Teaching about Religion Constitutionally in the Classroom

Posted On 22 Nov 2019 by religionmatters

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

As stated in my previous blog, there are four good reasons to incorporate religion into the curriculum in suitable ways readily (e.g., Social Studies, Literature). These arguments can be summarized as follows:

  • Constitutional Argument: Schools should remain neutral, meaning religious neutral, neutral among religions, and neutral between religion and nonreligion.
  • Civic Argument: Schools must have a common ground. We need to learn to listen to and respect each other on deeply held understandings.
  • Liberal Education Argument: Schools based on a liberal arts model of education require that students should be liberally educated. Students should be learning about and from religions to gain a deeper awareness and understanding of themselves and others. (1)
  • Global Competence: The knowledge of religions is essential to student global competence. Using the Four Domains of Global Competence, understanding of religion provides students an opportunity to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, recognize their own and others’ perspectives, and communicate their idea effectively with diverse audiences.

In simple terms, students should learn about and from religions not be taught into and for religion. But this statement needs to be unpacked further to provide teachers guidelines in which to approach religion in the classroom. So below are some guidelines in which to consider as a teacher, if you are incorporating religion into the classroom which can be found in A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools, written and edited by Charles Haynes. (2)

  • Teachers should be academic, not devotional in their treatment of all religions. Objectivity is the key to this perspective.
  • Teachers should only teach for awareness of religions, not an acceptance of religion. There should be no proselytizing in the classroom regardless of personal religious perspective, which is private.
  • Teachers should not promote OR denigrate religions. Adverse events associated with a particular faith tradition do not characterize the entirety of the religious group. (e.g., the perpetrators of the horrors of 9/11 do not characterize the 1.8 billion other people who are Muslim.)
  • Teachers should only inform about beliefs, but they should not seek to make students believe.
  • Teachers should only teach about religion, not practice religion. Students should not be participating in religious ceremonies.
  • Teachers should educate for student understanding of the diversity of religious views and not have an imposition of a particular viewpoint. (2)

If a teacher follows these guidelines in the classroom, they are on the way to successfully incorporate religion into the classroom. Next week, I will provide a theoretical framework to complement this praxis.

(1) Warren Nord and Charles Haynes, Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum.

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