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Finding the Right Place for Religion In the Public School Curriculum

Author says it can and should be treated seriously in the classroom

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RELIGION & AMERICAN EDUCATION:

RETHINKING A NATIONAL DILEMMA

By Warren A. Nord

The University of

North Carolina Press, 481 pp., $49.95 ($19.95 paperback)

AT the heart of today's "culture wars" are profound disagreements over what role, if any, religion should have in America's classrooms.

No one disputes that we Americans are religious. We overwhelmingly believe in God, and we attend religious services in huge numbers. Yet the proverbial "visitor from Mars" who encountered a typical textbook or looked in on a public school classroom would never suspect this was so. If religion is mentioned at all, it is almost always in a historical or literary context.

The fairly recent divorce of religion from public school curriculum (recall that the Western world was once known as "Christendom") results in large part from the rise of a secular modernist worldview that dominates other ways of understanding the world.

Religion has also been barred from the schoolhouse door by a perceived dilemma. Because Americans profoundly disagree about what is religious truth, this reasoning goes, the only acceptable form of "neutrality" on the subject is to exclude religion from schools altogether.

In "Religion and American Education," Warren A. Nord challenges that assumption. The University of North Carolina philosophy professor argues that the religious dilemma is a false one, that religion can and should be treated seriously in American classrooms. In fact, he says the notion of a "liberal education" is incomplete - actually illiberal - without knowledge of religion.

And what of Jefferson's "wall of separation" between church and state? Mr. Nord doesn't want to knock it down. But he doesn't see any problem with leaning over it and striking up a conversation. That means uncovering the hostility toward religion in schools today that masquerades as supposed "neutrality" and replacing it with a "robust neutrality." It means putting religion at the table and into the discussion.

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