ERIC Identifier: ED298072
Publication Date: 1988-08-00
Author: Risinger, C. Frederick
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies. ERIC Digest.
In this era of educational reform, the social studies curriculum has been a
frequent target of critics representing every point on the political spectrum.
While educators argue that history is neglected and traditional values are
missing, others contend that the curriculum lacks social relevance and avoids
significant public issues. Most agree, however, that religion is not adequately
included in the social studies curriculum. They argue that teachers,
administrators, school boards, and textbook publishers have tended to strip
social studies courses of all but the most bland references to religion as a
social force in the past and present. As a result, students are prevented from
learning in school about one of the most significant factors in human societies
from the prehistoric era to the world today.
Religion is a major force in human affairs and, as such, should be included
in the social studies curriculum. This ERIC Digest examines (1) reasons for
including religion in the curriculum; (2) the current status of religious
studies in the schools; (3) guidelines for including religion in the social
studies curriculum; and (4) ideas for teaching about religion in the social
WHY SHOULD RELIGION BE IN THE CURRICULUM?
It is impossible
to understand much of history without knowing about religion. For example, the
schism between Roman and Byzantine Christianity changed the course of Europe.
The growth of European nation-states is inextricably linked to the Protestant
Reformation. The European voyages of exploration were fueled by religious as
well as commercial concerns. Religious motives moved Queen Isabella and King
Ferdinand to find resources for Columbus right after the Muslim Moors and
Sephardic Jews were driven from southern Spain.
In today's world, the influence of religion continues to be significant. For
instance, disputes in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and Afghanistan have
religious roots. Rising nationalism tied to religion threatens political
stability in the Soviet Union, while Christian fundamentalists have been a major
force in American politics.
If students are to comprehend and interpret their world, they must learn
about religion and its influence on civilizations of the past and present. If
students are to know and value their American civilization, they must learn
about the Judaic-Christian underpinnings of their heritage. Indeed, if students
are to achieve a reasonable level of cultural literacy, they must be able to
identify and appreciate the religious qualities at the core of our mainstream
WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS OF RELIGION IN THE SCHOOL
Textbook coverage of religion in American history is deficient.
While religion's influence in the early settlement of the United States is
included in most textbooks, it vanishes soon after the colonial period. The role
of religious leaders in the struggle against slavery, the significance of the
church as a force among Black Americans after the Civil War and among immigrant
groups in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the importance of religion in
every protest and reform movement in American history is down-played in
textbooks and state-level curriculum guides.
For most social studies teachers, teaching about religion conjures up
thoughts of local ministers and parents visiting the school to demand that the
teacher stop or even resign. Many teachers and administrators argue that
including religion in the curriculum is unconstitutional and point to two famous
Supreme Court decisions (Engle vs. Vitale, 1962) and (Abingdon vs. Schempp,
1963) as proof. These two cases, however, provide solid legal and intellectual
support for teaching about religion in social studies classes. The keyword in
this issue is "about." In applying the establishment clause of the First
Amendment, the Court has carefully and consistently walked a narrow path. While
these decisions do prohibit Bible reading, school-sponsored morning devotions,
and prayers, they do not prevent teachers from teaching about religion as a
significant force in human affairs. Several of the justices went out of their
way to prescribe that teaching about religion is important in schools. In his
majority opinion, Justice Tom Clark said, "It might well be said that one's
education is not complete without a study of comparative religion and its
relation to the advance of civilization." Justice William Brennan, in a
concurring opinion, held that "whether or not the Bible is involved, it would be
impossible to teach meaningfully many subjects in the social sciences or the
humanities without some mention of religion."
Certainly, the courts have not banned teaching about religion from the
schools. What has been proscribed is the sponsorship of any specific religious
belief or the practice of any ceremony that is part of a particular religion or
sect. In recent years, a few small groups have maintained that by eliminating
all references to religion in the schools, educators are teaching a religion of
"secular humanism." The courts have not agreed with this view and have continued
to uphold the opinions previously described. Currently, the primary barrier for
including religion's role throughout history and in the contemporary world in
the curriculum is one that teachers, administrators, and schoolboards have
erected--a barrier based on the desire to avoid controversy. However, if
appropriate guidelines are followed, teaching about religion can be included in
the curriculum without raising a storm of protest within the local community.
WHAT ARE SOME GUIDELINES FOR TEACHING ABOUT
Several organizations have been active over the past decade in
attempts to give religion its proper place in the curriculum. These groups
include professional social studies organizations, professional administrative
organizations, university-based centers, and private groups that encourage an
objective, non-sectarian approach. Each has developed guidelines and
recommendations for bringing religion into the curriculum. Some have developed
guides and curriculum materials for both teachers and administrators. These
materials differ somewhat but are quite similar in purpose and content. Some of
the more common guidelines are summarized below:
-- The school may sponsor the study of religion, but may
not sponsor the practice of religion.
-- Schools may expose the students to all religions'
views, but may not impose any particular view.
-- The purpose of teaching about religion is to educate
about all religions, not to convert students to any
specific religious view.
-- Study about religion should strive for awareness and
understanding of the diversity of religions, religious
experiences, religious expressions, and the reasons for
particular expressions of religious beliefs within a
society or culture.
-- Study about religion should be academically responsible
and pedagogically sound, utilizing accepted methods and
materials of the social sciences and the humanities.
-- Discussion should be centered on the critical role of
religion in human culture and on its importance therein
for a balanced understanding of civilization and society.
-- Religious leaders and other community leaders, along
with educators, should contribute to discussions of the
role of religion in the curriculum.
-- State-level departments of education should develop
guidelines for integrating religion into the social
studies curriculum to provide support for local schools.
-- Textbook selection committees at the state and local
levels should require adequate treatment of religion in
all curriculum materials.
WHAT RESOURCES AND IDEAS ARE AVAILABLE FOR IMPLEMENTING
RELIGION IN THE SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM?
Because of the neglect of religion as
an essential topic within the social studies curriculum, many teachers are
uneasy about their ability to teach it. Therefore, for both preservice and
inservice teachers, efforts to assist them in learning content as well as
effective strategies are essential.
Outstanding teacher training and excellent materials on comparative world
religions are available from the World Religions Curriculum Development Center
in Minneapolis. This center provides consultative assistance and has developed a
one-semester course on religion and human culture. Its components can be used
separately as well as in other courses. The National Council on Religion and
Public Education at the University of Kansas also provides assistance to schools
who wish to teach about religion while staying within the guidelines established
by the Supreme Court.
Several educational administration organizations have made improvement of
education about religion a high-priority goal. Long before it became a trend,
the American Association of School Administrators in 1964 promoted education
about religion. Recently, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development established a special panel that has developed a comprehensive and
useful report, RELIGION IN THE CURRICULUM. Phi Delta Kappa has also published a
helpful booklet, TEACHING ABOUT RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, as part of its
Fastback Series. It contains specific guidelines for teaching about religion in
the social studies. The new CALIFORNIA FRAMEWORK FOR HISTORY-SOCIAL SCIENCE
EDUCATION gives far more emphasis to the role of religion in human societies
than other curriculum guides.
Integrating the study about religion in the social studies curriculum is a
relatively easy task once the commitment has been made. Obviously, world history
and U.S. history provide a broad "theater" within which religion plays a
significant role. But a presentation of U.S. government, sociology, and even
economics is inadequate if the role of religion is omitted. For example, one
Chicago suburban high school included a nine-week unit about religion as a part
of a required world history course. Students learned that religion was a
"cultural universal" and studied about religion in prehistoric times and in the
ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India. Other topics included
the relationship among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In Connecticut and
California elective one-semester courses are among the schools' most popular
courses. Both programs are comparative religion courses that emphasize diversity
and understanding of religious beliefs and the practice of religion in the
contemporary world. Likewise, the opportunities to discuss the role of religion
in elementary social studies are numerous. In community studies, state history,
and other topics, the impact of religion on individuals and societies can be
observed and examined.
Throughout the United States, some schools and individual teachers are
providing their students with a balanced, comprehensive view of religion in
human culture. Still, the fact that nearly all social studies textbooks and
state curriculum guides ignore or gloss over religion is evidence that most
schools should review their current practices and determine how best to include
this important topic in their curriculum.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
Following is a list of
resources, including references used to prepare this Digest. Those items
followed by an ED number are in the ERIC system and are available on microfiche
and/or paper copy from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For
information about prices, write EDRS, 3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22304,
or call 1-800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are annotated monthly
in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION) which is available in most
libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS; however, they can be
located in the journal section of most libraries by using the bibliographic
information provided below.
American Association of School Administrators.
RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators, 1986. ED 274 061.
Dilzer, Robert J. INCLUDING THE
STUDY ABOUT RELIGIONS IN THE SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM: A POSITION STATEMENT
AND GUIDELINES. Washington, D.C. Paper presented at the National Council for the Social Studies, 1984. ED 521 350.
Haynes, Charles C. "Religious Literacy in the Social Studies." SOCIAL EDUCATION 5 (Nov/Dec, 1987): 488-490. EJ 361 771.
Science Framework and Criteria Committee. HISTORY-SOCIAL SCIENCE FRAMEWORK FOR CALIFORNIA
PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Sacramento: California State Department of Education, 1988.
Kennedy, Arthur. "World Religions." NEW ENGLAND SOCIAL
STUDIES BULLETIN 44 (June 1986): 5-12. EJ 338 220.
Kniker, Charles B. TEACHING ABOUT
RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Bloomington, Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1985. ED 256 688.
RELIGION IN THE CURRICULUM: A REPORT FROM THE ASCD PANEL
ON RELIGION IN THE CURRICULUM. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1987. ED number to be assigned.
Singh, B.R. "How to Teach and Ensure a Good, Sound Religious Education Through a Multi-Faith Approach at the Primary School Level." EDUCATIONAL STUDIES 13 (May 1987): 135-148. EJ 356 099.
Stevens, Richard. "Politics, Economics, and Religion in the Constitution." TEACHING POLITICAL SCIENCE (Fall 1986): 11-16 EJ 344 533.
Vitz, Paul C. EQUITY IN VALUES EDUCATION: DO THE VALUES
EDUCATION ASPECTS OF PUBLIC SCHOOL CURRICULA DEAL FAIRLY WITH
DIVERSE BELIEF SYSTEMS? FINAL REPORT. New York: New York University, 1985. ED 260 017.
Vitz, Paul. RELIGION AND TRADITIONAL VALUES IN
PUBLIC SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS: AN EMPIRICAL STUDY. New York: New York University, 1985. ED 260 019.