In a global society that is increasingly homogenous, with borders less of a barrier and faiths traditionally associated with one region or another blossoming everywhere, it has become all too easy to lose one’s cultural identity.
Religious understanding equips us with essential philosophical skills for life, and religious education helps young people rationalize, debate, and draw conclusions about the human experience, thereby nurturing openness to fellow citizens with different views and beliefs.
Having a good sense of religious understanding is satisfying; it helps build confidence through awareness and social engagement with others. And it goes without saying - you don't need to be observant to feel enriched by religious appreciation. It’s a huge colorful world out there and religious education opens windows to it.
Western understanding of the human experience is often dominated by science. However, science does not provide a cultural context or deeper understanding of humanity.
I was once told by an (agnostic) Israeli that if you do not recognize the human need for faith, spirituality and community then you are considered “spineless”. Religion, faith, politics, and the philosophy behind them hold great meaning for most.
Respected anthropologist Marilyn Strathern argues that not all societies have a nature-culture dichotomy, so it's wrong to always impose a western “repertoire.” While western science and biomedicine have proven highly effective frameworks for man to classify his natural surroundings, such as food, disease avoidance, natural resources and so on, it is important to also recognize that his reason, rationality and order, do not pre-exist in nature - they are products of his own culture first and foremost.
One can believe in science and still have faith, or an appreciation of what religion means to the human experience. While one is the melody, the other is the bass.
Furthermore, understanding others’ views on spirituality and their choice to engage in communitas essentially builds cohesion in any culturally diverse society. Without enough understanding, cultural difference becomes the perfect scapegoat within communities under particular socioeconomic stress.
Religious education at least lays foundations for knowing how to differentiate between religious and political issues - pretty essential for when the boundaries become blurred in times of conflict.
People often accuse religion of being the root cause of war, but this is an easy way out. In reality, many times it is politics hijacking religion for its own gains that forms the heart of conflicts.
There is a rise of politically driven, religiously justified and homegrown extremism around the world. But this phenomenon is surely best tackled through education, dialogue and debate, not marginalization of religious communities.
Without religious and cultural understanding, citizens of an increasingly globalized world will likely struggle to navigate within it. And as rich and rewarding as it is to live in a society where there is room for everyone, we must beware that we do not forget our own religious roots: where we come from can be a vital ingredient in knowing where we are going, and how to get there.
Camilla Schick studied anthropology and international relations in the U.K., and is training in international journalism at City University in London. She previously worked for the London-based think tank Media Standards Trust.
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