A Six-Point Framework for Teaching Religion in the Classroom

Posted On 24 Feb 2021 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D., Founder and Lead Consultant

In my past blogs, I detailed the guidelines found in A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools, written and edited by Charles Haynes, which an educator should follow to bring religion into the classroom. These guidelines are as follows:

  • Teachers should be academic, not devotional in their treatment of all religions. 
  • Teachers should only teach for awareness of religions, not an acceptance of faith.
  • Teachers should not promote OR denigrate religions.
  • Teachers should only inform about beliefs.
  • Teachers should only teach about religion, not the practice religion.
  • Teachers should educate for student understanding of the diversity of religious views. (1)

To put these guidelines in practice, we will add a constitutionally sound framework for teachers to access readily. This six-point framework comes from two sources. Points one through three come from Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the U.S. published by the American Academy of Religion, while points four through six are based on the work of Benjamin Marcus of the Religious Freedom Center of The Freedom Forum Institute. Using this framework, teachers can successfully integrate the study of religion across curricula or develop stand-alone religion courses that avoid generalization and oversimplification of the old religious traditions-based model. 

So the six-point framework can be defined as follows:

  • Point One: Religions are diverse and not internally homogenous. Internal diversity challenges prevailing stereotypes and prejudices by deconstructing crude generalizations
  • Point Two: Religions are dynamic and changing, not static and fixed. There are multiple perspectives of a religious tradition intertwined in the period of time in which they occupy. This perspective assures a multiplication of views per legal guidelines when teaching about religion. 
  • Point Three: Religions are embedded in the culture, not isolated from them. Public and private spheres are in constant contact, not separated. This perspective avoids promoting non-religion over religion, which is needed legally when teaching about religion. (2)

Points four through six are based on the 3Bs of The Religious Freedom Center of The Freedom Forum Institute. The 3Bs are behavior, belief, and belonging.

  • Point Four: Religious beliefs (theology and doctrine) affect the lives of people in a variety of ways in daily life. 
  • Point Five: Behaviors (rites, rituals, habits, and practices) affect belief and belonging to religious communities. 
  • Point Six: Belonging (communities of co-religionists) affect a person’s behaviors and beliefs. (3)

If an educator can convey the complexity of this interchange of beliefs, behaviors, and belonging that is both historically and culturally embedded, students will have insight into the uniqueness of religious identities. This is the “lived religion” model of teaching about religion defined as “religion as it is lived, as human beings encounter, understand, interpret, and practice it.”(4) As Henry Goldschmidt of Interfaith Center of New York states, the lived religion model takes religion out of “the rarified realm of doctrine and text and places it instead within the give-and-take of a multicultural public sphere.” (5) 

Thus using this six-point framework inclusive of the lived religion model, teachers can develop constitutionally sound lessons and curricula that uncover the importance of religion to global cultures. This is not only constitutionally sound but extremely valuable in developing students with a deeper understanding of religious literacy and diversity and higher levels of global competence. 

(1) First Amendment Center, A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools

(2) American Academy of Religion, Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the U.S. published by the American Academy of Religion.

(3) Benjamin Marcus, “Chapter 1: Teaching About Religion in Public Schools,” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.

(4) Primiano, Leonard Norman. 1995. “Vernacular Religion and the Search for Method in Religious Folklife.” Western Folklore 54(1):37–56

(5) Henry Goldschmidt, “Chapter 7: Teaching Lived Religion Through Literature: Classroom Strategies for Community-Based Learning” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.

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