By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The fall of religious education in England
Fewer English high schoolers are signing up for standardized exams to test their knowledge of the world's religions. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Religion is losing its status among school subjects in England, as it becomes less of a priority in English people's lives.

"Nearly 1,200 (English schools) put forward no pupil for a religious education qualification in 2014, five times as many as in 2010," The Economist reported this month. Students receive qualifications by taking a standardized test on an academic subject at age 16.

In England, religious education is not included on the national curriculum, but religion coursework is required. Local religious advisory councils create syllabi for area schools, meaning that nothing is standardized and schools can simply gloss over religious history, the article noted.

The recent drop in the number of students seeking a religious education qualification can be linked to the overall drop in religious practice in England, The Economist reported, noting that "fewer than half the (English) population now calls itself Christian and almost half follows no religion."

Data suggest the U.S. may be headed in the same direction. Nearly 23 percent of American adults were not affiliated with a faith group in 2014, compared to 16.1 percent in 2007, Pew Research Center reported in May 2015.

Religion already occupies a precarious place in U.S. public schools, where teachers train students in religious history and educate them about how faith interacts with global political systems but cannot offer classes focused on devotional instruction, as Joseph Laycock, author of "Religion in Schools," wrote for Religion and Politics in 2014.

"When I worked as a public school teacher, I found that religion made administrators extremely nervous," he said.

Recent flare-ups of the tension between teaching about a religion and advocating for a particular faith include a debate in Tennessee over offering instruction on the five pillars of Islam in middle schools. State lawmakers proposed a bill that would increase oversight of contentious religion classes, Deseret News National reported in October.

Although America continues to be highly religious compared to other developed nations, arguments over how religion is approached in schools affect the country's religious literacy. A 2010 Pew Research Center Survey on religious knowledge showed that "large numbers of Americans are uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions including their own."

Advocates for religious education in the U.S. have said that religious literacy is required for participation in an increasingly globalized world.

"Religion is not a discrete and a historical phenomenon; instead, it is embedded in the very fabric of human history and culture. Without some understanding the worlds religious traditions, students are ill equipped to understand literature, history, art or the current political landscape," Laycock wrote.

Some educators "argue that better understanding of different religions helps in the development of social cohesion and opposition to extremism," The Economist's coverage of religious education in England noted.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters