Religion Studies in Public SchoolsHow can the teaching (not preaching) of multiple religions, especially Islam, be beneficial to our students in today's society?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In terms of lessons, if I were planning this kind of unit and if I had the time and resources, I would take a team approach. (I think kids, like the rest of us, are always more impressed with what they discover for themselves. I would focus on 4 or 5 of the major world religions, divide the class into 4 or 5 teams, and assign one of the selected religions to each team. Their job would be to research the religion, make some kind of poster or visual aid (maybe a collage), and present their findings to the class. Each team's poster would then be displayed. I would probably supply teams with a guide sheet to direct their research.

When all the teams had made their presentations, I would then give each team a handout of some sort formatted to fill in similarities and differences among the various religions. They could then refer to the posters and visit with each other to complete their handouts.

When the handouts are completed,  I then would have a whole group discussion and try to make a list of the things that all 5 of the religions had in common. Could be enlightening.

If your school is in a large community, perhaps you could find some guest speakers who could come to class to discuss their own religions and answer questions. That would be ideal. Also, if you have access to a computer/projector, I'm sure there must be many documentaries online that would be interesting. Good luck in your class!

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Questions like this one always remind me of the motto of Faber College in Animal House, printed on a sign and displayed on the lawn at the entrance to the campus: "Knowledge is good." It was a funny bit in the movie because it provided such a "Duh!" moment. So, knowledge is good; ignorance, however, is always limiting and frequently dangerous.

We know our world grows smaller every day; cultures meet cultures in ways we haven't experienced before. Having at least some understanding of the various religions of the world helps us understand the cultures in which they are practiced and the people who hold religious beliefs different from our own. Knowledge is good in this respect because it helps eliminate barriers of ignorance and misunderstanding. People frequently fear what they don't understand--what seems strange and foreign to them--and fear often breeds contempt and disrespect. Studying world religions can make students aware that all people share some very important common bonds and basic human needs. It provides a way to understand our similarities, for once, instead of being made so acutely aware of our differences.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oh I think it would be quite interesting to teach the philosophies of different worship groups in schools.

Especially with the exposure that this newer generation has experienced post September 11 with Islam and with globalization and communication allowing them to explore other religions, I think it would be fantastic to connect the religion to the culture, to the language and history of the nations that abide by them.


The first thing that came to my head was a very funny poster I saw once which had the phrase:

Life is...

Then, it listed about 20 different religions. And next to each religion was their take on the meaning of life.

Of course, this was  A MOCK shirt, but it would be something to replicate with more seriousness.


drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that teaching about religion leads eventually to tolerance. I'm not sure that it is the duty of the schools to teach tolerance itself, or if it is really possible to teach it directly.

As an English teacher, I had many opportunities to address issues of Judeo-Christian import. My own education was almost exclusively in western European and American literature and history, so my ability to intersperse discussions of Islam, Buddhism, and other "exotic" religions was nonexistent. When I took on some world history courses with middle schoolers, I was able to learn along with them. This was pre-9/11, so I didn't feel the urgency that I know I would feel now if I were still in the classroom.

alohaspirit eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well I know its a duh question, I think I just wanted some ideas of how we should teach religion in school.  I had World Cultures in 9th grade, and I remember we touched on religion but it was not a major factor. I really think that Islam especially should be concentrated in the school and religious tolerance should be taught in a more concentrated way in order for our students to be better prepared to live in this world.  If we ever want to become a nation of tolerance it starts in the schools.  So I was thinking of making religious tolerance part of my Advisory class in my Middle School next year...does anyone have any ideas on lessons?

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For one thing, it will teach that we all have different viewpoints and beliefs.  The quickest way to compromise is understanding of different viewpoints.  The mediators of the future are going to absolutely be educated on those facts.  In addition, knowledge of different religions will shine a new light on other studies--history of people, literature of people, current events and motives of people.  So much of what people do is in the name of religion.  Understanding those different beliefs...which, when you come right down to it are NOT that different...will bring greater understanding and tolerance to all.

alohaspirit eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thanks for all the ideas!  I like the idea of group work and researching a religion. I might have to do something like this next year.  I do have a computer and projector, so I might have them to a Power Point Presentation for presenting, more engaging.  Also use a primary source such as a song, piece of scripture, a drawing, etc. for students to interpret.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Other editors have clearly stated that religious education leads to understanding and tolerance. It doesn't necessarily result in a dilution of our own faith, but it definitely means we are not free to make assumptions about other religions based on ignorance with disastrous and damaging consequences.

krishna-agrawala | Student

Basic teachings of all religions are full of good good advice on how individuals can find happiness for themselves and for others. Teaching of such concept from one or more religions can only do help to improve characters of the students. Also these religious books are excellent pieces of literature.

The trouble starts only when you put emphasis on wrong things or interpret the teachings in a wrong way. For example, if different religious books give different explanation of how the world was created, we need not fight over which text is right. People who wrote those texts relied on scientific knowledge as it existed in their time and place. Insisting on validity of those explanations is meaningless. There are many other things in the religious teaching of every major religion that is still valid and useful. We need to concentrate on those aspects.

I do not know much about other religions but in Hindu religion there is a concept of "Sanatan Dharm", meaning those aspects of our duty that do not change with time. As per this concept, only that part of book knowledge must be accepted as religion which remains valid forever.This is labeled as "gyan", which may be translated in English as "absolute knowledge". Everything else with transitory validity is labeled as "vigyan", which may be translated in English as "scientific knowledge".

boryung | Student

I think that it's important in today's society to have an understanding of many different religions, instead of one's own. Being aware of other people's religious beliefs makes it easier to understand them, and we all know that the world can always use more understanding.

Also, as #2 has already stated, religious literature is excellent material for the classroom. Some of the world's greatest literature is religious, or contains some religious aspects.

The great influence of religion on our society cannot be denied. This cannot help but to be reflected in our education.

epollock | Student

That's easy.  I teach Religious Literature every other year and I use many different books from the Bible and Analects of Confucius to Zen parables and the Bhagavad-ghita. I highlight the respect, honor, and goodness in the books, and hope that students learn about righteous living is more beneficial to them.