Tag Archives: Education

Wertheimer, “Faith Ed”

In August, Beacon Press will release “Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance,” by Linda K. Wertheimer. The publisher’s description follows:

A suburban Boston school unwittingly started a firestorm of controversy over a sixth-grade field trip. The class was visiting a mosque to learn about world religions when a handful of boys, unnoticed by their teachers, joined the line of worshippers and acted out the motions of the Muslim call to prayer. A video of the prayer went viral with the title “Wellesley, Massachusetts Public School Students Learn to Pray to Allah.” Charges flew that the school exposed the children to Muslims who intended to convert American schoolchildren. Wellesley school officials defended the course, but also acknowledged the delicate dance teachers must perform when dealing with religion in the classroom.

Courts long ago banned public school teachers from preaching of any kind. But the question remains: How much should schools teach about the world’s religions? Answering that question in recent decades has pitted schools against their communities.

Veteran education journalist Linda K. Wertheimer spent months with that class, and traveled to other communities around the nation, listening to voices on all sides of the controversy, including those of clergy, teachers, children, and parents who are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, or atheist. In Lumberton, Texas, nearly a hundred people filled a school-board meeting to protest a teacher’s dress-up exercise that allowed freshman girls to try on a burka as part of a lesson on Islam. In Wichita, Kansas, a Messianic Jewish family’s opposition to a bulletin-board display about Islam in an elementary school led to such upheaval that the school had to hire extra security. Across the country, parents have requested that their children be excused from lessons on Hinduism and Judaism out of fear they will shy away from their own faiths.

But in Modesto, a city in the heart of California’s Bible Belt, teachers have avoided problems since 2000, when the school system began requiring all high school freshmen to take a world religions course. Students receive comprehensive lessons on the three major world religions, as well as on Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and often Shintoism, Taoism, and Confucianism. One Pentecostal Christian girl, terrified by “idols,” including a six-inch gold Buddha, learned to be comfortable with other students’ beliefs.

Wertheimer’s fascinating investigation, which includes a return to her rural Ohio school, which once ran weekly Christian Bible classes, reveals a public education system struggling to find the right path forward and offers a promising roadmap for raising a new generation of religiously literate Americans.

“Writing Religion” (Ramey, ed.)

In August, the University of Alabama Press will release “Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religion,” edited by Steven W. Ramey (University of Alabama). The publisher’s description follows:

In 2002, the University of Alabama’s Department of Religious Studies established the annual Aronov Lecture Series to showcase the works of nationally recognized scholars of religion capable of reflecting on issues of wide relevance to scholars from across the humanities and social sciences. Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religions is an edited collection of essays that highlights critical contributions from the first ten Aronov lecturers.

Section one of the volume, “Writing Discourses,” features essays by Jonathan Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, and Ann Pellegrini that illustrate how critical study enables the analysis of discourses in society and history. Section two, “Riting Social Formations,” includes pieces by Arjun Appadurai, Judith Plaskow, and Nathan Katz that reference both the power of rites to construct society and the act of riting as a form of disciplining that both prescribes and proscribes. The writings of Tomoko Masuzawa, Amy-Jill Levine, Aaron W. Hughes, and Martin S. Jaffee appear in section three, “Righting the Discipline.” They emphasize the correction of movements within the academic study of religion.

Steven W. Ramey frames the collection with a thoughtful introduction that explores the genesis, development, and diversity of critical analysis in the study of religion. An afterword by Russell McCutcheon reflects on the critical study of religion at the University of Alabama and rounds out this superb collection.

The mission of the Department of Religious Studies is to “avoid every tendency toward confusing the study of religion with the practice of religion.” Instruction about—rather than in—religion is foundational to the department’s larger goal of producing knowledge of the world and its many practices and systems of beliefs. Infused with this spirit, these fascinating essays, which read like good conversations with learned friends, offer significant examples of each scholar’s work. Writing Religion will be of value to graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and scholars interested in the study of religion from a critical perspective.

“Crossings and Crosses” (Strandbrink et al., eds.)

This April, De Gruyter Press will release “Crossings and Crosses: Borders, Educations and Religions in Northern Europe” edited by Peter Strandbrink, Jenny Berglund, and Thomas Lundén, (Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden). The publisher’s description follows:

Crossings and CrossesDealing with different regions and cases, the contributions in this volume address and critically explore the theme of borders, educations, and religions in northern Europe. As shown in different ways, and contrary to popular ideas, there seems to be little reason to believe that religious and civic identity formation through public education is becoming less parochial and more culturally open. Even where state borders are porous, where commerce, culture, and trade as well as associative, personal, and social life display stronger liminal traits, normative education remains surprisingly national. This situation is remarkable and goes against the grain of current notions of both accelerating globalisation and a European regional renaissance. The book also takes issue with the foundational tenet that liberal democracies are by definition uninvolved in matters concerning faith and belief. Instead, an implied conclusion is that secular liberal democracy is less than secular and liberal – at least in education, which is a major arena for political-cultural-ethical socialisation, as it aims to confer worldviews and frameworks of identity on young people who will eventually become full citizens and bearers/sharers of prevailing normative communities.

Hemming, “Religion in the Primary School”

This March, Routledge Press will release “Religion in the Primary School: Ethos, Diversity, Citizenship” by Peter Hemming (Cardiff University, UK).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion in the Primary SchoolReligion and its relationship to schooling is an issue that has become more and more topical in recent years. In many countries, developments such as the diversification of state school sectors, concerns about social cohesion between ethnic and religious groups, and debates about national identity and values have raised old and new questions about the role of religion in education. Whilst the significance of this issue has been reflected in renewed interest from the academic community, much of this work has continued to be based around theoretical or pedagogical debates and stances, rather than evidence-based empirical research.

This book aims to address this gap by exploring the social and political role of religion in the context of the primary school. Drawing on original ethnographic research with a child-centred orientation, comparisons are drawn between Community and Roman Catholic primary schools situated within a multi-faith urban area in the UK. In doing so, the study explores a number of ways in which religion has the potential to contribute to everyday school life, including through school ethos and values, inter-pupil relations, community cohesion and social identity and difference. At the centre of the analysis are two key sociological debates about the significance of religion in late modern societies. The first is concerned with the place of religion in public life and the influence of secularisation and post-secularism on the relationship between religion and schooling. The second relates to the increasingly multi-faith nature of many national populations and the implications for religious citizenship in educational settings.

Religion in the Primary School will be a useful resource for academics, researchers and students as a key addition to existing knowledge in the disciplines of education, sociology and human geography. It will also be of value to both policy-makers and educationalists interested in the role of religion in schools and the implications for the wider community and society in a range of national contexts.

Event at Hunter College: “American Education and the Separation of Church and State: Fact vs. Fiction”

The CUNY Institute for Educational Policy is hosting a discussion entitled “American Education and the Separation of Church and State: Fact vs. Fiction,” on December 4th at Hunter College. The discussants include Philip Hamburger (Columbia), Ashley Berner (CUNY), and Matthew Yellin (Hillside Arts and Letters Academy):

Most Americans know the term “separation of church and state,” but few understand it. Howhas the phrase influenced education policy and practice? How has the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment evolved? Are tax credits and vouchers that enable funding for religious schools Constitutional? Are public school teachers allowed to talk about religion in the classroom? If so, how can they do so without violating the Establishment clause of the Constitution?

These are timely questions for New Yorkers: Albany is considering a tax credit bill that would provide support for Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim, and other non-public schools; international leaders are calling for better religious literacy in K-12 classrooms, so that young citizens are prepared to negotiate our diverse and increasingly interconnected world. For many Americans, however, public funding for religious schools, and open discussions about religious beliefs in public school classrooms, raise important concerns.

On December 4, the nation’s leading scholar of First Amendment jurisprudence will set out the history and current interpretation of separation, and a master teacher will discuss some challenges and solutions to navigating religious literacy in New York’s public school system.

Get details and register here.

Conference: Non-Public School Graduates in Civil Society: Release of Data (September 10)

The CUNY Institute for Education Policy will hold a conference, “Non-Public School Graduates in Civil Society: Release of Data” on September 10 at 5:30pm at the Roosevelt House in New York City:

Do private schools serve the public good, or private interests? Do they train for democratic citizenship, or do they further divide an already plural­istic society? A recent research project by Cardus, a non-aligned Canadian thinktank, surveyed a nationally representative sample of 23-39 year-old Americans from across major school sectors and sought to analyze school sector impact upon adult behavior in civic engagement, academic achievement, and religious formation. Join us for a critical examination of just-released data on non-public and public school graduates from the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative at Notre Dame University.

Details are here.

Yoga in Public Schools, American and Indian

Indian Schoolchildren Doing Yoga (NYT)

Last summer, I wrote about a constitutional challenge to yoga classes in California public schools. When a school district near San Diego added yoga to its elementary-school gym program, some parents complained. Yoga, they said, is a Hindu discipline, and including it in a compulsory gym class violates the Establishment Clause. A state trial court disagreed, holding that the school district had removed all religious references, so that what remained was simply a stretching class for kids.

It turns out that similar litigation is unfolding across the world in India, the place where yoga originated. But there, the courts appear to be taking a harder line. The plaintiffs in the Indian case want that country’s Supreme Court to order public schools to include yoga in the curriculum. They cite a 2005 study showing that yoga is important for students’ mental and physical health. The Supreme Court hasn’t ruled yet, but has expressed concern about ordering public school students to take yoga classes. Why? Because Indian public schools are officially secular, and yoga is a religious practice. At oral argument this fall, the court said that parents from minority religions–Christianity and Islam, for example–might object to a requirement that their children engage in Hindu exercises at school. The court has asked representatives of the minority religions to appear in the litigation as third parties to state their views.

What explains the different reactions of the American and Indian courts? Much has to do with the different cultural understandings of yoga. Here in the US, most people who do yoga don’t think of it as religious. Spiritual, yes, in the sense that it creates a sense of inner peace, but not religious. Oh, people may understand that yoga has Hindu roots and that some elements, like the salutation to the sun god and chanting the word “Om,” have religious meanings. But these aspects of yoga intrude very little on their experience. “Sure, yoga is religious for some,” they might say, “but not for us. Maybe other people think they’re greeting the sun god, and that’s fine. But we’re just stretching.” So when a public school says it has removed the religious elements of yoga and retained the secular, most Americans would find that position plausible. 

The difficulty is that yoga, as traditionally understood, doesn’t work that way. In traditional understanding, yoga is itself a religious act. The postures themselves lead the practitioner to God, whether the practitioner intends this or not. In traditional understanding, in other words, one can’t separate the religious and secular aspects of yoga and one really shouldn’t try. Indeed, some American Hindus object to the way our popular culture treats yoga as a designer gym routine. Much as many American Christians seek to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” the Hindu American Foundation has mounted a campaign to “Take Back Yoga” for the faith.

Perhaps yoga means one thing in one cultural context but something else in another. You’d have to think, though, that judges in yoga’s home country have a pretty good sense of what the practice is all about. The parents in the California case, who have appealed the trial court’s ruling, might want to have a look at the Indian court’s ultimate decision. 

1000 Mots

Conference on Educational Justice (Oct. 26)

On October 26, St. John’s University will host the biennal Vincentian Chair of Social Justice Conference. This year’s theme is “Educational Justice: Opportunity, Inclusion and Social Equity for All”:

Historically in the United States, education has served as a consistent and sustainable means of alleviating individual poverty and reducing social inequality.  Today, while the developing nations live on that same hope, the developed world has found that education as a poverty reliever and social equalizer has lost ground. The God-given dignity inherent in each person demands that all experience the liberating and enhancing influence of education as a basic human right.  During this conference, we will reflect on the manner in which educational policy and practice have in the past and must in the future contribute to poverty alleviation, social advancement and human solidarity.

Details are here.

Jivraj, “The Religion of Law”

ShowJacketNext month, Palgrave Macmillan will publish The Religion of Law: Race, Citizenship and Children’s Belonging by Suhraiya Jivraj (Kent Law School, University of Kent). The publisher’s description follows.

A timely and original examination into the ways in which religion is conceptualized in two areas of law relating to children – child welfare cases and education law and policy. The book focuses on the relationship between race, religion and culture, bringing critical race and religion perspectives from other disciplines to bear on law.