Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
Suitable studies about religion can help to prepare young people
for living and working as citizens in a religiously diverse nation.
Why a View to Diversity?
At its best, teaching about religion can foster in students a sensitivity that
enables them to deal comfortably with the religion domain and with the
religious diversity they will encounter in their lives. It can promote mutual
understanding and tolerance, overcome the stereotypes that lead to
prejudice and discrimination, and develop the kind of empathetic and
respectful demeanor that allows for mutual civic cooperation among the
A secular approach to education and an academic outlook oblige
that the general curriculum for study about religion also encompass
teaching about nonreligion.
What about Nonreligion?
Public schools have a responsibility to address and not ignore the
nonreligion complement to religion. Students cannot acquire an authentic
academic picture of any history and social studies domain by way of
skewed presentation. Yet, most studies about religion evidence that
In general, textbooks and curricula inform youngsters about religion(s) while
skirting and/or disregarding the nonreligious worldview. This may at first
glance seem quite natural. However, the omission distorts history and
privileges the religious worldview. It perpetuates ignorance of nonreligious
worldview(s), giving students the impression of nonexistence or calling such
This omission has important civic consequence. How can one acquire a
demeanor truly respectful of liberty of conscience if only religious worldviews
and traditions are acknowledged as being meaningful? Young people need
to learn to deal sensitively with a range of religious differences in the
citizenry that includes an absence of religious belief and outright disbelief.
They can and should overcome cultural stereotyping of nonbelievers and
develop a openness that allows for dispassionate hearing of these (as well
as multiple religious) points of view as they may come across them in the
Recognition of the nonreligious worldview belongs in objective educational
considerations of religion. As public schools teach dispassionately about
religion, they can teach about the nonreligious worldview, too. Not only is
such a suitable topic of instruction, but an academic outlook on religion
obliges that the curriculum encompass it. A distorted understanding cannot
be an accurate understanding. Whether by intention or not, there are missing
puzzle pieces. It is up to fair-minded educators to provide them.
Corrections and comments invited. [last modified: 4/30/01]
Author: Mynga Futrell, Ph.D.