Teaching the Sentientism Worldview

This short article aims to introduce the Sentientism worldview to the Religions and Worldview education community in the UK. The original version was published here in the Spring 2024 newsletter of AREIAC, the Association for Religious Education Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants.

Sentientism: “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings”

Part of the excitement of modern Religious Education comes from exploring non-religious worldviews with children. That exploration is timely as around half of UK people now say they have a non-religious worldview. One increasingly popular contemporary example, based on some very old ideas, is Sentientism. You may have seen it mentioned in this new RE Today resource.

Like many other worldviews Sentientism looks to help us with the big questions like “what’s real?”, “who matters?” and “how can we make a better world?” Sentientism suggests we start answering those questions with a commitment to “evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings”. Sentience is the capacity to feel or to have experiences like pain or happiness so sentient beings are, so far, human and non-human animals.

Sentientism’s “compassion for all sentient beings” has much in common with religious concepts like ahimsa and compassionate stewardship – while its “evidence and reason” shares the naturalistic epistemology of Humanism. For a fast-growing number of people Sentientism also motivates their veganism (see VinEs great resources here), now recognised in UK and EU Equalities Law as a cogent philosophical belief and a protected characteristic.

While Sentientism is a fairly new word, coined in 1975, its ideas are very old – maybe even pre-human! Within human thought, naturalistic epistemology and sentience-focused ethics have deep roots in many regions and cultures. These themes can be found in African, Asian and ancient Greek thinking, for example. Some thinkers even combined these themes into something very much like an ancient form of sentientism. One example is the blind Arab philosopher poet Al-Ma’arri who lived over a thousand years ago. He used a naturalistic approach to challenge religious thinking and wrote about the ethics of veganism long before the word “vegan” was invented. If we want to push things even further back, long before humanity evolved, non-human animals used forms of “evidence and reasoning” to understand their environments and survive. They also felt compassion at least for their own young and often for group members. That may have been the start of a basic sort of morality that us human animals have since built on. Of course, quadrillions of non-human sentient animals still do these things today too.

Sentientism seems be of particular interest to young people as it resonates with their concerns about the environment, their care for non-human animals, the development of artificial intelligence (could AI be sentient?) and the risks of misinformation, disinformation, conspiracism and exclusionary ethics.

An additional attraction of teaching the Sentientism worldview is that its commitment to “evidence and reason” can be a gateway into the wider worlds of philosophy and science. Even younger children engage richly in questions like “how can we work out what’s true?” and “who should we care about?”. Older children also enjoy exploring the sometimes radical implications of this simple, pluralistic philosophy of life.

If you think the Sentientism worldview might be interesting to the schools, teachers or SACREs (Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education) you work with I would be very happy to help as a volunteer in any way I can – whether through joining a meeting, providing resources or by answering any questions you might have. I have organised an open webinar here on 27th June aimed at education professionals and I’ll happily join other groups and set up more webinars if there is interest. My episode on the Ethical Schools podcast might be a useful introduction to teaching Sentientism – and watch out for the forthcoming Sentientism episode on The RE Podcast (thanks Louisa!) I’m also registered with RE Hubs as a nationwide school speaker for Sentientism so I can help run classes, workshops or deliver assemblies. Please do get in touch if I can help – and regardless, I’d love to hear your and your children’s thoughts on the Sentientism worldview.

Jamie Woodhouse (

Links: YouTube Podcast Community (all welcome!) @Sentientism

Latest work

Keith Tucker holding a sprig of broccoli in one hand with the other pointing towards a large boom-box stereo in front of him.

Hip Hop is Going Green – Keith Tucker – Sentientism Ep:197

Keith Tucker is Founder and Executive Director of Hip Hop is Green. A conversation about the Sentientism worldview's "evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings".

Hip Hop is Going Green – Keith Tucker – Sentientism Ep:197

Keith Tucker is Founder and Executive Director of Hip Hop is Green. A conversation about the Sentientism worldview's "evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings".

Nigerian Food Revolution – Hakeem Jimo – Sentientism Ep:196

Hakeem Jimo is co-founder and CEO of Veggie Victory, Nigeria’s first plant-based food tech company. He is country director for ProVeg Nigeria. A Sentientism conversation.

Consciousness Live! on Sentientism – with Skateboarding Philosopher Richard Brown

Sentientism episode 195 - Jamie Woodhouse on Richard Brown's Consciousness Live!

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