"Learn About Other Faiths? Yes. Mandatory? NO!," a Commentary by Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

March 7, 2007

Author: Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Source: The Washington Post


For many people, religion is not just another academic subject like literature or math.

Religion is also a system of belief, a faith. To the adherents of a particular faith, the tenets of their religion are sacred and these adherents may regard the objective presentation of these tenets by non-adherents as a violation.

“Teaching religion” sounds simple. It isn’t.

Yet, it is possible to argue that the study of religion as an academic subject can be of great benefit to students. I have taught religion as an academic subject in both colleges and universities. My children, who went to a private, non-religious school, had religion as a subject in several grades, the better to interpret great literature.

Can you comprehend the works of William Shakespeare or Toni Morrison, or indeed any Western classic without knowing Christianity? Can you delve deeply into world literature without knowing the world’s religions? Of course not.

You can also argue that given the increasingly important role religion plays in world affairs in the 20th century, it is critical for everyone to know as much as possible about all religions. The United States itself is becoming increasingly religiously pluralistic and American citizens can no longer be content with just trying to figure out the differences between Methodists and Presbyterians, or even between Catholics and Jews.