Background: Important Conceptual Underpinnings
Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
A number of critical and interesting ideas underlie teaching about religion
with a view to diversity. Of major importance are these.
The Diversity Emphasis - Why?: Customary rationale for teaching about
religion in public education is that students grow in understanding of the
nation and the world as they better comprehend religion as a cultural force,
one that has played a significant role in human and national history. We take
a different slant!
The Civic Framework: There are guiding principles underlying
considerations of religion in public schools. Through its laws, our nation
acknowledges certain inalienable rights for every citizen. There is a
responsibility to help ensure these rights for others, as well as to expect
them for oneself.
The Civil Public School: Public schools mold students' conceptions of
citizenship. Classroom teachers impart an image to them of how America
looks upon its citizens' religious freedom. The schools are to be places
where people of every faith and no faith are treated with fairness and
respect concerning their individual faith convictions or beliefs of conscience.
Religious Neutrality: Educators are leaders of institutions established by
the people through their government. As government institutions, public
schools must be religiously neutral in two senses: they must be neutral
among religions, and they must be neutral between religion and nonreligion.
Religious Pluralism: Pluralism is the condition of society in which
numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups coexist amiably within
one nation as fellow citizens. The ideal of pluralism is a hopeful one for
educators who prepare the U.S. citizenry of the future. Growing
heterogeneity gives impetus to working toward such an ideal.
Ultimate Concerns: Humans are "meaning-seeking creatures," and
enigmas of large magnitude face every thinking human. Individuals living in
every age and culture seek to satisfy their need for personal understanding.
Philosophers and sociologists have delineated these sources of internal
angst in many ways. Belief systems have their roots in these concerns.
Secular vs. Nonreligious: To a large extent, these two words are used
interchangeably in everyday language. But, contextually-concerning public
education-the terms apply todifferent things. The distinction is an important
one for educators. U.S. public schools by law are secular. This means the
educational enterprise must be "religiously neutral." That is not the same as
Inclusion vs. Exclusion: The very notion of "teaching about religion"
seems to rule out the idea of and any need for providing academic study of
nonreligious worldviews. Educators need to be aware of a "concept trap" in
the terminology that disregards a very real portion of the spectrum of human
worldviews. Fair-minded staff will seek to ensure that their schools' content
considerations regarding "the religion domain" are inclusive, and not