Model World Religion Programs
How One School District Teaches Religious Tolerance: In 2000, schools in Modesto, Calif., took a risk and offered a required course on world religions and religious liberty for ninth-graders. An assessment published by the First Amendment Center later showed students' respect for rights and liberties increased measurably after taking the course. Even so, students were no more likely to disbelieve the truth of their own religious traditions after taking the course.
Religion in Other Coursework
It is difficult to understand world history -- or our nation's history -- without understanding diverse faiths and their impact. For example,
- study of the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire necessitates an understanding of the ways Muslim, Christian and Jewish peoples interacted under its rule;
- conflicts between Christian sects in the English colonies ultimately gave rise to our nation's principle of religious freedom; and
- study of the American Civil Rights Movement requires honest explorations of how faith informed people's support of and opposition to segregation. Inquiry into the Hindu-inspired principle of non-violence also is necessary.
Most schools in the U.S. focus on Western literature selections often entailing story lines about, or references to, Christian theology and history. For example, one of the most commonly assigned books in high schools is The Scarlet Letter, which requires an understanding of Puritan tradition and the denomination's relation to other Christian sects
Because students need to thrive in an increasingly global community, schools also should consider expanding the traditional focus on Western literature. Among the authors schools might include is the 13th century Middle Eastern poet Rumi, an adherent of the mystical Sufi branch of Islam, and one of the best-selling poets in America -- almost 800 years after his death.
Understanding diverse faiths is required to understand many of today's most pressing issues, from the sectarian conflict engulfing Iraq, to the genocide taking place in Darfur, to our own nation's struggles with gay rights, abortion and stem cell research. Educators should not shy away from examinations of religion in such contexts.
Many states, for example, actually mandate study of the Christian evangelical movement's rise in the U.S. Examining the movement's effect on gay rights is well within the bounds of such inquiry -- and necessary if students are to understand the full dynamics of the gay rights struggle.
Studying religion and its effects need not be limited to history, language arts or current events.
Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum, available online from ASCD, provides thoughtful commentary and comprehensive how-to information by grade level and subject area.