Inclusion vs. Exclusion
Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
Educators who "teach about religion" must evade a language trap.
They have to consider, in both a curricular and a civic sense,
the full spectrum of human worldviews.
When it is comes to curriculum in the "religion domain," schools usually limit
content considerations to religious worldviews. The notion of "teaching
about religion" seems to rule out the idea of providing academic study of
nonreligious worldviews. In a way, there is a concept trap built into the
terminology. Educators need to find a way around this "automatic exclusion."
The " religion domain" does not equate to religion. Schools that neglect the
nonreligious worldview are not fully religiously neutral in a civic sense. Even
when care is taken to avoid privileging one religion over another, one can
argue that religion itself is privileged over nonreligion. For example, schools
often include the study of religious holidays, for majority and minority
religions. What do we include for the students who are not religious and do
not observe any religious holiday?
Our future citizens need to become aware in a dispassionate academic way
not only of distinct religious understandings, but also of the alternative
non-supernatural perspective that members of the general public may bring
to bear on important considerations about meaning of life. As students learn
about religion in the human story, they can also learn of the long recorded
history of freethought. They can learn how nonreligious beliefs have inspired
individual actions (e.g., in advancing science) and been influential in
strivings toward human rights, abolition of slavery, and women's suffrage.
Teaching students about nonreligion could mean identifying fundamentals of
the nonreligious worldview, illustrating with similarities and differences,
acknowledging how the nonreligious worldview influenced historical events
such as the Enlightenment, and recognizing how such a worldview underlay
recognized social contributions of individuals such as Paine, Voltaire,
Wollstonecraft, Cady Stanton, and Twain.
When teachers and curriculum planners consider the issue of "teaching
about religion in society and in history," they need to evade the language
trap. A rich curriculum will encompass human conceptions, beliefs, creeds,
rituals, and movements that span humanity’s breadth. This web site,
"Teaching about Religion with a View to Diversity," encourages educators to
prepare young people adequately to encounter religious diversity within the
public realm. Doing so calls for an inclusive perspective. It connotes more
than teaching about religious worldview(s) exclusively. The endeavor
comprises teaching about nonreligious worldview(s), too.
Corrections and comments invited. [last modified: 4/30/01]
Author: Mynga Futrell, Ph.D.