Religion is a term that describes the systems of belief and practice concerning what people determine to be sacred or spiritual. Throughout history, and in societies across the world, leaders have used religious narratives, symbols, and traditions in an attempt to give more meaning to life and understand the universe.
The term religion encompasses a wide variety of spiritual, transcendental, and faith-based systems of belief and their attendant rituals, traditions, values, and customs.
Studying religion can be a rewarding and challenging experience for students of all ages and backgrounds. For instance, students may discover new perspectives on how to live a good life and learn about the many ways religions have helped people around the world.
Understanding the impact of religion on society is a vital part of the social sciences. Sociologists, such as Emile Durkheim, argue that religion binds people together (social cohesion), promotes behavior consistency (social control), and offers strength for people during life’s transitions and tragedies (meaning and purpose).
Psychology is often used to help explain why individuals are drawn to certain religions or spiritual practices. The psychology of religion can be broken down into extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, such as a sense of peace or comfort, a desire to have social status, and an authentic desire to “live out” one’s faith.
Developing a deeper understanding of religion can help students to develop a broader perspective and empathy for others who have different beliefs and experiences. It can also teach students that a diverse range of worldviews is important to a healthy democracy.
The National Council for the Social Studies has long led the call to include the study of religion in the curriculum in ways that are both constitutionally and academically sound. In renewing that call, NCSS encourages teachers to teach the diverse ways in which religions have shaped human culture and society.
Teaching about Religion & Spirituality is an interdisciplinary approach that requires knowledge of multiple academic fields, including sociology, history, anthropology, philosophy, and religion. The study of religion is also a powerful tool in teaching a critical thinking skill, as it engages students in the analysis and interpretation of texts and other sources.
The study of religions is a necessary part of any comprehensive education. As the National Council for the Social Studies states in its position statement, “Religion is a central component of human culture.” The study of religion prepares students to critically engage in a pluralistic, peaceful democracy. It fosters the understanding of global contexts, encourages civic participation, and cultivates the skills needed to work collaboratively with diverse populations.