Teaching About Religion in the Classroom


Religion is a broad category that encompasses beliefs and practices that people use to try to make meaning in their lives. It has many different aspects, including but not limited to: worship, prayer, fasting, chanting, sacrificial acts, and community rituals. It also includes ideas about God and other spirits, a view of the world that incorporates ideas like good and evil, life after death, and moral guidelines for living well. This diversity makes it difficult to define, but a number of scholars have tried.

Most of these definitions are based on a classical approach to concepts, which assumes that all instances of something share a unique defining property that distinguishes them from everything else. This is sometimes called a “monothetic” approach to defining categories. In recent years, however, sociologists and other academics have been shifting to a more flexible “polythetic” definition of religion that focuses on the functions that religious beliefs and activities perform for individuals and communities.

Emile Durkheim’s work, for example, stressed the role that religion plays in society by emphasizing that social stability is reinforced by religion regardless of what specific religious beliefs a particular community may hold. This kind of functional definition is sometimes criticized as being too broad, in that it would include belief in ghosts, and too narrow, in that it fails to recognize faith traditions that emphasize immanence or oneness, such as Buddhism and Jainism.

While it is important to understand how a variety of religions function, it is equally critical to appreciate that they are all distinct and vary enormously from one another. Using resources that help students understand this variety encourages a deeper level of learning that will help them become tolerant of others’ views and be better equipped to engage with religious differences in their own lives and in the broader world around them.

In addition to its role in promoting social stability, religion can also promote social conflict. The history of the world shows that individual people and whole communities and nations are willing to persecute, kill, or go to war over religious differences. This is why it is vital that the classroom environment is as inclusive as possible when discussing religion.

Religious diversity is one of the most complex and fascinating aspects of human culture. To teach about it, teachers must use a wide range of classroom materials that inspire discussions and understanding of diverse perspectives on religion. These discussions not only increase students’ ability to understand the perspectives of others, but they also help them to develop skills that are essential in today’s society. They will need these skills to interact with and learn from the diverse people they encounter in their personal and professional lives. This is a key benefit of teaching about religion that makes it a worthwhile subject for every student.