The Study of Religion

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Religion is a set of beliefs, practices and ethics that is shared by people of different cultures and communities. Historically, it has played a significant role in society, often shaping public policy. In modern societies, religion has become increasingly important in many areas of life and culture.

In terms of its function, religion gives meaning and purpose to life; reinforces social unity and stability; serves as an agent of social control of behavior; promotes physical and psychological well-being; and motivates people to work for positive social change. In addition, religion has been the source of many conflicts over the centuries, with individuals and whole communities and nations expressing their beliefs in ways that can lead to persecution, violence, and wanton bloodshed.

Religious traditions are embedded in specific times and places, drawing students into complex, enduring systems of meaning that have affected millions of lives. They involve the belief system, its leaders and doctrines, rituals, artifacts, and other elements that can be compared and studied to explore differences in how people view life and the world.

The study of religion is a core element of a critical education, which teaches students to interrogate basic cultural categories and consider the role of those traditions in their lives and the lives of others. This rigorous interrogation of a fundamental category helps students understand the world around them, engage with a variety of views and perspectives, and develop skills for civic participation.

The study of religion is essential for the development of students’ ability to think critically about the world, as a basis for pursuing social justice, and as a tool for learning about the values and identities of people in their community and across the globe. NCSS encourages teachers to include the study of religion in social studies courses and throughout the curriculum whenever knowledge of the religious dimension is needed for a balanced and comprehensive understanding of history and culture.