-level Religious Studies.
Visit our webinar page to find out about the webinars on offer in the spring term 2021 for learners taking AS/A-level Religious Studies.
Challenging Religious Issues
Challenging Religious Issues is a journal for students and teachers of AS and A-level Religious Studies. It is also a useful resource for anyone who wants to develop or refresh their subject knowledge.
The St Giles’ Centre was part of the original conceptualisation of the journal with the St Mary’s Centre, Wales. Originally a Welsh Government commissioned resource, the journal is now sponsored by the St Peter’s Saltley Trust. From the St Giles’ Centre, Tania ap Siôn is Managing Editor and Libby Jones is an Editorial Adviser for the journal.
Over 65 open access journal articles have been published in the journal so far. Browse through the article titles and abstracts provided on this page, where you also have direct access to the journal issues.
The journal includes a number of key features:
- articles are written by leading scholars and practitioners;
- articles are clearly linked to Religious Studies A-level specifications and options;
- articles are interactive through the use of ‘discussion points’ and live links to relevant external websites.
Issues 1- 13 are available in English and Welsh, while Issues 14-16 are available in English only at the moment. The St Giles’ Centre recognises the importance of Welsh language resources at this level and has recently re-started the Welsh language version (Issue 17 onwards and translating Issues 14-16), which is funded and managed by the St Giles’ Centre.
Please take a few minutes to complete a short ‘feedback’ survey for this resource. It will help us to understand how resources are being used and their impact on teachers and learners.
If you have any suggestions for future articles in Challenging Religious Issues, please get in touch with us.
Issue 18 (Spring 2021)
Jesus’ Public Ministry. Part 1: Words and Works by Dr James M. M. Francis
This two-part article presents a critical account of what can be known of Jesus’ ministry from his baptism to his crucifixion. No suggestion is made concerning an historical order for these events and for the most part it relies on the evidence of the Synoptic Gospels. It does, however, affirm that much can be known about the historical nature of Jesus’ ministry. Part one explores his preaching and teaching, his miracles and the titles ascribed to him.
Jesus’ Public Ministry. Part 2: Rejection and Responses by Dr James M. M. Francis
The second part of this reflection on Jesus’ public ministry focuses on the circumstances that led to the trial of Jesus and his subsequent crucifixion. These contexts are a combination of the religious and the political, which could not easily be distinguished in his day, a combination that still obtains in some contemporary parts of our world.
Hume’s Criticism of the Argument from (to) Design. Part 1 by Dr L. Philip Barnes
This two-part article summarises some of Hume’s influential criticisms of the design argument in support of belief in God.
Hume’s Criticism of the Argument from (to) Design. Part 2 by Dr L. Philip Barnes
The second part of this two-part article summarises further aspects of Hume’s influential criticisms of the design argument in support of belief in God.
Considering the Impact of Covid-19 on Christianity in the UK: Opportunity or Challenge? by Professor Leslie J. Francis and Professor Andrew Village
This article reflects on what may be the likely impact of Covid-19 on church leaders (clergy), church members (churchgoers) and the visible public future for churches. It advances five theories about the impact.
Assessing the Impact of Covid-19 on Christianity in the UK: Opportunity or Challenge? by Professor Leslie J. Francis and Professor Andrew Village
This article draws on the findings of an online survey, live between 8 May and 23 July 2020, that was designed to assess the impact of Covid-19 on church leaders (clergy) and church members (churchgoers). Did they experience the pandemic as offering opportunity or challenges for the future of their churches?
Issue 17 (Autumn 2020)
Family Tree: Who is Baby Jesus by Dr John Holdsworth
The early chapters of Matthew’s Gospel are a stylised way of identifying Jesus, according to recognised traditions. This is particularly true of the neglected first chapter, the bulk of which is taken up with a genealogy. To appreciate the Gospel fully, we need to deconstruct this section, bearing in mind the Gospel’s initial audience. Jesus is presented as son of Abraham, son of David and the Messiah, whose arrival at an auspicious time is about to set a new direction in religious history.
Religion Goes Viral: Faith and Belief in a Pandemic by Professor Martyn Percy
The article presents an overview of the history of pandemics – the toll they take on mortality rates and living conditions, and the subsequent desire for political and social re-ordering and the redistribution of power and wealth that they prompt – and how this intersects with theodicies. The article explores scriptural understandings of how pandemics shape faith and give rise to the idea of ‘viral religion’ and shows the humanitarianism of seeing beyond statistics.
Stephen Hawking and a Universe without God? by Professor David Wilkinson
Does a scientific account of the origin of the Universe rule out, or at least undermine, the religious claim that God is the creator of the universe? The work of physicist Stephen Hawking is often quoted as evidence for this. This article looks at Hawking’s work and suggests that it is important for theological discussion in challenging certain arguments for the existence of God, while at the same time raising fruitful questions.
Does the Genetic Basis of Life on Earth Make Life after Death an Impossibility? by C. Mark Harrison
This article was first created in response to a question from a sample A-level paper in philosophy of religion, ‘Critically assess Dawkins’ claim that since life is no more that DNA reproducing itself there can be no life after death’. It raises issues around the thought of Richard Dawkins, biological reductionism and the vexed and challenging question of post-mortal existence.
On Buddhism and Violence by Phra Nicholas Thanissaro
Outsiders may be surprised to find Buddhists involved in wars or sanctioning standing armies and conscription within their countries. This article maps out an historical shift in the Buddhist ethics of violence from early era pacifism, through later apologetics and justifications for violence, to late era acceptance of violence and feudalism. Six excuses used by Buddhists to justify their imperfect track record on violence are outlined, together with counter-arguments.
Some Trends in Ecotheology by Dr Samuel Tranter
The article offers an overview of some trends in ecotheology. It introduces the reader to some key thinkers, espousing a range of different perspectives, and to a number of core concepts in contemporary discussion. The conclusion indicates some ways in which Christian theology has not simply theorised about environmental ethics, but informed practical environmental activism.
Issue 16 (Spring 2020)
Aliens: Ecclesiology and 1 Peter by Dr John Holdsworth
1981 saw the beginnings of a new direction in the study of 1 Peter, which hitherto had appeared to have reached an impasse. Sociological studies by Elliott and Goppelt have charted a new way forward that has helped to highlight the theology of 1 Peter, and particularly its ecclesiology, and which have helped redefine ecclesiological study. This has also provided new hermeneutical possibility.
The Nativity and Crucifixion in Christian Art: Encounter, Interpretation and Devotion by Dr Bridget Nichols
The article discusses the role of Christian art in forming Christian identity and devotional patterns, focusing on the birth of Christ and his crucifixion.
Mind, Brain and the Unifying Soul by Dr Mark Graves
The article presents an overview of the historical development of the concept of the soul in Western philosophy and theology, and in the context of current scientific perspective.
Implicit Religion: A New Approach to the Study of Religion? by Dr Francis Stewart
The article argues that one change brought to the study of religion by the development and ultimate failure of the secularisation thesis was a new approach that sought to answer the question, ‘What is secular religion?’ This approach was Implicit Religion, whose origin, nature and significance are discussed here.
The Ineffable Mystery of God? by Professor Jeff Astley
The article explores the concepts of God’s ineffability, transcendence and mystery, with particular reference to religious experience and religious language.
Made in the Image of God: Experiences of a Woman with Disability in Nigeria by Jessie Fubara-Manuel and Dr Elijah Obinna
This article discusses the Christian affirmation that humanity (with or without disabilities) is made in the image of God. For persons with disabilities (PWDs), this assertion is assuring and could provide a basis for society’s collective journey towards equality, dignity and justice for all persons.
Issue 15 (Autumn 2019)
This special issue on science and theology was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
Technology and Human Experience by Dr Adam Willows
The article reviews some theological discussion about developing technology. It discusses how new technologies raise questions about our understanding of human nature, and how different theological responses might approach these questions.
Evolution and the Argument from (or to) Design by Professor Jeff Astley
The article summarises the effect of Darwin’s proposed mechanism for evolution on the design argument for God’s existence.
Stewardship of Creation by Professor Andrew Village
The Jewish-Christian tradition has been partly blamed for creating an attitude towards the environment that sees it as something to be dominated by humans and exploited for their benefit. It also stresses the idea that humans are ‘stewards’ of creation, given the task to look after the planet for God. But what does it mean to steward creation? This article describes two examples of the way in which human activity has shaped different habitats and had complex effects on the birds that live there.
Thinking about Being Human in a Universe of Aliens by Professor David Wilkinson
One of the most compelling scientific issues of our generation is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). The question whether we are alone in the universe has long fascinated the media and the public and has received fresh momentum in the discovery of exoplanets, a small minority of which have Earth like characteristics. The discovery of life elsewhere in the universe, especially if it is intelligent, poses major questions for the Christian faith in areas such as creation, incarnation, redemption and the nature of what it means to be human.
Is Creation Complete? A Critique of Continuing Creation by Timothy Wall
The article explores the idea that creation is incomplete, through the concept of continuing creation. This arises from the dynamic world as described by science and in the Bible, but it is argued that it is ultimately flawed both scientifically and theologically. It is inherently problematic to say that creation is incomplete because it allows for no discontinuity between creation and new creation. The article suggests that a view of creation rooted in Christ may allow us to say that creation is both complete and dynamic.
Issue 14 (Autumn 2018)
Atonement: Experience, Story, Theory? by Professor Jeff Astley
The article explores the status of Christian accounts of atonement, including reference to issues of ‘objectivity’ and ‘subjectivity’.
Religion and Popular Culture by Professor Clive Marsh
Helping students to understand how religion ‘and’ popular culture relate raises vexing questions from the start. The ‘and’ implies they are separate, as if popular culture has no religion within it, and that religion is somehow detached from culture. So, it may be assumed that popular culture is ‘secular’ or (even worse) neutral with regard to religion or values. From another angle, popular culture may appear more interesting (or more entertaining) than religion – especially for non-religious students. Or it may be deemed distracting or dangerous to religious students, or to students from religious families who are wrestling with the tension, and sheer difference, between ‘life at home’ and ‘life in school/college’. In this article I offer simple reflections and suggestions for addressing such issues, being convinced that it is crucially important for students to be looking carefully at the relationship – fruitful and constructive as well as tense and sometimes problematic – between these two ‘worlds’.
‘Impersonating Beyonce is Not Your Destiny, Child’: Reflections on Feminist Theology by Dr Hayley Matthews
The article explores the range of Christian theological positions on gender.
Richard Swinburne on the Soul by Professor Jeff Astley
The article summarises Swinburne’s defence of substance dualism, and his account of life after death and personal identity.
Issue 13 (Summer 2018)
New Atheism by Professor David Wilkinson
In this article, the main proponents and arguments of new atheism are discussed with reference to their particular strengths and weaknesses and to earlier forms of atheism.
Islam and Democracy: Are they Compatible or Irreconcilable? (Part 2) by Dr Abdullah Sahin
This article follows from the author’s analysis of the background to the relationship between Islam and secular democracy, and the problems it raises (in Challenging Religious Issues, Issue 12). The present article details the arguments both for and against the claim that Islam can be reconciled with modern secular democracy.
Some Non-Cognitive Theories of Morality by Professor Jeff Astley
The article presents a critical account of the non-cognitive meta-ethical theories of emotivism and expressivism.
Religious Experience Through Art by Dr Daniel Moulin-Stozek
This article introduces and explores religious experience through the example of Bernini’s sculpture, The Ecstasy of St Teresa.
Issue 12 (Spring 2018)
Rudolf Otto on Numinous Experience by Professor Jeff Astley
The article describes Rudolf Otto’s analysis of religious experience and lists some criticisms of it.
Was Jung Correct: Is Religion Good for the Psychological Wellbeing of Normal People? by Professor Leslie J Francis
The article draws on the empirical science of the psychology of religion to test the thesis that religion is good for the psychological wellbeing of normal people. To do so the article discusses the complex problems of conceptualising and operationalising both religion and wellbeing before focusing on evaluating the evidence.
Islam and Democracy: Are they Compatible or Irreconcilable? (Part 1) by Dr Abdullah Sahin
The article presents the background to the relationship between Islam and secular democracy, and the issues raised by such a study.
Utilitarianism and Theological Ethics by Samuel Tranter
This article focuses on the relationship between utilitarian and theological approaches to ethics, introducing the reader to some contemporary scholarship on this question and showing what might be at stake by focusing on three ethical topics.
Issue 11 (Autumn 2017)
Professor Ian Ramsey on Religious Language by Professor Jeff Astley
This article critically surveys the account of descriptive religious language provided by Ian T. Ramsey.
Protestants and Natural Law: Rejection and Retrieval by Samuel Tranter
This article explores a recent trend in ethics: the turn to natural law by Protestant thinkers. It examines characteristically Protestant anxieties about natural law approaches to morality, before investigating some elements of a recent retrieval.
The Earliest Easter Narratives by Dr James Francis
Following a brief contextual overview, this article explores some key insights from the two earliest New Testament perspectives on the Resurrection by Paul and Mark.
Thomas Aquinas and Just Cause for War by Dr Emily Pollard
This article discusses Thomas Aquinas’ definition of a just cause for war, and offers criticisms of his argument.
Issue 10 (Spring 2016)
William James on Religious Experience by Professor William K Kay
This article considers the discussion of religious experience of the American psychologist and philosopher, William James (1842-1910), who published his book The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902.
Worship: Receiving, Developing and Living Tradition by Dr Bridget Nichols
The article considers worship as pre-eminently a shared practice, whose forms have much to say about the way communities understand God. As well as looking to Scripture and tradition as principal sources for patterns of worship, it reflects on the way these strands are absorbed in the living context. This takes different forms in different Christian communities. The role of worshippers as interpreters, and the role of the body in worship are important topics in this development.
The Enlightenment Debate in Early Buddhism by Phra Nicholas Thanissaro
Fierce historical debates surround the concept of ‘true self’ in Buddhism and its relevance to enlightenment. Opponents of the concept consider ‘true self’ an impostor derived from a Hindu worldview. The article presents ‘true-self’ or Buddha-nature as a possible key to understanding the differences between the nature of phenomena in the cycle of existence and Nirvana.
The Reformations: Magisterial and Radical by Paul Wilson
This article contrasts the Protestant Reformation with the Radical Reformation (Anabaptism).
Issue 9 (Autumn 2015)
Approaching New Religious Movements by Dr Richard Bartholomew
This article suggests that New Religious Movements should be understood as responses to the structure and knowledge of the modern world. It explains that ‘alternative’ religious beliefs and ideas can be found in individualised contexts as well as in formal groups, and argues for a balanced approach to whether particular NRMs are socially problematic. It further argues that NRMs should not be ‘exoticised’, and that they are of interest because of the insights they can offer into religion more generally.
John Hick’s Philosophy of Religion by Professor Jeff Astley
The article critically surveys some elements of John Hick’s thought.
The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith by Dr Peter Watts
This article explores how much we can know about the historical figure of Jesus and outlines the way that a ‘Jesus of history’ arose as distinct from the church’s ‘Christ of faith’ at the time of the Enlightenment. After discussing the implications of this division for Christianity, the article looks at whether it is possible to bring the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith back together within our typical twenty-first century understanding of what is historical and what is not.
The Five Pillars of Islam and their Significance in Modern Society by Dr Declan O’Sullivan
This article defines the five pillars of Islam, indicating when there are legitimate exceptions for a devout Muslim to postpone undertaking them based on specific circumstances arising in the context of the modern secular world within which Muslims also live.
Issue 8 (Summer 2015)
Eternal Life as a Present Possession by Dr Mikel Burley
This article examines the contention, made by some Christian theologians, that ‘eternal life’ is best understood to mean not a life that goes on forever, but a characteristic of, or perspective upon, the finite life that each of us is now living. It includes a tentative suggestion that certain ideas in theoretical physics and the philosophy of time are comparable to this contention.
Kant on God and the Good: Hoping for Happiness by Professor Christopher Insole
Kant holds that we should be moral simply because it is the right thing to do, and not because it will bring us good consequences. At the same time, he argues that we should believe in God, as only God can bring it about that being moral leads to happiness. Is there a contradiction here? The article argues that there is not, and that when we understand what ‘being good’ means for Kant, the hope for happiness properly follows. Although Kant is thought not to value happiness much, the article argues that happiness is important for Kant, but only the right sort of happiness.
Soul-making and ‘Horrors’ by Dr Ian James Kidd
The article introduces the problem of evil before focusing on the theodicy of soulmaking and the challenge of ‘dysteleological evil’ that it faces.
The Ethics of War: Just War Theory by Emily Pollard
The article offers a general overview of just war theory, and explains how a war may be considered morally justified according to the ‘just war’ tradition.
Issue 7 (Spring 2015)
The Objectivity of Religious Experience: Philosophical Arguments by Professor Jeff Astley
The article outlines and critiques two approaches to the problem of the objectivity of religious experience.
All in the Mind? Psychology of Religion and Religious Experience by Dr Mark Fox
This article seeks to explore some of the most significant contributions to the understanding of religious experience that have emerged from within psychology of religion – and specifically neurotheology – and to assess their effectiveness, together with the assumptions that underlie them.
Identity and Belonging: A perspective on Paul’s letter to the Galatians by Dr James Francis
Identity and belonging are significant themes for both human meaning and religious discourse. This article considers the issue of identity in Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the New Testament, exploring the arguments on both sides of what was a sharp debate. It demonstrates how early Christian belief was characterised by diversity in the forging of its emerging identity.
The Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements by Professor William K Kay
The Pentecostal movement with roots in Methodism was triggered by revivals at the start of the twentieth century. It raced across the world forming many denominations, emphasising speaking with tongues and healing, and in the 1960s was joined by the charismatic movement which believed more or less the same things but functioned within existing mainline denominations. The charismatic movement itself then gave birth to the neo-charismatic movement which contained Churches that broke free of their traditional denominations. The neo-charismatics were sometimes called Third Wavers, with Pentecostals being the First Wave and Charismatics the Second Wave.
Issue 6 (Autumn 2014)
Euthanasia: Do We Have a Right to Die When We Want? by Dr Michael Armstrong
This article seeks to explore the main legal and Christian theological issues surrounding the current debate over euthanasia and ‘assisted dying’.
The Zionist Movement by Professor Gareth Lloyd Jones
This article outlines the rise of Zionism as a secular movement in continental Europe and the opposition it engendered, the development of religious Zionism as a result of the Holocaust and the Israeli-Arab conflict, and the justification given by both secular and religious Zionists for the appropriation of Palestinian land.
Fundamentalism as a Response to Biblical Criticism by Paul Wilson
This article outlines the nature and origin of Christian fundamentalism as a western post-Enlightenment phenomenon.
The Concept of Jihad in Islam by Dr Declan O’Sullivan
This article defines the term jihad and other related words, explaining how their meaning can change over time. It discusses the greater jihad and the lesser jihad, what is understood by ‘holy war’, and the idea of jihad as the ‘sixth pillar’ of Islam.
Issue 5 (Summer 2014)
Jung and the Psychology of Religion by Philippe Dauphin
This article critically discusses Jung’s key ideas, focusing especially on the concepts of the collective consciousness, archetypes and individuation, and his views in religion.
Is Belief in Miracles Reasonable in a Scientific Age? by Professor David Wilkinson
Many people doubt the existence of miracles because ‘science rules them out’. This article explores the complexity of this kind of argument, noting that the definition of miracles is far from straightforward, even within a religious community; and suggesting that scientific objections against miracles are weak and that the current scientific description of the world is very different from a Newtonian predictable clock where God has no freedom to act in unusual ways.
The Development of Faith by Professor Jeff Astley
This article outlines Fowler’s theory of faith development, and the criticisms it has provoked.
Situation Ethics: Was Joseph Fletcher Right All Along? by Dr Ashley Wilson
This article discusses the dangers of ‘abstract’ ethics and argues for a more situated approach. The author suggests that Fletcher’s Situation Ethics provides an accurate account of much moral decision-making, but his reliance on agape as the sole guide to moral decision-making is open to criticism.
Issue 4 (Spring 2014)
Mind after Death? Substance Dualism, Immortality and the Near-Death Experience by Dr Mark Fox
This article seeks to explore the possibility of the mind’s survival of death by examining the philosophical position of substance dualism while making specific reference to near-death experiences.
Jeremiah by Professor Gareth Lloyd Jones
This article places the message of Jeremiah in its historical and theological context of the early sixth century BC. It examines the nature and purpose of the call narrative, comments on an acted parable, considers the reasons for the judgemental nature of his preaching and demonstrates his hope for restoration.
Blasphemy and Free Speech by Dr Richard Bartholomew
This article explores why governments have had laws against attacking religion, using Britain as the primary example. It shows that concern has evolved from protecting religious minorities from vilification, but that recent trends have prompted campaigners to assert ‘the right to offend’.
Are We Free Beings? by Adam Willow
What free will is, and whether of not we have it, are two of the most interesting and enduring problems in philosophical and theological thought. this article discusses some of the key questions and ideas regarding free will, including the nature-nurture debate, predestination, and causal determinism.
Issue 3 (Autumn 2013)
God in Pop Culture by Professor David Wilkinson
While some argue that Western culture is becoming increasingly secular, within the area of popular culture – that is movies, television and music – questions of God are being explored in entertaining and serious ways. This article surveys this new and growing area of thinking within religious studies and gives a framework that goes beyond the extremes of those who dismiss it all as trivial entertainment and those who read their own faith beliefs into everything.
Aristotle’s Virtue Theory by Adam Willows
This article discusses the moral thought of Aristotle, with a particular focus on the nature of virtue and virtuous behaviour. It also looks at modern Aristotelians and how Aristotle’s thought is received by some religious traditions.
Faith, Reason and Revelation by Professor Gerald Loughlin
This article distinguishes between two positions on the relationship between faith and reason, as illustrated by Karl Barth and Thomas Aquinas, and reflect on what reason within faith might mean.
Describing God by Professor Jeff Astley
This article discusses two main types of descriptive religious language: analogical and metaphorical. Attention is also paid to its ‘symbolic’ status and to the arguments for treating some parts of theology as univocal.
Issue 2 (Summer 2013)
Evil and Suffering by Professor Jeff Astley
This article distinguishes different types of evil, before reviewing both radical and more mainstream explanations of the existence of human suffering and wrongdoing in a creation ruled by a wholly good God who is unlimited in power and knowledge.
Psychology and Mysticism: An Empirical Approach by Professor Leslie J Francis
William James’ classic analysis of the dimensions of mysticism were expanded by Happold to embrace seven components: ineffability, noesis, transiency, passivity, consciousness of the oneness of everything, sense of timelessness and true ego. These components have been used to construct the Francis-Louden Mystical Orientation scale. Readers are invited to learn about this measure and to participate in a new study of the psychology of mysticism.
Secularisation: Approaches and Aspects by Dr Richard Bartholomew
This article analyses different understandings of secularisation, with particular reference to the challenges of science, differentiation, marginalisation, pluralism and worldliness.
Secular and Religious Meditation by Phra Nicholas Thanissaro
This article describes meditation in its secular context drawing on medical research, and in its religious context drawing on interviews with British Buddhist teenagers. A sample exercise in meditation is included and the importance of meditation in a post-secular society is discussed.
Issue 1 (Spring 2013)
Evolution and Creation by Professor Jeff Astley
This article describes two elements in the doctrine of creation, arguing that continuous creation is compatible with any scientific theory. The claims of evolution are described, along with the theological responses of deism, evolutionary theism, intelligent design and creationism. Criticisms of intelligent design are noted.
Researching Religious Experience in China: The Alister Hardy Project by Professor Leslie J Francis
This article describes the vision of Sir Alister Hardy in setting up the Religious Experience Research Unit (later the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre), and the issues surrounding the extension of the research to China and the claims made of it.
Christian Sexual Ethics: Homosexuality and Marriage by Dr Stephen Parker
This article explores some reasons for opposition to same-gender marriage on the part of some Christians, how such Christians frame their ethic and on what this ethic is based. Finally, it describes an alternative Christian ethical perspective in the views of the Anglican cleric, Jeffrey John.
The Growth of Neo-Pentecostalism in Britain: A Critique of Secularisation by Professor William K Kay
This article describes a theory of secularisation that outlines the way religion has weakened in industrialised societies. After showing in general terms how the theory has been criticised, the article provides an example of a religious movement that has grown despite decline elsewhere.