Why Study Religious Studies?
It's worth a GCSE! And as you have to be taught about religion anyway, why not? It really does give you an insight into religion(s) all around the world, go for it!
The popular Edexcel 'Religious Studies A' course allows much choice. You can take one of Units A-G, on a particular focus of a religion (worth 40%, or 50% without coursework - though there is an extended writing question) Then you take one of Units H-P, which is also on a particular focus of a religion. This is also worth 40%, or 50% with the extended writing question instead of coursework. Normally, the first unit is taken in Year 10 and the other in Year 11.
One Unit with the extended writing question can be cashed-in as half a GCSE.
Why Study Religious Studies?
For a start, it's a lot more interesting than GCSE! Contrary to what a lot of people think, it's actually a really academic subject and worthwhile. It really is a big mix of everything. There's the opportunity to fine tune your essay writing skills (it'll seriously help if you go to university, and stuff), learn bits of history with the philosophers and what they contributed and why and the context, and stuff, and finally you have the opportunity to have your personal beliefs challenged in a safe way.
There's a few boards that offer Religious Studies, but I sat Edexcel. For Edexcel, there's a wide choice of topics but it's all chosen by the teacher (and you study a minimum two - the same for both years, I think). Regardless of what topics you do, the unit structure is the same. (I did Philosophy of Religion and Ethics)
This is broken down into two units - Foundations and Investigations.
Foundations - 1 hr 45 mins.
What you study in this obviously depends on what topics you do. For Religion of Philosophy we covered stuff like the design and cosmological arguments, problem of evil and suffering, and miracles. For Ethics (definitely the harder out of the two topics) we studied the relationship between religion and morality, utilitarianism and situation ethics and war and peace (we didn't have time to do sexual ethics - probably for the best with a male teacher in an all girls' school!) But, regardless of what topics you have to do, you have to answer three questions in the exam over at least two topics.
Investigations - 1,500-2,000 words coursework piece (internally marked, externally moderated)
Your teacher gives you a topic, basically, and you research it and write it. I, for example, wrote about euthanasia.
Again, this is broken down into two units - Developments and Implications.
Developments - 1 hr 45 mins.
This is similar to the Foundations module at AS. For Philosophy of Religion this year I studied religious experience, the ontological argument, and the non-existence of God and critiques of religious belief. There was also belief about life after death; reincarnation; rebirth; resurrection; immortality of the soul (oh, and religious language (analogy, language games, myth and symbol, verification and falsification debates) and stuff). For ethics (I only did one question in the exam for ethics - horrible topic!) there was critiques of the relationship between religion and morality, deontology, natural moral law, virtue ethics, meaning and definition of ethical terms, objectivity, relativism, subjectivity and justice, law and punishment.
Implications - 1 hr 15 mins.
This is the synoptic unit of the course. You study three articles from one of the topics you've covered and then, basically, you get a passage from it in the exam and are asked to clarify and expand the argument and link it with other stuff you've learnt during the course, and then analyse it. This year (2008) is the first year it's run, and I'm yet to take the exam, so we're all a bit unsure, really. Anyway, my articles are from Philosophy of Religion and they're on religious language, religious experience and the emergence of modern philosophy of religion.
World Religions course will only become available for examinations in 2013 and only at SL