Teaching about Religion in Public Schools

Article excerpt

Why should study about religion be included in the public school curriculum?

Because religion plays a significant role in history and society, study about religion is essential to understanding both the nation and the world. Omission of facts about religion can give students the false impression that the religious life of humankind is insignificant or unimportant. Failure to understand even the basic symbols, practices and concepts of the various religions makes much of history, literature, art and contemporary life unintelligible.

Understanding the role religion plays in history and culture is of special importance in our increasingly diverse society. Expanding religious pluralism in the United States confronts our schools and our nation with new challenges. America has shifted from the largely Protestant pluralism of the eighteenth century to a pluralism that now includes people of all faiths and a growing number of people who indicate no religious preference. New populations of Muslims, Buddhists, and many other religious and ethnic groups are now part of the "we Americans." If we are to live with our differences, we must attempt through education to replace stereotypes and prejudices with understanding and respect. Students need to recognize that religious and philosophical beliefs and practices are of deep significance to many of our citizenry.

What is meant by "teaching about religion" in the public schools?

The following statements distinguish between teaching about religion in public schools and religious indoctrination:

1. The school's approach to religion is academic, not devotional.

2. The school may strive for student awareness of religions, but should not press for student acceptance of any one religion. …