A Six-Point Framework for Teaching Religion in the Classroom

Posted On 6 Dec 2019 by religionmatters

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

In my last blog, 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 on the uniqueness of all religious identities. This understanding also helps to develop multiple religious perspectives needed legally when teaching about religion. 

Using this six-point framework, teachers can develop constitutionally sound lessons and curricula which function to study religion from an academic perspective and not as ultimate truth or authority. This is not only constitutionally sound but extremely valuable for developing a global perspective, which includes religious understanding that affects higher student global competence, which leads to more successful students and a better world. 

(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.

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