Should religious studies be taught in public schools?

In today’s Times Union was my review of the book “Religious Literacy.” You can read the review here:

Here’s an excerpt:

Although chairman of the religious studies department at Boston University, Prothero’s argument isn’t about faith, but about how knowledge of religion is vital to the functioning of a democracy that requires a well-informed citizenry. This, of course, is a key rationale for journalism, so Prothero’s book is likely to get a lot of positive press for his mission, if not always for his writing.

He is careful to stress the difference between indoctrination, or making people believe a particular religion, and religious literacy, or getting people to understand “the religious terms, symbols, images, beliefs, practices, scriptures, heroes, themes, and stories that are employed in American

public life.”

Not understanding this distinction, Prothero argues, is part of the problem. Although the Supreme Court has ruled against “Sunday-school-style religious instruction,” he writes, the high court also ruled that “the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religions and the like.”

For high schools, Prothero describes two required courses: one that views the Bible in terms of its literary and religious importance, another that introduces students to “the seven great religious traditions of the world: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

For colleges, he calls for all students to be required to take one course in religious studies, so graduates can have at least “minimal religious literacy.”

The question is: Is this a good idea? What do you think?


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