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Religion and Worldviews Champions

Sabah Ahmedi is one of the UK’s youngest Imams, and a member of Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Born and raised in Manchester, Sabah studied in London for seven years at Jamia Ahmadiyya UK – the Seminary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Today he uses social media to advocate for improved understanding of the Islamic faith.

He believes religion and worldviews within the school curriculum is vital to underpin his work. When young people have dedicated school-based teaching that explains different values, traditions and beliefs they can better understand others. With the right information it is easy to draw similarities between one another, which leads to the formation of tolerance, acceptance and understanding.  

 Sabah regularly features in the national and regional media and has recently been interviewed by the BBC, ITV and Metro, to name but a few. He also works with the United Nations to tackle violent extremism. 

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou is a university lecturer, writer and researcher specialising in the religions and societies that gave rise to the Bible today. As an academic and former head of department for one of higher education’s most long-established and most learned subjects, her interests lie in some of the more graphic, morbid, and unusual practices of ancient religions. Francesca explains how they have recast into the societies and religions we know today.

As a woman and an atheist in the field of theology and religion, Francesca has overcome barriers to reach her position and, uses that experience to advocate for improved religious literacy. She believes expanding religion and worldviews in the curriculum will mean the generation leaving school will be less likely to find themselves misinformed about different religions and worldviews, or out of their depth in culturally unfamiliar situations. For Francesca, an education in religion and worldviews is at the heart of understanding what it means to be human; it also allows us to better understand real-world struggles.

Francesca’s first non-academic book, God: An Anatomy, was published in the UK this year and will be published in America in January 2022. It is an Economist Book of the Year.

When Bushra Nasir first began teaching in East London in the 1970s she never thought she’d be one of UK’s most inspirational heads and a role model for so many girls and women from all faith backgrounds.  Her first headship, at Plashet School, a secondary school in East Ham soon turned into a very public role; as one of the first Muslim female headteachers, all eyes were on Bushra to achieve. Plashet was later ranked outstanding by Ofsted and it remains over-subscribed with many young girls from disadvantaged backgrounds going on to careers in the City and beyond from the school.

An advocate for multi-culturalism, Bushra says an education in religion and worldviews is the best way to ensure students leave school with an understanding of common values as well as the practical life skills to raise issues with respect. From teacher training to inspiring young people with deep, thought-provoking GCSE and A-Level content, religion and worldviews must be robustly taught and treated as a high-value part of the curriculum.

Bushra is CEO of the Drapers’ Multi-Academy Trust, has a Doctorate from the University of East London and a Fellowship from Queen Mary College, London. She has a CBE for services to education and is appointed as a Deputy Lord Lieutenant by the Queen.

Comedy writer, author, stand-up comic, and broadcaster Paul Kerensa uses his comic writing skills and stage profile to help improve our understanding of religions. Paul has a theology degree and is the only comedian to sell out gigs in both cathedrals and comedy clubs. Paul has written comedy for Lee Mack, Chris Evans, Miranda Hart, and regularly appears on The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show, often at key moments in the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Christian calendars. He also works closely with broadcast production teams to ensure religion is well represented in the entertainment media.

A practising Christian, Paul’s mantra is that comedians have a great tradition of being outspoken about their own religious beliefs, traditions, and cultural sensitivities, so comedy is a powerful platform to talk about difference and remove the anxiety of getting it wrong. Paul takes great inspiration his own primary-school aged children, who celebrate different religious festivals with friends at school – they bring in cakes, they learn about traditions and in the playground are curious about other religions and worldviews. For Paul, an education in religion and worldviews is the cornerstone to understanding each other in the twenty first century, saying “it’s the grounding we need”.

Paul has written Hark! The Biography of Christmas and is planning a new book on the history of religious broadcasting. He also works with international Christian relief and development charity Tearfund.

After a degree in theology and philosophy, John became a barrister and is now a KC specialising in medical law.  He cannot think of a better, broader preparation for a legal career than studying religion at A Level or university.  This subject taught John to think, both creatively and critically.  He says, an education in religion and worldviews also offers a great opportunity to grapple with some of the most important issues people throughout the world have faced since time began.

With a 28-year education career as a secondary school teacher and Head of RE, a Chair of Examiners for Religious Studies A level and author of over twenty A level books and guides, Richard understands all aspects of teaching about the rich topic of religion and worldviews inside out. More recently, he has begun another strand of education work with the Positive Psychology Guild, researching the role of character strengths, values and virtues.

As a parent Richard says giving his own secondary-school aged children the opportunity to have their own education in religion and worldviews has been the most holistic aspect of their education; well taught, it nurtures an openness and understanding that stays with young people for the rest of their lives. With this experience in mind Richard is keen the subject is given the focus it deserves to set it within its true 21st century context.

Richard’s next ambition is to explore the fast-emerging curriculum area of character education, a subject with which, he says, religion and worldviews has a natural synergy. Richard lives in South Yorkshire with his family.

Christine Counsell is a leading authority on the school curriculum who has worked nationally and internationally with teachers, teacher educators, policy makers and NGOs. In 2017-18, Christine served on Ofsted’s curriculum advisory panel that advised on England’s current schools inspection framework.

With her diverse experience of schools, education and teacher education, Christine brings a wider perspective. She has argued that young people need a rich and broad knowledge of religion and worldviews and to study them with academic rigour.  Christine says that by enabling pupils to take each religion and worldviews seriously, we equip young people with the essential knowledge to understand a vital phenomenon that continues to shape today’s world: religious tradition, belief and practice. 

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