American Academy of Religion
The AAR Religion in the Schools Task Force
Diane L. Moore, Chair
The United States Department of Education requires states to develop content standards and academic assessments for each subject taught in public schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12). State departments of education are guided in this task by national educational associations that have crafted their own standards and guidelines using the collective wisdom of scholars and educators in each subject. Though religion is not a separate, required subject in public K 12 schools, religion is embedded in curriculum standards across disciplines, especially in social studies and English, and there are a growing number of elective courses that focus on religious themes or topics explicitly.
Because 1) the study of religion is already present in public schools, 2) there are no content and skill guidelines for educators about religion itself that are constructed by religious studies scholars, and 3) educators and school boards are often confused about how to teach about religion in constitutionally sound and intellectually responsible ways, the American Academy of Religion (the world’s largest association of religion scholars) has published these Guidelines as a resource for educators and interested citizens.
Three premises inform this project: illiteracy regarding religion 1) is widespread, 2) fuels prejudice and antagonism, and 3) can be diminished by teaching about religion in public schools using a non-devotional, academic perspective, called religious studies.
There are important differences between this approach and a faith-based approach to teaching and learning about religion. These Guidelines support the former, constitutionally sound approach for teaching about religion in public schools—encouraging student awareness of religions, but not acceptance of a particular religion; studying about religion, but not practicing religion; exposing students to a diversity of religious views, but not imposing any particular view; and educating students about all religions, but not promoting or denigrating religion. 1
In teaching about religion, public school teachers draw on the following methodological approaches: historical, literary, traditions based, and cultural studies. Regardless of the approach(es) used, however, teaching about religion needs to convey three central premises of academic learning about religion: religions are internally diverse; religions are dynamic; and religions are embedded in culture.
Given that few educators have taken religious studies courses, the AAR encourages using these Guidelines in substantial teacher pre-service and professional training that imparts content, pedagogy, and academically and constitutionally sound approaches for teaching about religion in K-12 public schools.
1 This description of a constitutionally sound approach was first articulated by AAR scholars in the 1970s and has been adapted by the First Amendment Center, and reproduced in their A Teacher’s guide to Religion in the Public Schools (Nashville: First Amendment Center, 1999).
[To view Executive Summary and full guidelines, visit “Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States.” American Academy of Religion. 2010.