Teaching World Religions
Nearly all U.S. state standards for secondary-education level require teaching about the world’s major religions within the U.S. Constitutional guidelines. It guides us that teaching about religion is teaching about the academic study of religions. Thus following these guidelines, teachers are empowered to teach about religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, and their impact on the cultures and societies where they are practiced world religions. The U.S. Constitutional guidelines mandate that no one religion should be taught in isolation or in a manner that is qualitatively or quantitatively different from the others, among other requirements (see list below).
Teachers require support to know that they can and should teach about the academic study of religion, to become aware of the classroom implications of these guidelines, and to locate appropriate teaching resources beyond the thumbnail sketches found in most textbooks. CCAS, in collaboration with partners at Georgetown University and in the wider local and national community, makes use of its position as a National Resource Center under Title VI funding from the U.S. Department of Education to help meet these needs.
U.S. Constitutional guidelines for teaching about religions in public schools*:
•The school’s approach to religion is academic, not devotional.
•The school strives for student awareness of religions, but does not press for student acceptance of any religion.
•The school sponsors study about religion, not the practice of religion.
•The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view.
•The school educates about all religions; it does not promote or denigrate religion.
•The school informs students about various beliefs; it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief.
*From Finding Common Ground, 2007 edition
Resources for Teaching about World Religions
For the past three decades, CCAS ’s K-14 Education Outreach Coordinator has played a leading role in ensuring that teachers are informed about state standards and U.S. Constitutional guidelines to teaching about religions, and in has been active in creating teaching tools and disseminating resources aligned with these guidelines in professional development settings for educators. These resources include:
Guidelines and best practices for teaching about religions
From the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute (formerly the First Amendment Center):
- A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools
- A Parent’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools
- A First Amendment Guide to Public Schools & Religious Communities
- Finding Common Ground: A First Amendment Guide to Religion and Public Schools
- Teaching About Religion in National and State Social Studies Standards
- The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide
- K-12 Social Studies Guidelines for the Academic Study of Religion, a supplement developed by the National Council for the Social Studies
- American Academy of Religion Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States
- Teaching About Religion in the Social Studies Classroom (2019), a 21-chapter volume produced by National Council of Social Studies and the Religious Freedom Institute
Curriculum Materials on World Religions
Every external workshop on religions that CCAS conducts includes a presentation of the U.S. Constitutional guidelines for teaching on religions. In addition, we distribute curriculum resources on all of the major world religions from sources such as:
- Harvard University Pluralism Project
- PEW Research Center on Religion and Public Life
- Ackland Art Museum Five Faiths Project Curriculum Materials
- National Museum of Asian Art Educator Resources
- National Museum of Asian Art Curriculum Guides on religious topics
- Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- World History for Us All, online world history curriculum
- Teaching About Islam in Public Schools, written by Dr. Susan Douglass
CCAS Workshops and Institutes on Teaching about World Religions
In addition to the critical role CCAS Education Outreach has played in supporting teachers in meeting state and Constitutional guidelines on teaching about religion, CCAS has led a number of internal and external workshops and week-long summer institutes on these topics. A few of these include:
- Exploring World Religions: Focus On Islam. Educator Workshop featuring “The Art Of The Qur’an” Exhibition
November 11, 2016 and January 28, 2017 at the Freer|Sackler Galleries, Washington DC
- The Heritage and Contemporary Status of Christianity in the Middle East and North Africa
April 22, 2017 at CCAS, included site visits to two local churches and talks by their pastors.
- Teaching About and Experiencing World Religions: 2016 Summer Teacher Institute
August 2016 at CCAS
Speakers for this week-long institute included Georgetown faculty and other experts, and religious leaders discussing Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, indigenous African, and indigenous American religions. The institute included site visits to a synagogue, a church, a Buddhist and a Hindu temple, a mosque, and a Sikh gurdwara.
- World Religions Professional Development Course for Montgomery County Public Schools
June 2017 in Montgomery County, MD
Co-sponsors/Partners: Georgetown’s ACMCU
- “Give Me Those Old Time Abrahamic Religions,” Session at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference Session
November 23, 2019 in Austin TX
- Teaching About Religion in the Social Studies Classroom Book Launch
July 9, 2019 at the Newseum’s Knight Center, Washington DC
Cosponsors/Partners: NCSS, the Freedom Forum Religious Freedom Institute, DC Public Schools, and Montgomery County Public Schools.
- “New approaches to teaching about world religions and cultural interactions in history,” Professional Development Workshop for 6th & 7th Grade Teachers
June 5, 2019 in Warren County, MI
Co-sponsors/Partners: Warren County Public Schools
- Workshop on Teaching about World Religions
April 25, 2019 at South Kingston Public Schools, RI