Why Religious Education is more important now than ever


Photo by Sai Sreenivasan

Students do not have an awareness of the religions that exist in their communities, causing them to form misconceptions.

By Sai Sreenivasan, Observations Editor

Religion is a taboo topic. Teachers try to stay as objective as possible and avoid delving too deep into religious beliefs in order to avoid controversy . However, as religion has become misconstrued and distorted, it is important for our generation to not only be educated on the topic of religion but on its many different cultural facets.

Presidential candidates and elected officials are developing misconceptions on certain religions, based on the actions of radical groups, most notably in the Islamic religion.

As diversity continues to spread throughout the nation beyond the limits of mainstream religions, such as Christianity, it is important for students to remain educated. Unless the students are educated about minority religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, they may grow to have misconstrued perspectives of the practicers of such religions and make prejudiced decisions without any factual basis.

According to the Pew Research Center, the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths has risen by 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7 percent in 2007 to 5.9 percent in 2014.

This growth has been primarily attributed to the religions of Hinduism and Islam, both of which are not  discussed in depth in schools.

Also according to the Pew Research Center, in Maryland, 69 percent of adults identify as Christian and three percent as Jewish. Only about one percent associate as Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. Although the percentage of these religions may not be large, they still cover a significant part Maryland’s five million residents.

As the nation diversifies, students, the next generation, need to be educated so their beliefs are not clouded by the ignorance of society. The future policymakers of the nation should know that Buddhists do not necessarily have to meditate and Hindus don’t worship cows.

Research from the Pew Center has also shown that 46 percent of Americans believe that the religion of Islam encourages violence, but 30 percent admit to knowing only little about the religion. Their views of the religion have been shaped by the stereotypes and actions of extremists who do not embody the religion.

Terrorist acts such as 9/11 and the attacks on Paris have influenced those who may know little about the religion to feel a certain way. Even though students may discuss these events in class, teachers are not allowed enough attempts to further educate us on the true religion of Islam, continuing to let us remain ignorant.

Furthermore, certain religions are discussed more than others in different curriculums. Only specific classes, such as AP World History, actually delve into discussion of religion, but this information is mainly textbook based. Religion in this class is covered extensively,  but it is never discussed in-depth during class in relation to current events.

According to AP World History teacher Jamie Kimbrough-Groves, each main religion is given roughly a day, and the textbook goes into these topics thoroughly.

However, not all students have the opportunity to receive the same religious education as AP World students. A book can educate on a superficial level, but a well informed teacher can truly educate their students and hopefully leave a lasting effect.

According to the Pew Research Center, unfortunately just 36 percent of the public knows that comparative religion classes may be taught in public schools. Luckily Comparative Religion is a plausible class being offered at CHS next year, however, it will only exist if only enough students sign up.

Although there may be specific social studies classes, it is not enough to restrict the teaching to only a couple classes.

Religion doesn’t have to be taught in all classes however, it is important to integrate other religions, in context, in the classroom.

The Supreme Court has clearly stated that the Bible may be taught for its “literary and historic” qualities, as long as it is part of a secular curriculum. However, all the other religious texts are not included. In a society where the rivers of religion continue to be muddied by stereotypes, this is a time where we need to educate ourselves on the truth, not the rumor.

Learning about these religions matter, even in day-to-day life. It allows students to have a better understanding of current events.

By teaching students about the difference between Shi’a and Sunni Islam, for example, and why those differences have led to the turmoil in the Middle East today, students are able to make educated decisions based on correct knowledge.

Religion is very relevant, whether we chose to believe it or not, and if anything, it will only broaden the horizons of our generation. Prejudice is wrong in any situation however, without further education this ignorant hate will continue to no avail. Education can’t eliminate ignorance but it can reduce it. It is essential to broadening the conversation.