SCOTS school children are opting to study religious and moral education.
Experts say the subject’s popularity has risen because of an eagerness to understand the world in the post 9/11 era.
But it has also been suggested that pupils are choosing it because it is easier than other modules.
This year, 4,100 pupils are expected to sit the Higher exam – three times more than five years ago.
The increase comes after polls showed many parents were unsure as to whether the subject was even necessary in classrooms.
And the figures have ignited a row between church leaders and secular groups.
Keith Porteous Wood, from the National Secular Society, said: “There’s no evidence to suggest young people are becoming more interested in religion.
“On the contrary, church attendances are in freefall, particularly among the under-20s.
“I’d suggest the rise in school pupils taking religious studies is more likely to be down to it being a soft option.”
Last year 31 per cent of those who sat the Higher were awarded with an A.
And in 2009, more than 52 per cent achieved the top mark – above the rate for other similar subjects.
Reverend Ian Galloway, of the Church of Scotland, said: “Firstly, it’s not true to state that the religious studies exam is easier than others.
“The way the subject is taught allows young people to generate questions about the big issues in life.
“Pupils themselves say they like that and that’s why it’s becoming so popular.
“Secondly, just because church membership numbers are declining does not mean young people aren’t interested in religious issues.”
Religious education was critisced suring the 1970s for being preoccupied with Christianity and bible study, but it now covers issues like philosophy, citizenship, cultural awareness, moral development and relationship education.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Qualifications Authority denied the subject was a “soft option”.
She said: “Like all SQA qualifications it is benchmarked to a nationally understood template which measures comparability of standards of its qualifications at each level.”