In my first few years of teaching, even the mention of religion in my classroom had my stress levels go up. Knowing that the Constitution mandates the separation of church and state, I was uncomfortable breaching the subject, not knowing what was allowed and what was not. After digging a bit deeper, I learned how the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment outlines the parameters of what religious content is allowed in schools.
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Yes, it is absolutely necessary to follow the law and not promote a certain religion, but teaching about religion is perfectly acceptable. Answering my second-graders’ questions about religion, instead of shying away from the topic, would be a better model for them on engaging in conversations about religious diversity. Teaching religion has a profound impact on students’ understanding of diversity and culture, and teachers can prepare to have these conversations by understanding the legality of teaching religion, as well as the main methods for teaching world religions.
This article outlines the importance of teaching about world religions, reviews the legality of teaching religion, and finally shares methods for how to successfully implement a World Religions curriculum in your classroom at any grade level.
Religion does have a place in our classrooms. Research shows that students who study world religions develop more tolerance for religious diversity. A school in California that implemented a World Religions curriculum saw fewer instances of bullying in school. Teaching about the major world religions helps erase stereotypes about minority religions and reduces ignorance about religious practices.
While teaching world religions is typically reserved for older students, younger students also reap the same benefits of learning about religion. Most state standards actually require a world religions component as a part of social studies. Students who begin learning about the connections between religion, culture, and history from a young age are more open-minded to these differences. Students are better able to analyze the similarities and differences found in religions and cultures around the world.
Know the Law
The First Amendment asserts that 1) schools must be secular,2) schools’ actions cannot advance or endorse religion, 3) schools cannot foster an excessive entanglement between government and religion, and 4) schools may not participate in school-sponsored prayer or religious indoctrination.
Therefore, teachers may teach an unbiased religious curriculum. Unbiased curriculum must teach each religion equally without favoring one religion over another. The same factual information should be shared about each religion. Many states even expect schools to teach world religions as a part of their state standards.
How To Teach Religion
When preparing to teach about world religions, make sure that your lessons abide by the law and are objective and unbiased. Lessons about religion cannot favor a certain religion, or conversely exhibit prejudice against any religion. Globally Taught resources ensure that all religions are approached in an unbiased manner, by allotting equal time and equal information about each religion.
There are three methods to teaching religion responsibly. Selecting the right method for your classroom is the first step in implementing a World Religions curriculum.
First, teachers may use the Historical Method. The Historical Method discusses how religion has shaped history, culture, and politics in different parts of the world. This method also delves into how religious histories have connected and overlapped with each other.
Second, teachers may teach about world religions through texts. Texts is broadly defined and may include literature, religious texts, articles, nonfiction, poetry, or other written forms. Use the Text Method is particularly helpful for secondary students because religious symbolism is commonly found in literature. Teachers must include a broad range of religious texts, and include literature that refers to more than one religion. Using the Text Method will help students identify how religions have influenced texts.
Third, teachers can implement the Globally Taught Method, which approaches world religions from a cultural lens. This approach helps students understand the undeniable relationship between religion and culture. Students look at the origins of each religion and learn how the religions have transformed over time. Students explore the relationship between people and religion around the world and come to understand that respect for religious diversity is a part of being global citizens.
Keep an eye out for new resources on teaching religion, as well as articles and professional development seminars on how to implement a world religions program in your classroom.