This page will introduce you to academic research and policy debates about the role of religion in American education, including pedagogic and constitutional questions surrounding the study of religion in US public schools.
The first set of texts focuses on religious studies pedagogy. These aren’t exactly teachers’ guides, although most include practical discussions of curriculum development and classroom teaching. Rather, these are scholarly reflections on the importance of K-12 teaching about religious diversity. We hope they will inspire and guide your work. You can also click here for concise and downloadable teachers’ guides to the study of religion in K-12 schools.
The second set of texts looks beyond the religious studies classroom, to explore questions of religious expression in public schools. The tension between the Establishment and Free Expression clauses of the First Amendment has led to enduring debates over prayer in schools, Bible reading, creationism, holiday observance, and other heated issues. These texts offer historical, legal, and policy perspectives on these debates.
K-12 Religious Studies Pedagogy
Charles Haynes (ed.), Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom, National Council for the Social Studies, 2019.
The study of religion is critical for global citizenship in a diverse world. This book provides advice, recommendations, and resources to help social studies educators teach about religion effectively, creatively, and constitutionally. The contributors clarify the First Amendment issues that impact teachers in public schools, and emphasize that the academic study of religion is an essential part of a good education. Many of the essays also include extensive references to published and online sources for K-12 religious studies.
Charles Haynes and Melissa Rogers (eds.), Teaching About Religion in Public Schools: Where Do We Go From Here?, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the First Amendment Center, 2003.
Robert Jackson, Rethinking Religious Education and Plurality: Issues in Diversity and Pedagogy, Routledge, 2004.
Emile Lester, Teaching about Religions: A Democratic Approach for Public Schools, University of Michigan Press, 2011.
Diane Moore, Overcoming Religious Illiteracy: A Cultural Studies Approach to the Study of Religion in Secondary Education, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Written by a leading theorist and proponent of secondary school religious studies pedagogy, this important work shows how a cultural studies approach to the study of religion can invigorate our classrooms, enhance democratic discourse, and above all combat the widespread religious illiteracy that fuels our culture wars and promotes both religious and racial bigotry.
Warren Nord, Does God Make a Difference? Taking Religion Seriously in Our Schools and Universities, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Warren Nord, Religion and American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma, The University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
While our public schools and universities must not promote religious beliefs or practices, this seminal text argues — on ethical, political, and constitutional grounds — that public school students must learn about religion as a way of understanding the human experience. Nord's approach to these issues works to transcend the divide between religious conservatives who would restore religious practices to public education and secular liberals for whom religion is anathema to public education.
Warren Nord and Charles Haynes, Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the First Amendment Center, 1998.
Farideh Salili and Rumjahn Hoosain (eds.), Religion in Multicultural Education, Information Age Publishing, 2006.
Linda K. Wertheimer, Faith Ed: Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance. Beacon Press, 2015
Policy Debates about Religion in Schools
Joan DelFattore, The Fourth R: Conflicts Over Religion in America’s Public Schools, Yale University Press, 2004.
DelFattore traces our school-prayer battles from the early 1800s -- when children were beaten or expelled for refusing to read the King James Bible -- to current disputes over prayer at public-school football games. Underlying these debates, she argues, is a struggle to balance two of the most fundamental tenets of American democracy: majority rule and individual rights.
Vincent Biondo and Andrew Fiala (eds.), Civility, Religious Pluralism, and Education, Routledge, 2014.
This book focuses on the problem of religious diversity, civil dialogue, and education in public schools, exploring the ways in which diverse religious and secular Americans come together in the public sphere, examining how civil discourse about religion fits within the ideals of the American political and pedagogical systems, and how religious studies education can help to foster civility and toleration.
James Fraser, Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in a Multicultural America, Saint Martin’s Press, 1999.
Kent Greenawalt, Does God Belong in Public Schools?, Princeton University Press, 2007.
Charles Haynes and Oliver Thomas (eds.), Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools, The First Amendment Center, 2001.
Steven Jones and Eric Sheffield (eds), The Role of Religion in 21st Century Public Schools, Peter Lang Publishing, 2009.
Michael Waggoner (ed.), Religion in the Public Schools: Negotiating the New Commons. Rowman & Littlefield, 2013.