Learning in lockdown - a new chapter for religious education

27 MAY 2020

Discovering Sacred Texts – the pioneering learning resource proving a treasure trove to explore at home

In 2019, The British Library embarked on a mission to help people explore the world’s major faiths. In partnership with Allchurches Trust, who supported the project with a grant of £40,000, the library was able to create an online learning resource hosting almost 300 digitalised texts – including beautiful manuscripts from many world religions and an extensive collection of printed editions, old and new – that had never before been available for online exploration.
 
Discovering Sacred Texts is an online hub, including teachers’ resources, short faith films and articles written by museum curators and faith practitioners alongside the digitalised texts – making it a valuable home learning and teaching resource, particularly during school closures. It offers a window into six major faiths - Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism - and helps to improve understanding of different religions and how their values translate in society today.
 
The British Library is home to one of the most spectacular collections of sacred texts in the world – much of which can now be shared and delighted in from home.
British Library, Sacred Text's
Jeremy Noles, Grant and Relationships Manager for Allchurches Trust, said: “We were keen to support Discovering Sacred Texts as we felt the project could help people of all ages and all faiths and none to wrestle with deep issues of meaning - for both individuals and societies - which these world religions seek to address. 
 
“This online resource is great news for religious education and has enabled these ancient manuscripts, and many more illuminating texts, to be virtually dusted off for the enjoyment of all.”
  
Chapter two
 
With the chance for people to discover the earliest surviving copy of the complete New Testament, which dates from the fourth century, and Henry VII’s own personal *psalter – there was no doubt that the online platform would attract interest. 
 
As of the beginning of April 2020, the Discovering Sacred Texts’ website had received over 150,000 unique users - a giant step towards the 250,000 visitor target for the year.
 
The footfall isn’t isolated to the sacred texts alone, with 48,000 having enjoyed the expert articles and the films that have received over 17,000 collective views!
 
To complement the launch of this ‘one of a kind’ resource, the British Library temporarily displayed over 30 of the physical manuscripts that had been digitalised in the ‘Treasures of the British Library’ exhibition. Opened in October 2019, the free exhibition saw hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through. The online platform was also shared with RE Teachers across the country at various conferences, and has been welcomed with interest and ample enthusiasm!

The next chapter 
 
The excitement doesn’t stop there.
 
The intention is for Discovering Sacred Texts to act as a focus for a free programme of workshops in The British Library, created for primary and secondary school students, when lockdown lifts.  

Emily Anstead, Head of Trusts and Foundations for The British Library, said: “Thanks to Allchurches Trust’s support, the British Library was able to produce the UK’s first online learning resource on religious manuscripts.
 
“This will help around one million people engage with significant cultural manuscripts, deepening their understanding of a broad spectrum of faiths.
 
“Furthermore, teaching of Religious Education will be better supported and enriched, enabling teachers to deliver more innovative ways of engaging young people with the subject.
 
“The website is also proving an invaluable learning platform for young people in lockdown; providing a bank of knowledge to explore with parents, carers and teachers.”
 
*a Psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms from the Bible
Lindisfarne Gospels
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