Discovering Sacred Texts
Around a third of the world’s population (2.3bn) profess Christianity, which means that 5-6 billion people have other faiths – or indeed none. In fact, the combined followers of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism total more than those of the Christian faith. And diverse religious choice and freedom is a topic never far from the headlines.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, religious freedom is ‘the right to choose what religion to follow and to worship without interference’. But in order for religious freedom to prevail, tolerance is paramount, and education is one of the best ways to achieve this through understanding.
State schools in the UK have an obligation to teach Religious Education (RE) to all pupils. However, the RE laws are being disregarded by 50% of academies without religious character, and 40% of community schools, thus depriving young people of information sorely needed in our increasingly pluralistic society. Part of the problem is due to a lack of specialised teachers.
So, in September 2019, in order to bolster teachers of RE, as well as their students and lifelong learners, the British Library launched an online resource called Discovering Sacred Texts.
Discovering Sacred Texts is a free educational resource boasting over 270 digitised collection items, enabling a closer look at sacred texts such as Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, a 10th century Qur’an, or a copy of Buddhism’s Lotus Sutra – also from the 10th century. The most practised religions in the UK – and therefore the main focus of this project – are Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. However, a few others are also included such as Baha’i Faith, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. Short videos give an introductory overview of the main religions, in which religious observers explain how and why certain rituals are carried out, while curators showcase their sacred texts (most of which are held at the British Library). For more in-depth knowledge, numerous articles organised by religion and theme, are written by academics, faith leaders and curators.
Last but not least, curriculum download packs are available for teachers and school visits are encouraged. Knowledge of other people’s beliefs can expose unrealised common ground. For example, did you know that Buddhism’s eight paths include ‘right conduct’ and ‘right speech’, or that one of Islam’s five pillars is to give alms? And while Hindus and Christians have some very different beliefs, both have the shared goal of striving for good conduct and morality in the lives of their followers.
You can view the resources of the Sacred Texts at the British Library online at: www.bl.uk/sacred-texts
 Some of these sacred texts are also on display at the British Library’s permanent exhibition Treasures of the British Library Exhibition.