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Author: Prof Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD



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 different subjects.

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 about Hijab?

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 and killing.

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.


Dr. Devinder Singh Chahal

We are neither going to heaven or hell or into reincarnation of any other lives after this life.
"Think about the future, look not on the past. Make the present life a great success because there is no birth again."

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