WHY IS RELIGIOUS
LITERACY IMPORTANT IN TODAY’S WORLD?
Montreal, Canada, April 23, 2009
Dr. Prof. D.S. Chahal
The place of religion in public education is a hotly debated topic
that continues to challenge school system in all parts of the world.
For some religion is primary cause of social division, conflict
and war, whilst others have argued that this is a distortion of
the 'true' significance of religion, which when properly followed
promote peace, harmony, goodwill and social cohesion. The modern
world is looking for peace for the survival of the humanity.
Why Religious Literacy is important in Today’s World - An
International Symposium for Educators, Scholars and policy makers
was held at Moyse Hall, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
on October 2, 2009. It was attended by about 200 students, teachers,
scholars and policy makers.
The educators attending this symposium carried home a message
that there is growing recognition in Europe and North America that
religious illiteracy creates serious barriers between cultures.
In this symposium the emphasis was on how education of religion
could be imparted in schools so that students could understand and
appreciate the beliefs of other religions to eliminate intolerance
towards somebody’s faith.
Dr Spancer Boudreau of McGill University, Montreal reported the
history of teaching of Religion in Quebec State, Canada. He mentioned
that teaching of religion is very controversial task since it is
difficult to decide what is right and what is wrong in a particular
religion since a teacher cannot be expert in all the religions.
Dr Boudreau also made very clear that ethics and religions are two
Dr Robert Jackson, University of Warwick, UK presented the situation
of teaching of religions in the world. He mentioned incidence of
9/11 is an awakening since there is an increase interest to know
religions. However, he said that research on religion has also increased
to develop understanding of other religions to increase the spirit
of tolerance. He has also mentioned that books on religions are
written by those who don’t know religions.
He further mentioned that how the same religion is being taught
differently in different countries. For example, Islam of Indonesia
is different from that of Iran, Iraq and other Islamic countries.
I have also noticed that whereas the hijab is must in some Islamic
countries but it is banned in Public offices in another Islamic
country, Turkey. Now somebody may pose a question: What is the truth
Dr Isabelle Saint-Martin, University Sorbonne, France reported
that education of religion from 1882 to 1923 in French school was
mandatory: Duty before God. First book on religion for schools was
published in 1877 and it was modified in 1906: Heaven – Dead.
And use of reason was incorporated in the book. France is a secular
country and in 1905 Church was separated from the State. The State
wants to maintain secularism but teaching of religion in private
schools is not hindered. She emphasized that understanding of other
religions will infuse spirit of tolerance in young fellows. She
also mentioned that interpretation of religion in the contemporary
world is too allusive. She also quoted some figures that Catholics
are in majority forming about 60%, Islam is 6% and other religions
are in minority (Sikhism was not mentioned may be because of insignificant
number of Sikhs), however, the population of people without any
religion is 26%, next to Catholics. I think this is almost the same
percentage found in British Columbia (BC), Canada. And population
of people without any religion is increasing in the other well-educated
states or cities of the North America.
Although population of people without any religion is increasing
still many religious groups claim that interest in religion is reviving.
But I think it might be due to the after effect of 9/11 that people
want to know why any religion would do such a horrendous destruction
I had some personal talk with Dr Saint-Martin about the problem
of Hijab for Muslim girls and turban of Sikh boys in the Public
schools. She was quite frank to tell that France being a secular
country does not want any influence of any religion through ostentatious
religious articles. She told me that teachers in French Public schools
are mostly women and they felt wearing of hijab is a sign of discrimination
to Muslim women students. The turban, cross, Jewish cap also came
under the same law against the use of ostentatious religious articles.
Now it has become difficult to decide which religious article is
to be exempted. She further explained to me that although the Muslims
claim that hijab is for the modesty of Muslim women but she does
not agree to this reasoning that why the Muslim men don’t
practice modesty by not looking at other French women without hijab.
The paper of Dr Diane Moore, Harvard Divinity School at Harvard
University, USA was very illuminating. Her emphasis was that the
illiteracy of religion is wide spread over the globe. The significant
consequence is that it fuels antagonism and hinders respect for
pluralism, peaceful coexistence and cooperative endeavors. Teaching
of religion is a very difficult task. There are no clear cut basic
tenets since there is so much diversity in expressing these tenets
by the so-called custodians of religions.
I told Dr Moore that some so-called democratic countries exploit
religions to initiate religious riots before elections and then
control it after winning the elections. Then I posed a question:
Who is going to teach the religion to such governments? Her answer
was very simple the people should know the religion in its real
perspective so that they are not exploited by any government. So
is true to understand the religion in its real perspective to avoid
exploitation by the palm-readers, fortune-tellers, astrologers,
Peers, Pundits, Sants/Babas, etc.
Every speaker was talking in general about religion; however,
there were often references to Christianity and Islam. Buddhism
was referred a few times. Hinduism was considered as a very complicated
religion, which is not only difficult to understand but also difficult
to teach by many religious teachers. And Sikhism was not mentioned
except naming it a couple of times. In the poster of this symposium
the icons of Christianity, Jews, Islam and Buddhism were given but
there was no icon of Hinduism and that of Sikhism. I have noticed
that most of the time icon used to represent Sikhism is ‘Khanda’
(>), which indicates the martial nature of Sikhism, however,
the icon or the Logo of Sikhi (Sikhism) coined by Guru Nanak is
< (Ek Oh Beant – One and Only, Oh, Infinite) to represent
the God is used rarely. Sometimes both the icons are used. I leave
it to the custodians of Sikhi to decide which icon is to be used
to represent Sikhi (Sikhism) during the time of need of unity and
maintenance of peace in the world.
At the end of the symposium on behalf of the Institute for Understanding
Sikhism, I presented a copy of my latest book, NANAKIAN PHILOSOPHY
– Basics for Humanity (ISBN: 978-0-9734291-3-8), to each of
the invited speakers and the local speakers of the McGill University
to make them familiar with the universally acceptable philosophy
of Guru Nanak. I present this book to the academicians in religions
of the world whenever and wherever I meet any.