My friend Launa has a real blog at http://www.launawrites.com . There you can find actual writing – evocative, beautiful, and fun. Having looked at my posts so far, she gently asked what my project actually was. At the same time, Hilary suggested that the next step should be for me to more carefully define my research question. I can take a hint, so I have produced the following draft of my project proposal (extremely rough, almost certainly will change, feedback welcomed, etc.)
“I seek to interview Israeli and Palestinian teachers to learn what and how they teach about religion.
How one discusses religion is a highly contested part of any curriculum. Instructing young people on matters of faith was one of the earlier purposes of school. In medieval European universities theology was “the Queen of the Sciences.” In most times and places, to provide religious instruction different than that understood as correct by the majority could land you in a great deal of trouble; Socrates was prosecuted for, among other things, “prying into things in the heavens and below the earth.” People and institutions often respond to such tensions with silence. In the United States, for example, many people believe incorrectly that the courts have interpreted the separation of church and state to mean that it is illegal to teach about religion in the public schools. (In fact it is encouraged; proselytization is what is outlawed.) How a society approaches the teaching of religion can reveal a good deal about what that society values.
Meanwhile, most governments believe that good citizenship can and should be taught through that country’s public schools. Under various subject headings — civics, citizenship education, social studies, history, ethics, religious studies — public school systems seek to influence the values of the population. In such conversations, questions of belief are either going to arise or assumptions about them are going to be made.
Thus, some questions I might have for my teachers: What are some of the goals of your teaching? How do you design your curriculum, or how do you modify or implement the curriculum you are given? What do you see the role of your teaching being in your student’s lives? How do you see it informing their roles as citizens? How do you see it informing their personal religious choices?” Among other revisions, I will continue to add questions, of course!
That sounds fascinating – and beginning to narrow down a bit! I am particularly drawn to the idea of a “silence” as the reaction to the tension between the secular and the religious. I think you are spot-on to point out the discontinuity of trying to teach citizenship whilst ignoring belief.
I was wondering if you have some “hidden curriculum” here – do you believe that rigorous religious education, or religious education with a specific methodology, can help to increase dialogue? I wonder if you would be interested in reading a book my mentor (Edy Kaufman) has lent me – Shared Histories edited by Scham, Salem and Pogrund. Of course it’s tangential to your main question, but the central thesis is that there are two narratives at work – narratives which oppose each other and are a critical reason why the conflict remains. The editors propose that there needs to be a shared narrative – points of intersection in the opposing stories – in order for peace to be possible. There may be ideas and background there that you would find useful. As I read it, I’ll see if there is anything specific I can point you to.
I look forward to following how your project evolves!
Thank you so much, Leanne! You are correct that I have a hypothesis of some kind about what an inclusive study of comparative religions could do. I suppose I have so far omitted writing directly about that hypothesis for at least three reasons. First, I’m not sure just how to formulate that claim. For example, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I would not want to overstate its effect, since so much seems to be about things other than the “other side’s” religious beliefs. Second, it just sounds a bit condescending – the peacenik naively thinking he has the answer. Third, at least some schools here might already be teaching a lot of comparative religion – I just don’t know. Thanks for helping me think through this, and thanks for keeping your eye out for useful parts of Shared Histories!