Reading Religion: The Importance of Religious Studies in Schools
Why students will benefit from religious education in schools
Roughly defined, religion is an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods. As a cultural system, religion has played a very strong part in the identities of large social groups. This in turn affects an individual’s personal identity and ideas of morality. With as many as ten thousand distinct religions worldwide and 84% of the world’s population is affiliated with the largest religions (namely Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism) it is imperative that we as a global community strive to learn about different religions in order to understand each other.
As the world surges forward into the future, there seems to be many setbacks that keep society from truly progressing and one of those is the rise of religious intolerance and fundamentalism. In a diverse world, there is so much room for people to misinterpret each other. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, there is a sharp rise in social hostilities involving religion in the past six years.
This misunderstanding is further worsened by recent events like the rise of ISIS in Syria and White Supremacy in the United States among others, and the lack of religious education often leads to bigotry and intolerance. Here are some of the advantages in including religious education in a school curriculum:
Children as young as the preschool level can greatly benefit from the inclusion of religion in their curriculum by increasing their awareness of cultural diversity. Sure, children don’t really have a preconceived idea of what the differences are, but as they grow up in a diverse world, understanding the hows and whys can help them interact in a more sensitive manner.
According to a recent study, children from religious households are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households. Which is why it’s doubly important to teach children about all religions in school. Not only will it counteract the negative influence brought about by intolerance, it will allow children to gain a wider understanding of religions and cultures outside of their homes. This will make them less judgmental and more tolerant of their peers.
Through understanding the basics of the beliefs of other religions, a child can begin to experience understanding other people’s condition from their perspective. Again, the keyword here is understanding religion and its relation to people. When we encourage cognitive empathy by teaching a child to see the world from different perspectives, we are ensuring that the child will have a better way of interacting with different people in the future.
Morality as Separate from Religion
Teaching religious education in school may be tricky but it is important so the child will have a broader view of morality and not be indoctrinated to a singular belief. An article on the Guardian mentions that most people around the world think it is necessary to believe in a god to be a moral person, but as evidenced by recent studies, children raised without religion show more empathy and kindness. The study contradicts the popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic than others. This is what religious education in schools aims to address—the need to balance out the singular belief from the home in school to create a better understanding and dialogue between and among other systems of faith.
With this in mind, we have to remember that morality is not synonymous with religion and this is why religious education should be taught in schools. It is important that as young as they are, children are exposed to different beliefs so that they have a better understanding of the world thereby ensuring a more peaceful and progressive future where all can live together in harmony.