Students should learn about world religions in public schools

student learn religion
Image: USAID Africa via Flickr

Religious life revives in the modern world. Spiritual organizations not only disseminate their faiths but also actively manifest themselves in politics, education, culture, charity and even entrepreneurship. All these are positive phenomena of a return to centuries-old traditions. But there are also negative processes. Many people are carried away by mysticism and various forms of occultism. The religious communities and their followers are often involved in interethnic conflicts.

Studying the religions at educational institutions, in the long run, should help to establish mutual understanding, serve harmonization of interpersonal and intercultural relations, especially between representatives of various religious and non-religious worldviews.

What are the tasks facing the teacher?

A profound study of the theoretical aspects of any religion is a matter of special education which is not necessary for everyone. After all, the public school is designed to raise a cultural and educated person with a broad outlook, and not a specialist or a representative of a particular church. Therefore, the school teacher should, first of all, become a popularizer. He has to:

  • reveal the philosophical, sociological, political, cultural and economic aspects of religion as a social phenomenon in a concise and fascinating way;
  • correctly and entertainingly to tell students about the world of religions, emphasizing the fact of its diversity;
  • elucidate the history of the emergence of religions existing in the world and in the United States, the circumstances of their appearance and spread;
  • acquaint students with the founders, the most prominent prophets, reformers and outstanding figures of different religions;
  • disclose features of the various teachings (first of all, their ethical component), emphasizing the diversity of approaches to the problem of human morality;
  • describe various religious traditions that not only refer to the church sphere but also significantly affect the way of life of people;
  • acquaint students with the peculiarities of spiritual and church art, as well as with monuments of religious culture, primarily in the United States, as well as in the region (city, village) where the school is located;
  • try to instil respect for these monuments, teach elementary methods of their study and preservation;
  • acquaint students with the role of religions in the history of our homeland, as well as in the history of other countries of the world;
  • clearly show the influence of religion on the nature of ethnic groups and their historical destiny;
  • in a delicate way, to describe the characteristic features of the psychology of the followers of a particular religion, thus setting the education of tolerance and respect for dissenters as the ultimate goal;
  • teach elementary rules of etiquette adopted in communication with believers and clergymen of religions most common in the US;
  • highlight the current state of the religious life of American society and the most acute problems that arise in this connection;
  • protect young people from the destructive influence of totalitarian sects and organizations operating under religious slogans;
  • present the modern statistics of religions, geography and dynamics of their distribution in the US and in the world.

Speaking of the elevating role of religion, the teacher should not overly “paint the picture”, i.e. exclude a critical approach to the tragic phenomena and facts of history which had a religious background. Many events of this kind (religious wars, crusades accompanied by robbery and violence, persecution of people for different beliefs or for lack of faith, etc.) are often associated with people’s desire for power, enrichment, and the destruction of their own kind. However, their motives, slogans under which they hid the true intentions – a question not directly related to religion and faith.

Basic methodological approaches to the study of religions

The key to the pedagogical success is the recognition and realization of the right of each student to express his own beliefs and opinions. Do not show violence, do not impose ready-made recipes, respect the point of view of opponents, give students full, objective and multifaceted information – these are the main requirements for teachers. Pressing and incorrect tone can reduce pedagogical efforts to zero.

In a generalized form, the methodological principles can be formulated as follows:

  1. Maximum delicacy, intelligence, respect for the personalities of students in the process of communication in the class.
  2. Taking into account the individual characteristics and inclinations of each student, the specifics of the family and the atmosphere in which he is brought up at home. Confessional knowledge and skills of individual kids can be used at lessons (if it is done delicately and at their own consent). It is unacceptable to identify the confessional identity of students compulsorily (in any form). The teacher should know: in order to encourage students to talk about religion, he must achieve a high degree of trust from them.
  3. The process of teaching is a respectful exchange of information, constant dialogue, to a certain extent, mutual training of the teacher and students. The pedagogue should try not to lose the ability to be surprised, doubt and express emotions in front of schoolchildren. After all, he is also a “disciple” in the most difficult eternal questions that are touched upon in the class.
  4. The educator can build a search method of teaching the difference of views. Use the following formula: “Let’s look for an answer together, and there is nothing to worry about if we will have different opinions after the lesson.” Disputes and discussions in the classroom will greatly facilitate the work of the teacher, help students to comprehend the facts and the conceptual apparatus.
  5. Also, a teacher can encourage children to written reflections. Even having ordered a paper on an essay writing service (such as https://pro-papers.com), they will learn much about the world of religion when preparing for an oral answer. In turn, the students who have a well-formed spiritual worldview will obtain the opportunity to speak out in a literary format.
  6. A benevolent, delicate and even tone in the presentation of the educational material, the lack of intolerance and unambiguousness in the assessments. The exceptions to this rule concern only issues related to the study of situations that are dangerous for life and health of students.
  7. Simplicity and transparency of the teacher’s coverage of all topics, including the most complex and abstract-philosophical ones. At lessons, there is no place for anything abstruse and heavy-handed. If the pedagogue is not able to explain anything simply, briefly and intelligibly, then he did not fully understand the essence of the problem.

Thus, under the above conditions, the study of religion in educational institutions can be really interesting and useful.

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