What is (and isn’t) a non-religious philosophical conviction?
- A religious philosophical conviction: Christianity
- A non-religious philosophical conviction: humanism
- A philosophical conviction that is neither religious nor non-religious: veganism
What is a non-religious philosophical conviction?
Philosophical convictions are defined by case law under the European Convention on Human Rights. A ‘philosophical conviction’ is not just an ‘opinion’ or ‘idea’. Instead, the term denotes views that ‘attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’. Further, the view must be ‘consistent with basic standards of human dignity or integrity’, possess ‘an adequate degree of seriousness and importance’, ‘be a belief on a fundamental problem’, and ‘be coherent in the sense of being intelligible and capable of being understood’.
Religious worldviews (e.g. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) and beliefs are philosophical convictions. They are religious philosophical convictions. But what is a non-religious philosophical conviction?
The term ‘non-religious philosophical conviction’ does not include all philosophical convictions that are not religious. A non-religious philosophical conviction is a belief or worldview that is specifically non-religious rather than simply one that is not religious. It is a conviction based on a non-religious belief, perspective, or worldview, as opposed to a religious worldview.
Humanism is the best example of a non-religious philosophical conviction. Humanism is a non-religious worldview that can be considered analogous to a religious worldview in the role that it plays in people’s lives. It carries the required ‘level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’.
Other narrower non-religious philosophical convictions include atheism (i.e. lack of belief in a god or gods) and agnosticism (i.e. uncertainty as to the existence of a god or gods). Again, they are specifically non-religious.
There are also philosophical convictions that are neither religious nor non-religious. They sit outside the whole religious/non-religious framework. For example, the European Court of Human Rights has found that the refusal of parents to accept corporal punishment at their child’s school constituted a philosophical conviction. This conviction might be held by religious or non-religious people, and they might do so for religious or non-religious reasons, as well as for reasons that do not bear on such beliefs at all. Therefore, although it is a philosophical conviction, it is, in general, neither a religious philosophical conviction nor a non-religious philosophical conviction.
Veganism is another example of a philosophical conviction that is neither religious nor non-religious. It is a conviction that can be held by religious and non-religious people, and for either religious or non-religious reasons, or for other reasons entirely.
Why is this important?
Confusion around the term ‘non-religious philosophical convictions’ often arises in relation to education. For example, the term has been used recently in connection with The Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021, and the subject Religion, Values, and Ethics (RVE). The Curriculum demands the teaching of religions (religious philosophical convictions) and non-religious philosophical convictions.
Without clarity about what is a non-religious philosophical conviction, we are concerned that this might lead teachers to believe they are including teaching about non-religious philosophical convictions when they are not, i.e. when they are teaching about philosophical convictions that are neither religious or non-religious. We are also concerned that teachers may feel that they have to teach about philosophical convictions that are neither religious nor non-religious when they do not.
Philosophical convictions that are neither religious nor non-religious (e.g. veganism) may be explored in RVE, but teaching about them would not help meet the requirement to teach about religions and non-religious philosophical convictions. To ensure they are fulfilling the legal requirement to teach about non-religious philosophical convictions, teachers must include teaching about those worldviews that are specifically non-religious. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to teach about humanism.
What is a non-religious worldview?
A worldview is often defined as the way a person understands, makes sense of, navigates, and responds to the world. Knowing about somebody’s worldview supports an understanding of their beliefs, values, behaviours, commitments, and identity. There are both religious and non-religious worldviews. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are religious worldviews.
Humanism is an example of a non-religious worldview. It makes claims about the nature of reality and how we can best understand it, and it makes claims about how we should live and treat other people. Atheism and agnosticism are non-religious beliefs and non-religious philosophical convictions, but they are not worldviews. They are simply positions on one’s belief or knowledge about the existence of a god. Knowing someone is an atheist tells you nothing about their wider worldview. It’s just like how theism (i.e. belief there is a god) is not a religion.
Similarly secularism is not a worldview. It is a political position on how society should be organised (one that advocates separation of church and state, supports freedom of religion and belief, and believes in equal treatment on the grounds of religion and belief). It is supported by both people with religious and non-religious worldviews. It is more akin to feminism.
For more about what is and isn’t a non-religious worldview see Understanding Humanism.