by Henry Goldschmidt
EDITOR’S NOTE: We are happy to present this collection of essays on teaching religious studies for K-12 teachers. The essays were collated and edited by one of the CrossCurrents Editorial Board members, Henry Goldschmidt. We always welcome essays and ideas on pedagogy, particularly when connected to interreligious work, social justice, and the arts.
See the individual essays:
Ami Chander, “Faith Erasure, Lived Religion, and My Journey to Wholeness“
Rebecca Collins Jordan, “Being a Good Neighbor: Religious Literacy, Democracy, and Catholic Education“
Gillian Steinberg, “Building Bridges Together“
Corey L. Wozniak, “Through a Glass Darkly: Encountering Others in their Full Humanity“
This section of The Commons brings together essays by four K-12 teachers who participated in the 2022 Religious Worlds of New York summer institute–a three-week program that helps teachers teach creatively and effectively about religious diversity, with a particular focus on community-based pedagogies for teaching about contemporary lived religion. In their essays, Ami Chander, Rebecca Collins Jordan, Gillian Steinberg, and Corey Wozniak reflect on the ways their own faith backgrounds have informed their teaching on religious diversity. If you’ll pardon the pun, the authors all have faith in education, in at least three senses of the phrase.
First, they have faith in the power of education to create a more inclusive society. The academic study of religion is essential for K-12 students’ understanding of history, literature, philosophy, and the arts. But in an America that is often divided along religious lines, the study of religion is far more than a matter of academic interest. Effective teaching about religious diversity is essential to the health of our multicultural democracy. The authors collected here are not primarily social activists or community leaders–classroom teaching is hard enough, without the burden of saving the world–but they all embrace the civic mission of religious diversity education. Through their teaching, they are helping their students build relationships of mutual respect and understanding across faith lines, and thus working to create an American society that welcomes people of all faiths and none.
Second, they incorporate faith in education by teaching about religious life and experience. The conventional “world religions” curriculum tends to shy away from the living, breathing realities of faith–substituting a decontextualized knowledge of basic facts about religious traditions for an empathic understanding of one’s neighbors’ religious lives. But the authors collected here are working to enrich, or transform, the world religions curriculum through the study of lived religion. Like the other participants in the Religious Worlds of New York summer institute, they teach about religion through literature, lead student site visits to houses of worship, and find other ways to incorporate experiential learning into the study of religious diversity. Their teaching remains rigorously academic–it’s not “Sunday School” or a spiritual journey–but it brings their students as close as possible to the beating hearts of their neighbors’ faiths.
Finally, as I’ve noted, each author’s commitment to religious diversity education has been inspired, in part, by their faith tradition and religious experience. This does not mean that the authors use their classrooms as pulpits to promote their own religious views–far from it! Two of the authors (Ami Chander and Corey Wozniak) teach in public schools, where their work is shaped by constitutional principles, very much including the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Two of the authors (Rebecca Collins Jordan and Gillian Steinberg) teach in religious schools where faith-formation is an important aspect of the educational mission, but their teaching about religious diversity is still guided by a profound respect for religious pluralism and student autonomy. The authors do not impose their religious beliefs on students, but they are nevertheless living out deeply held faith commitments through teaching about religious diversity.
For example, in her essay “Faith Erasure, Lived Religion, and My Journey to Wholeness,” Ami Chander describes how her experiences of marginalization and invisibility as a Hindu kid in public school have shaped her effort to ensure that her students “are seen in every facet of their lives.” In her essay “Being a Good Neighbor: Religious Literacy, Democracy, and Catholic Education,” Rebecca Collins Jordan describes how her Catholic faith that “the world and everything in it is fundamentally filled with God’s sacred touch” leads her to teach her students the value of religious pluralism. In her essay “Building Bridges Together,” Gillian Steinberg describes how being raised as a Jew in an overwhelmingly Christian community led her to become “a spokesperson among Jews for interfaith dialogue and the importance of learning about other religions.” And in his essay “Through a Glass Darkly: Encountering Others in their Full Humanity,” Corey Wozniak describes how his experiences as a young adult missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened his eyes–and mind, and heart–to the fact that “every person on the face of the earth has a rich and coherent inner world.”
These essays offer just four examples of the diverse values, beliefs, and personal experiences that shape the work of K-12 religion teachers. While teachers must never impose their values–religious or secular–on their students, our understanding of religious diversity education can be enriched by attention to the sacred sources of meaning that some teachers bring to their important civic work.
All work at The Commons is published under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/
The Religious Worlds of New York summer institute for teachers is a project of the Interfaith Center of New York, in partnership with Union Theological Seminary, and with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Dr. Henry Goldschmidt (he/him) is a cultural anthropologist, community educator, interfaith organizer, and scholar of religion. He is the Director of Programs at the Interfaith Center of New York, where he leads the “Religious Worlds of New York” summer institute for teachers. In addition to his work with K-12 teachers, he develops and facilitates programs for religious and civic leaders, social workers, attorneys, police officers, and the general public. He is the author of Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights, and other publications on American religious diversity and religious studies pedagogy.