World Religions Paper 2
Recognise the many layers and dimensions to each religious tradition
Now that you are studying some religious traditions in much more depth than the others, you need to recognise how multi-faceted each religious tradition is. We often have a tendency to reduce religions to their historical, political impact, or to their sacred texts, but religious traditions, as you learn in the IB syllabus, also contain rituals, beliefs, ethics, and even an experience. When you dig deeper into religious traditions, it is difficult not to be fascinated by the mystic traditions, as well as the sheer beauty of some of these religious traditions.
The key is to recognise our biases - especially because many of us would not have studied religions before this course, it might be tempting to think of it just as another sociology or history course - but perhaps we need to recognise that religious traditions are seen by insiders as a “way of life”, and as such, there are aspects covering our lifetime, deep-held beliefs, and moral conduct.
In a sense, this is precisely what Paper 2 is designed to test, but it is precisely what will ensure that we become more open-minded when approaching other cultural traditions.
Read the IB syllabus to identify what you need to learn
Of course, this is very similar for the other subjects, but the IB has a very well-organised list of things that the teacher covers throughout the year with you, so actually read what the IB requires you to know - especially for the deeper study required for Paper 2.
Perhaps useful also, would be to take notes based on the categories provided in the syllabus, so that you can quickly identify and write about the key religious concepts for each religious tradition when you are asked to write about them in Paper 2.
Visit sacred sites. Discuss with classmates. Interact with the faith traditions.
Beyond the syllabus, however, if possible, interact with religious communities and individuals for the two in-depth religious traditions your class covers. For instance, if your class is covering Islam, visit a Mosque - try to talk to some imams, or if this is not so convenient, talk to some Muslims in your class or outside class. The key here is to be a risk-taker and to be open-minded. Of course, you are, in many ways, asking them to share deeply personal knowledge related to religion, but perhaps you are also opening an opportunity for dialogue. Your objective here is not prescriptive - your aim is neither to convert or be converted - it is descriptive - you want to learn what they believe in their own terms, from an insider’s perspective.
Several of the most fruitful conversations I had during my time in IB was indeed with several students from other faith traditions. Discussing our different perspectives and rituals with friends, classmates, and others was learning beyond the syllabus, which was truly insightful, and I hope it will be an opportunity for each of you to remove at least some of the veils that shroud the mysterious otherness of other faith traditions. Truly, World Religions is not a history course, as they are still living, expanding and adapting - and as long as humans are around, they will surely be asking questions and seeking meaning through the deep, millennia-long dialogue of the major religions.