There is a serious oversight of one subject in United State’s public education system. The basis and history of the world’s main religions are simply absent, or not given enough attention to, in all levels of the public school system.
In a nation that prides itself on the value of being secular, suggesting putting more religious educating into schools is controversial.
However, we as a society do ourselves a disservice in minimizing the amount of religious content present in school.
This because we live in a world where the vast majority of people identify themselves as religious. Because of this, religion continues to be an incredibly relevant topic that our youth are woefully lacking in knowledge.
Hope Ortiz from the Sonoma State International and Exchange Programs said, “We all live in our own cultural bubbles. Many of us are unable to relate to or understand cultures other than the one in which we were raised. Religions are often oversimplified and stereotyped to the lowest common denominator, often for the purposes of fear-mongering and propagating personal interests.”
A Pew Research Center study from 2012 surveyed thousands of people from around the world and found 84 percent globally identify as religious.
The main religions were Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in that order from largest to smallest. Comparatively, The Pew Research Center found only 80 percent of Americans identify as religious with 40 percent not identifying with any organized religion.
The American respondents reported less actual time spent practicing their faith than other global counterparts.
These statistics show that we live in an indisputably faith filled world where most Americans experience with religion is vastly different from those living in other countries.
Many people around the world live in countries with no separation of church and state. The influence of religion weighs heavily in many modern global issues.
The continuing conflict with Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria is based off of that group’s attempt to establish a new Sunni Islamic Caliphate in the region.
Sectarian violence between Christians, Muslims and Animists in Africa, be it Boko Haram in Nigeria or the genocide in Darfur (Sudan), have been around for decades and even escalated in recent years.
China continues to randomly close Christian churches and Buddhist monasteries, which they view as a threat to the state. Truly, religion can be related to a great portion of issues both domestic and global.
Youth today experience less and less exposure to religion through their families as Americans continue to not affiliate with any religious persuasion.
In addition, few today would dispute that the media tends to skew its portrayal of religion, demonizing some while putting some on a pedestal.
As a result, I would argue there is a true lack of religious understanding in America. In a nation where 6 in 10 people age 18-24 couldn’t locate Iraq on a world map according to National Geographic, how can we expect our population to elect leaders that understand the complexities of religious sectarian conflict in the Middle East, and maneuver the geopolitical landscape with such knowledge in mind?
Earlier examples of global conflicts suggest religion shows no signs of fading out of modern issues and yet we are cultivating an uneducated population that will continue to struggle with the role of religion in an increasingly interconnected world.
This is an issue of national importance. As history clearly shows us, increased understanding and dialogue between people of different cultures, races or religion only serves as a catalyst for peace.
While a lack of understanding and dialogue pushes humanity toward its least admirable qualities such as hate, war and even genocide.
I suggest that one way to remedy this problem would be mandating a world religions course be taken for one semester in both high school and college as a requirement.
This would foster a more culturally sophisticated population in the United States, better equipped to react to an increasingly more diverse nation at home and world at large.
Freshman Natalie Mandeville said, “I strongly believe that in order for religion to be taught in public schools the source must be unbiased… Regardless of whether an individual regards religion as an important structure of faith, or as a subject to be studied objectively, it is fact that religion is an unavoidably significant element of modern life.”
In light of terrorist acts in recent history, from 9/11 to shootings at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, to the recent attacks at Charlie Hebdo, it’s more important than ever to avoid the temptation of condemning whole groups of people.
Division is exactly what hateful forces in the world desire. These forces distort religion into an agent of violence. Breaking down barriers, increasing knowledge and ultimately global solidarity for peace, is the only way to defeat agents of evil like terrorism.
There’s only one way all of this can be achieved, education.