Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
Pluralism is the condition of society in which numerous
distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups coexist amiably
within one nation as fellow citizens.
Pluralism requires more than acknowledging or celebrating diversity. The
ideal of pluralism is a hopeful one for educators in the United States. Our
growing public heterogeneity gives reason to search for common ground as
we prepare the citizenry of the future.
What do all our nation’s citizens have in common? Certainly not religion! In
fact, one state board of education has stated: "Few issues have stirred
greater controversy in Americans’ attitudes toward public education than the
role of religion and values in public schools." History-Social Science
Framework for California Public Schools, 1997 Updated Edition (page
Throughout history religious differences have been inordinately divisive.
Improved cognizance of shared universals, on the other hand, can bring
about mutual respect and empathy. Accentuating and teaching about
commonality as well as difference is a must for educational endeavors that
advance hope for pluralism as it applies to the religion domain. Educators
who wish to advance youngster’s understanding about religion by
emphasizing human commonality will probably find it helpful if they
themselves have understanding of these two important concepts:
1. ultimate concerns (everybody has them), and
2. worldview (everyone has his/her own).
David Shiman, author of The Prejudice Book (published by the
Anti-Defamation League, 1994), eloquently argues for teacher dedication to
nourishing the pluralistic ideal, as follows:
While we should not expect to change the entire world, we can influence
the development of students’ social values and offer students alternative
ways of thinking and acting. And we should not shy away from trying to do
Although we might not want to impose our personal values on students, we
must keep in mind that our schools are charged with the task of
engendering democratic values, promoting egalitarian principles, and
fostering humane relationships.
If we cherish these goals, we have a responsibility to communicate this to
our students through the curriculum we choose and the issues we ask
them to consider. By affirming this through our instruction, we will move a
little bit closer to becoming a society where all our citizens are treated with
respect and dignity and we live together as brothers and sisters. (p. 5)
Corrections and comments invited. [last modified: 4/30/01]
Authors: Mynga Futrell, Ph.D. and Paul Geisert, Ph.D.