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Monday, March 15, 2010

Can Religion Be Integrated In An Academic Environment?

Religion in schools goes back as far as the Engel v. Vitale Supreme Court Case. The courts decision denied the official use of prayer in school. Those who supported the decision of the court justified the decision with arguments that prayer in school was a violation of the 1st Amendment. The United States constitution prevents the establishment of religion by government. This is more commonly known as the separation of church and state.

People in the U.S. identify themselves very often with their religious beliefs, whether they recognize themselves as theists, atheists or agnostics. A theist is a person who believes in a God, an atheist is one who does not believe in God and an agnostic is one who believes in a higher force, but believes it is impossible to know whether there is a God. It is actually very interesting to see the change in what was recognized as religion during the time of our four-fathers in comparison to today. Before religion was a way to extend the superiority of the English culture into the America's, and today religion in the U.S yields to concepts such as pluralism and secularism. The colonists engaged in an “educational crusade” to educate the Native American Indian's of not only their culture but also their religious beliefs.

Religious education would help these people learn to read and write, so they can obey laws of God and the nation. The notion that the English culture and the Protestant religion was the ideal path to follow, concepts such as pluralism was unheard or unseen. Today however, secularization in the U.S is in fact increasing the number of people who identify themselves as followers of a specific religion and also believe in God. In addition, in a country where there was resentment and disapproval of so many denominations and religions at one point, the complete opposite exists today. The United States is a pluralistic society, which can very well be identified as a country of “many worlds and religions.”

Today religion is increasingly present in the college curriculum. The status of religion I believe in the college system is best represented by the types of courses which are offered. Baruch College is a great example, in this university students are provided with many choices. This college offers courses such as Philosophy of Religion, Lives of Hinduism, Sociology of Religion, Traditions of Islam and Contemporary Christianity.

I think it is actually great that students have the options of getting well acquainted with so many world religions. I have taken many of the courses offered at Baruch College, and have had a great experience in each and every one of them. However, I think it is important always to teach religion in a specific manner. Religion should be taught in a manner that is factual, comparative and fair minded. If there is no obvious sight of persuasion to subscribe to a specific religious belief system, religion should be allowed to be an integrate part of schools. The way religion courses should be taught is separated by two phrases, “to teach religion and to teach about religion.”

-Suveen Sahni

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