Teaching About Religion in the School Environment
Religion is a group of beliefs and practices that people use to make sense of their world. Most religions believe in a divine creator who is the source of everything in our universe. Religious believers show devotion to their creator through prayer, holy texts and celebrations of holidays and events throughout the year. Some examples of religions include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. Other religions are unique to a certain place such as Shinto in Japan and Hockey in Canada. In modern society, many people identify with more than one religion and this makes the topic of study in a school environment very interesting.
It is important to teach students about the different religions in their communities and in our world so they can be sensitive to those differences. It is also important to educate children about stereotypes that they may hear from other sources, such as in the media, so that they can avoid judging or making negative assumptions about others. Teaching about the different religions in our community is a wonderful way to celebrate diversity in our schools and in our world.
The term “religion” is derived from the Latin verb religio, which means “scrupulousness.” In ancient antiquity this was a moral or ethical notion of how people behaved in their relationships with gods and spirits, and it also encompassed taboos, promises, curses, or transgressions. In more humanistic or naturalistic traditions, these concerns and actions have been framed in terms of a person’s relationship with the broader human community or with nature.
As religion became a subject of academic study in the 19th century, it was reframed as a set of beliefs and activities that can be analyzed using scientific methods such as archaeology, ethnology, and history. The emergence of this new field of study and the growth of knowledge about world cultures brought an increase in the number of “world religions” identified by scholars. This increased focus on a particular definition of religion has raised concerns about how the concept of religion is used in our culture and how it may be biased or even harmful to some groups.
The rise of critical and reflexive scholarship in the social sciences and humanities has prompted scholars to pull back and examine the constructed nature of these concepts that were once so taken for granted. This has led to criticism of the idea that there is a universal definition of religion, as well as the assumption that the concept of religion is not a category but a taxon whose members share certain defining characteristics. These are called polythetic approaches and are similar to the way that scientists sort bacteria according to their properties, rather than by a classification system like genus or species.