The Importance of Comparative Religion Classes
One of the ways that we’re elevating political dialogue is by asking students from various schools & universities to write essays.
Since 9/11, children have grown up in fear of the Arab-Muslim “Other,” a shadowy group living on the other side of the planet that many believe is hell-bent on destroying Western freedoms. Though it is true that some in the Middle East are radical fundamentalists, the majority are just people who are quite similar to the “average” American.
Most Americans do not understand this fact and thus seek to portray Muslims worldwide as evil incarnates of the Devil, even those who are American citizens. This was most clearly seen with the uproar over the “Ground Zero Mosque” last summer, when a national uproar was created over an Islamic cultural center several blocks away from the site of the former Twin Towers. Obviously, today’s children need to understand respect and tolerance for other international cultures and religion. The best way to do this is a comparative religion course.
Historically, much of the conflict in the world has centered on East vs. West; recently, this has come to mean Islam vs. Christianity. The two do not necessarily have to be antagonistically linked. It is very possible that both sides could learn to tolerate the Other. Most of what occurs in these conflicts lies in a fear of the unknown. When American children learn from an early age that Muslim children have very similar interests and goals as them, these future generations will not begin conflict with a group they fight against because of ignorance.
A comparative religion and culture class may involve field trips to mosques and Middle Eastern restaurants; it could also easily involve reading a textbook about Islamic history. All of these are things needed to integrate the two societies together in order to finally end the clash between the Orient and the Occident.
A comparative would also teach children about their own religion. A recent study showed that Atheists and Agnostics knew more about Protestantism than most Protestants. Through their struggle to understand religion and the existence of a high power, most Atheists and Agnostics study comparative religion in order to learn the parts of each religion that they agree with. If the actual members to these religions had to go through the same realizations, they would be able to better understand the cultural practices and religious rituals that may have little to no significance to them.