Teaching Sacred Literature in Secular Spaces

Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM
Room 103 (Hynes Convention Center)
Janet Bordelon , New York University, New York, NY
Discussing sacred texts, whether the Christian Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, in public schools is an issue of great controversy,  Given the American tradition of separation of church and state, many liken the efforts to incorporate discussion of sacred texts to a Trojan horse to get “religion” back in the classroom. Religion has and continues to be woven into fabric of human history, and in all literary cultures, religious writings have played a significant role. As secondary history classrooms increasingly make use of primary source materials, a growing number of educators agree that sacred texts should be included in classroom discussions. Indeed, advocates argue that any historical course of study precluding examination of sacred writings offers a limited understanding - yet our history also makes this inclusion contentious, resulting in strong dissenting voices across the ideological spectrum.
Sacred texts have very long histories and distinct complications; moreover, their sacred status adds unique complexity to this issue for many students and teachers. This paper will provide a historical overview of the debate surrounding the inclusion of sacred literature in public school curriculum. It will examine the various contexts pertinent to teaching sacred literature at the secondary level and engage in a detailed methodological investigation into the theories and approaches to teaching sacred literature for history classrooms in particular.  Taking cues from multiple perspectives offered by American and British scholars, it advances an approach that respects the full range of student religious traditions in an increasingly global, pluralistic, and democratic society.
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