Why is Christianity dying in America

The Influence of Religion on Public Schools in the United States

Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 The USA and religion
2.1 What is religion?
2.2 civil religion
2.3 Statutory Regulations

3 School Education and Religion in the USA - Historical Considerations

4 Teaching religion and Teaching About Religion

5 consequences for students and teachers

6 Conclusion

7 Bibliography

8 Appendix

1 Introduction

Religion is an important socio-cultural aspect in human society: more than half of the 500 million EU citizens consider religion important, according to a study by the Eurostat statistics office (Luxembourg) ("Every second EU citizen is important"). In the US, journalists are wondering whether the country can elect a president who does not belong to a traditional Christian church (Sabo). The USA is considered to be "the most religiously diverse nation in the world - and one of the most religious" ("Teaching About Religion in Public Schools" 5). In 2005 the four largest religious groups there were the Protestants with 100 million people, the Catholics with 67 million, Jews and Muslims with six million each (“Religions of America”). There are also among the Top Twenty Religions 2001 in America still Buddhists, Hindus, members of the Wiccan and Baha’i and e.g. views of agnostics and atheists ("Top Twenty Religions"). This diversity of religious groups can also be found in public schools, because "school, from the earliest days of the first colonies to the present, reflected the wide religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity of the people who came to these shores" ( Davis 159). The USA, theirs communities and school districts “are religiously pluralistic. [They] are a nation of the most varied kinds of Christians and Jews, plus Humanists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists, Bahais, and many other groups ”(Menendez and Doerr 8). In the year 2000 there were approximately 83,700 traditional public schools in the USA with approximately three million teachers and 82,800 directors and approximately 45.1 million students ("A Brief Profile of America’s Public Schools" 3). In these schools there are Muslim prayer rooms (e.g. in Chicago), Muslim students in California who are allowed to carry ceremonial knives in the school building, Buddhists who enter for school in Iowa culture kit put together (Kniker Religious pluralism 3), as well as conservative Christians in Florida who are building a university with a small town in which an “iron moral code” applies (Goeßmann).

In the USA religion seems to permeate social life to a greater extent than, for example, in Germany. Religion already played a "constitutive role in the thought of the early American statesmen" (Bellah 3). "The popular culture market has hijacked religious symbolism and has brought religious rhetoric as added moral value into the secular sphere [today]" (Ostendorf 174). The areas public policy, Religion and educational policy have been closely linked since the time of the first colonists (Davis 159). No wonder then that religion and its connection with public education are debated in America. Among other things, these debates include the following questions: Should teachers be allowed to pray with students (Webb)? Can you celebrate Halloween at school (Johnson)?1 Can these and other problems be regulated by law? In this paper, I would like to examine the relationship between religion and public education in the United States so that non-Americans can understand the explosiveness of the above debates. Does religion have an influence in public schools and if so, how is that influence expressed? First of all, it should be clarified how religion defined in general and what legal stipulations exist on the relationship between state and religion. What follows is a summarizing historical overview of the links between religion and schooling. During my research on religion and school in the US, I was constantly stuck with the buzzwords teaching religion and teaching about religion faced. What do these phrases mean and what are the consequences for pupils and teachers from the given separation of the two areas - private practice of religion and the teaching of norms and values ​​in school? As a conclusion, an outlook should be given as to how religion can influence the moral formation of children and young people and thus also the attitudes and behavior of the American population. The status quo regarding religion in American public schools is also briefly presented. The religious current of creationism or the Intelligent design should not be discussed here, as this comprehensive topic is beyond the scope of this work.

2 The USA and religion

2.1 What is religion?

There is no group of people on earth who does not know the concept of religion (Haviland 311). According to William A. HAVILAND religion defines itself as "beliefs and patters of behavior by which humans try to deal with what they view as important problems that cannot be solved through the application of known technology or techniques of organization" (310). William KORNBLUM sees this similarly and describes religion as "any set of coherent answers to the dilemmas of human existence that makes the world meaningful" (500). Religion "is how human beings express their feelings about such ultimate concerns as sickness or death" (Kornblum 500). People try to explain the universe to themselves with the help of religion and to make it “tangible” (Haviland 313). Now one could assume that science has contributed a great deal to demystifying the questions that the universe asks us and thereby relieving people of their fear of the unknown - e.g. death. But "[s] cience [...] may have contributed to the creation of a veritable religious boom [by] creating [...] a host of new problems" (Haviland 313). The more theories that are raised by scientists, the more existential questions are asked. The logical conclusion, however, is not that every person on earth is deeply religious in order to receive a satisfactory answer to their questions. Religion in modern Western civilizations tends to be limited to only certain occasions (Haviland 313) in order to stage a kind of group feeling. This applies above all to religious festivals, which can also be found in the secular calendar, and initiation rites related to the curriculum vitae. Cultural institutions "are devoted to symbolizing, supporting, and maintaining the essential patterns of cultural behavior in a society" (Kornblum 496). KORNBLUM also counts religion (496) among these cultural institutions (education, communication, artistic institutions). If someone from close relatives or friends dies, the grief is usually so great that people find refuge in prayer. When a child is born, many parents thank God that he has given them a healthy offspring. Especially in extreme situations, such as natural disasters or acts of violence, a large part of the western population seems to turn to a higher being. Primitive peoples behave differently in this regard. They see themselves as part of nature and practice a religion that is connected to all areas of life (Haviland 313). However different the practice of religious practice may be, there are uniform features to define the term religion. Every religion has its special rituals through which people communicate with higher beings (Haviland 322). HAVILAND also describes these rituals as "religion in action" (313). These rituals reduce fear and are trust-building (Haviland 313), whether fear predominates only momentarily, as in the case of a death, or omnipresent, as in primitive peoples e.g. the fear of a bad harvest. Thus, people are never deprived of the psychological strength to master their life despite a difficult test (Haviland 313). But rituals can not only provide security and hope. They also strengthen the social bond of a group (Haviland 322) belonging to the same religion.

Another characteristic of religions is the belief in supernatural beings and powers, which are gods, spirits, animisms or animatisms show (Haviland 314ff.) All followers of this religion can communicate with these beings; but very specific people are particularly called to do so. These persons, "who are especially skilled at dealing with these beings and powers" (Haviland 310), can e.g. be priests, pastors or shamans (Haviland 318ff.).

The functions of religion are not limited to the aspects mentioned above. The religious community gains social control over its members (Haviland 332) by providing views of what is wrong or right and showing example cases of acceptable and unacceptable behavior (Haviland 310). In doing so, it affirms group norms and provides moral sanctions (Haviland 311). Solidarity among believers makes individual life meaningful (Haviland 311). Religion also promotes the oral tradition (Haviland 310) and thus secures the knowledge of one nonliterate culture (Haviland 332). Religion can offer a "model of the universe" (Haviland 329), which can make unknown things understandable to people. It reduces the fear of this unknown and can give comfort (Haviland 310). Religion can make death less serious for people because it can make life after death possible (Haviland 311). Since a religion gives people many patterns of life, it can take the burden of decision-making from someone who does not struggle with individual decisions but lets the higher power decide (Haviland 310). A religion can also establish the moral code of a society (Haviland 329), to which all people have to adhere. In summary, I recognize four functions in the functional description by HAVILAND, which I would define as psychological function, value-forming function, ideological function and socio-cultural function.

According to Max Weber, there are now six world religions, the latter being shown separately: Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. The Jewish religion as the first monotheistic religion of revelation has strongly influenced Christianity, Islam and all Western norms and values ​​(Kornblum 501). In addition to these world religions, there are numerous other organized denominations. These range from a single church to the amalgamation in sects, smaller religious communities and cults to large denominations (Kornblum 505). But not all people are religious in the traditional sense, i.e. integrated into an ecclesiastical community of faith. In addition to the institution, there is also the religiosity of the individual, the "depth of a person’s religious feelings" (Kornblum 501f.). Religious people do not always have to belong to an institution, but can also practice their very own faith individually, which can be detached from all known religions and denominations. There are also atheists who trust only the rational results of science or agnostics who do not ask themselves the question of the ultimate proof of the existence of one or more gods. These people also believe in something, but not necessarily in a higher being, they trust e.g. in their own strength, the strength of scientific methods or that other people make decisions. Probably the most well-known force in the US that is aimed at all Americans, regardless of their religious affiliation, is the civil religion.

2.2 civil religion

According to BELLAH is civil religion, specifically a American civil religion is, "a genuine apprehension of universal and transcendent religious reality, revealed through the experience of the American people" (6). For Rousseau includes civil religion the following characteristics: the existence of a god, the possibility of an afterlife, the reward of virtue, the punishment of viciousness, and the rejection of religious intolerance (Bellah 3). Civil religion exaggerates important elements of monotheistic religions, generalizes them in order to maintain national solidarity and to motivate people to achieve national goals (Bellah 6). The central symbol is the God common to all monotheistic religions (Bellah 7). Biblical stereotypes are e.g. the exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jerusalem, Sacrificial Death and Rebirth (Bellah 9). Civil religion should not replace a religion (Bellah 4), but promote national consciousness through these general characteristics, it has "only a ceremonial significance" (Bellah 2). The idea of ​​a god played a role in the statesmen who established the American constitution (Bellah 3). In the Declaration of Independence there are four references to God: "Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God"; "[...] are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights [...]", "[...] the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions [...]"; "[...] a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence [...]" (Bellah 3). The statements and actions of the founding fathers shaped them civil religion (Bellah 4) and made America a "nation with the soul of a church" (Ostendorf 169). In this immigration country, representatives of different religious communities could define themselves through the one God as community. The United States is even "the most religiously diverse society in the world, and, among developed nations, the most religious" ("Religious Liberty in American Life").

It can therefore be seen that religion in the broad and narrow sense plays a very large role in social life in the USA. It contributes to the formation of important groups, reduces fears and creates communities. Most conservative Americans believe that their country is based on the Christian-Jewish faith (North xiii) and without it would lose its moral values ​​(Kniker Religious Practices 38). Most liberal Americans, on the other hand, believe that America is a secular, religiously neutral country (North xiii). Nevertheless, in all political circles the civil religionthat is based on Christian values ​​and works with Christian symbols. Thus religion is the cornerstone of this nation on which all other institutions are based - including education and with it the public schools that grew out of religious schools and today the values ​​and norms of the U.S. American state should carry on. What legal regulations are there on the relationship between state and religion in the USA that influence social life?


1 An episode of the successful series of justice is also very impressive Boston Legal, to be found in the appendix.

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