Education, Religion, and the Common Good: Advancing a Distinctly American Conversation About Religion's Role in Our Shared Life / Edition 1

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Overview

[BACK COVER COPY] [HEADLINE] Does America's spiritual diversity make impossible the impartial study of religion?Distinguished scholar and author Martin E. Marty has had a lifetime of conversations about public religion in America. Out of the dialogues hosted by the Public Religion Project, he has gathered an abundance of heartfelt questions and candid reflections on the issues from teachers and administrators in public, private, and denominational schools, elementary to postgraduate. Their concerns reflect our own: Does allowing religion into the curriculum inject conflict into our children's lives? Does it deny our families critical decisions? Can schools create good citizens without teaching about religion?"I know of no other book that addresses so well the subject of religion in education across the wide spectrum from public schools to universities. And because of his capacity to speak clearly to diverse publics, no other author is better equipped than Martin Marty to promote conversation (as opposed to verbal warfare) about this controversial subject among school board members as well as teachers, concerned taxpayers as well as advocates of religion."—Conrad Cherry, professor, Indiana University/Purdue University"Only Martin Marty, our most respected scholar of American religion, has the credibility to frame a new and much-needed national dialogue about the place of religion in American education. This lucid and thought-provoking book asks the key questions that must be addressed as Americans seek the common good across differences that are deep and abiding."—Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar, First Amendment Center"With his customary eloquence, insight, and learning, Martin Marty makes a compelling case for including the study of religion in schools and universities. This timely and important contribution to our cultural conversation about education and the common good should be of great interest to educators and the wider public."—W
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I know of no other book that addresses so well the subject of religion in education across the wide spectrum from public schools to universities. And because of his capacity to speak clearly to diverse publics, no other author is better equipped than Martin Marty to promote conversation (as opposed to verbal warfare) about this controversial subject among school board members as well as teachers, concerned taxpayers as well as advocates of religion." (Conrad Cherry, professor, Indiana University/Purdue University)

"Only Martin Marty, our most respected scholar of American religion, has the credibility to frame a new and much-needed national dialogue about the place of religion in American education. This lucid and thought-provoking book asks the key questions that must be addressed as Americans seek the common good across differences that are deep and abiding." (Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar, First Amendment Center)

"With his customary eloquence, insight, and learning, Martin Marty makes a compelling case for including the study of religion in schools and universities. This timely and important contribution to our cultural conversation about education and the common good should be of great interest to educators and the wider public." (Warren A. Nord, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of Religion and American Education)

Booknews
In the second of two books about religion in public life, Marty (U. of Chicago) offers a series of questions and answers to encourage readers to begin thinking about the place of religion in public, private, and denominational education from kindergarten to post-graduate. He directed the three-year Public Religion Project for The Pew Charitable Trusts and coedited five volumes for the Fundamentalism Project. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787950330
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/15/2000
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

MARTIN E. MARTY is professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he taught for thirty-five years. Contributing editor of the Christian Century, he is the author of more than fifty books, including the three-volume Modern American Religion, and the five volumes of The Fundamentalism Project. He is an ordained minister and frequent media commentator on American religion.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Just What Are We
Talking About, Anyway?


I don't want to take up too much time with lengthy definitions. However, readers have a right to know exactly what I mean by specific important terms. In addition to referring to common good, I will also be making frequent mention of education, religion, and the art of conversation. Let's run through these terms so that we're all on the same page.


The Common Good


In this book, common good refers to the good of the larger public. The common good is the goal sought by citizens across the personal boundaries of religion, race, philosophy, taste, and commitment. In other words, the common good transcends individual interests. That good may include moral, civil, aesthetic, and spiritual elements. For example, I will argue that helping high schoolers understand religion and religions is not a task that only religious leaders and educators should care about for religious reasons. If educators aspire to teach a fairly accurate picture of the world around us, it is both necessary and good to have religious themes included in secondary education. Also, if we assume that it is unfair to "establish," privilege, demean, or minimize particular faiths, then the common good is furthered only by fair-minded, unprejudiced teaching about religion and religions.


Education


We can define education rather briskly here. There are many books on educational theory and practice, and the authors of these certainly connect education with its Latin root,educere, "to lead out," as if to draw out of a child and enlarge on what is already there. Some specialized education does that, but most educators do not get up in the morning and start thinking about how to educe or "draw out" what is there. They will instead concentrate on lesson plans or lab assignments. They might even try to induce ("lead in") new learning using information not yet "there."

    In this book, the meaning of education usually comes closest to "schooling." Although schooling includes rich varieties—home, parochial, public, private, collegiate—that term does at least bring some focus. So unless otherwise noted, in this conversation we will picture education as something that is transacted in institutions—kindergartens, homes, churches, graduate universities, church-related colleges, high schools, and the like. What goes on in those institutions includes imparting information, nurturing personal and social growth, stimulating curiosity, increasing awareness, acquiring practical skills, focusing the critical faculties, developing means to test reality, and inculcating wisdom. The best advice: when in doubt, think of education and schooling as synonymous. That way we can keep focus and do a bit of narrowing.


Religion


For thirty-five years, I taught at the University of Chicago, in a neighborhood that had attracted half a dozen theological schools. Someone once assessed that if all these libraries counted their religious holdings, there would be more than 1.3 million books within a half mile of each other. Similarly sized collections are at Harvard or Yale, and all three of these would not cover all the religion titles found in European and Asian libraries. Some cataloguer somewhere had to determine that such books belonged to the generic category "religion." Many of those authors took great pains to define religion, and it is mind-boggling to think of boiling all that down to a workable definition for this book.

    Sometimes, when in a puckish mood, I give a standard answer when asked to define religion. I relate that for some years I was one of eight editors who had to meet regularly to decide what topics, themes, and categories belonged in a fifteen-volume work called The Encyclopedia of Religion. What is religion? It's the kind of stuff you put in a book with that title.

    Here, as with education, there has to be some delimiting. Almost anything can have a religious dimension should we wish to find it—professional football, beauty contests, astrology, dieting, and all the rest. But this is much too broad: if everything is religious, then nothing is religious. Yet an accurate definition of religion should not be confined only to what we find in the "Churches and Synagogues" section of the Yellow Pages. We cannot neatly confine our curiosities about religion to the institutional, as we have done with education, though we shall often keep religious institutions in mind. Certainly for most citizens, most educators, and most judges, religion in its institutional form is most related to problems concerning education and the common good. But the line gets blurry. Many people today disdain organized or institutional religion in favor of an individualized spirituality. They, too, will soon find that even this kind of religion raises public issues for education as well.

    We can say a few more things about defining religion. Not a lexicographer or a philosopher, I shall do what historians tend to do: look at what everyone describes as "religious" and see what features it has. In doing so, one finds four or five of the following characteristics present in most phenomena called "religious."


Ultimate Concern


What do you finally live by? For what would you be willing to die? For you, what is the Big Deal, the Whole Ball of Wax? What guiding principle organizes and infuses your life with meaning? The answer is your ultimate concern, It may or may not relate to God or gods, By itself it is not necessarily religion, but all religions will make metaphysical claims about the nature and purpose of reality, The most important of these claims corresponds to one's ultimate concern.


Community


Through history and ordinarily in our own time, in the name of some ultimate concern people gather together to check out signals with each other, fortify each other, ward off common foes, celebrate, or mourn. There certainly are exceptions, especially today, where spirituality often moves independently of groups, but most religious people continue to relate in some way to a community.


Myth and Symbol


Myth here does not indicate something false; rather it refers to modes of communicating and believing through stylized narratives. Symbol does not mean that one "merely" finds an image, metaphor, or sign to stand for something else. It does mean that the religious person does not like flat, reductive, matter-of-fact communication when more memorable, evocative forms are present. Myths and symbols relate religious truths in creative, often artistic ways.


Rite and Ceremony


Of course, some religious acts are spontaneous, singular, and unrepeatable. But we tend to notice something as religious when groups choose to do the same thing to people at the same age: initiation, adolescence, marriage, death. Religious people also mark seasons, holidays, and other particular occasions with other rites and ceremonies. These actions help identify and clarify the boundaries of religious communities.


Behavioral Correlates


You do not have to be religious to work out patterns of behavior. We all acquire and adopt habits, customs, manners, and works that have few religious connotations. But if you are religious, you will almost certainly relate in some way to codes of conduct and stipulations that demand responses. Most religions map out for followers what virtues are most important and what actions are or are not acceptable. These behaviors, like rites and ceremonies, further clarify the core identity of religious groups.


Discussing Education, Religion, and
the Common Good: Models for Dialogue


Now that we have some general understanding of our key terms, it's time to begin talking about how education and religion relate to the common good. But how are we going to talk? After all, these topics can be combustible. What's going to prevent any discussion of these issues from degenerating into a shouting match? When nothing less than the common good is at stake, we want discussions to generate more light than heat. In order to do that, let's look at two possible avenues for debating these issues: argument and conversation.


Argument


An argument is what usually goes on when people come anywhere close to topics such as religion and education. When people argue, they usually hold strong positions from which they often attack, or defend against, those who disagree. Since argument usually concerns problems, arguers often have in mind answers and solutions. Whether we win arguments or lose them, most of us would readily agree that argument is necessary for humanity's progress.

    We argue not only with family members, neighbors, other citizens, and public figures, but also sometimes with ourselves. With ourselves? Yes, on occasion, when we feel sure of a position, only to find it challenged so effectively that we must rethink it. We marshal the ideas attached to that position, and then from another corner of the brain, we bring out new data, new suggestions. A little war goes on in the mind, and we see the need to settle the issue one way or another.

    For instance, many citizens find themselves conflicted and unsettled over the issue of school vouchers. The argument within the mind for them begins with the responsible citizen taking stock of existing ideas and commitments. Suppose that you, like most Americans, support public elementary and high schools. Such taxpayer-supported schools have provided broad opportunities for children to gain knowledge and acquire skills to last a lifetime. You recognize that for all their faults, the public schools continue to help children of immigrants from all over the globe become part of some common American culture. It has become fashionable to knock these schools, to find fault with almost all dimensions of their assignments and roles. Yet notwithstanding their flaws, we are used to public schools. We cannot picture American life without them. Indeed, much of their strength lies in the fact that they tend to be local institutions where ordinary people have some say.

    So with those assumptions in mind, you are ready to engage the issue further. Here enters the factor that many private alternatives to public schools have religious affiliations. No matter where Americans stand in this debate, most of them agree that church and state somehow relate to each other and need some protection from each other. But what forms should this relationship take in matters of education? How much and what kind of protection do religion and government need? What does the Constitution require?

    As this relates to education, we can turn to history for some help. Americans have a long tradition on which to draw for ensuring the public character of education. Though we shall forever argue about how to apply its terms, we have inherited and cherish a national constitution. It anticipates some of our most important civic issues and helps frame others, including education and religion.

    Perhaps most obviously, there is the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." These words help carve out the zone in which public schools operate. Some Americans, using the language of Thomas Jefferson, argue that the First Amendment erected a "wall of separation" between church and state. Here "state" refers to the people responsible for education. That wall allows no contact between religion and public education.

    Jefferson may have had his wall, but fellow founder James Madison spoke instead of a "line of distinction" between civil and religious authorities. Thinkers who line up behind Madison contend that Jefferson's wall is an unofficial and inappropriate metaphor and that any boundary between religion and education should be understood as wavy and permeable.

    Often all sides try to use the language of the First Amendment against their opponents. Arguers often invoke the First Amendment's establishment clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion") or the free exercise clause ("or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"). Supporters of a strict understanding of the prohibition against establishment argue that there can be no relationship between government and religion. Not only is it unjust and unconstitutional to force citizens to subsidize religions in which they do not believe, but both religion and government are corrupted by any financial relationship between the two. The Constitution requires each to stand on its own, they contend; making room for religion in taxpayer-funded and government-run public education violates that requirement.

    By contrast, some people use the free exercise clause to argue that religion should be kept separate from public education. Madison's line of distinction must remain between the two lest government be tempted to dictate or distort religious ideas and values. Better to keep the two separate so that the exercise of religion, in whatever form, remains truly free.

    Challenges also come from other citizens, religious groups, school leaders, interest groups, and the courts. All raise difficult and important questions. Have the public schools been all that effective at introducing the appropriate ways to behave in civil society? Or do the schools continue to educate students in such a way that minimizes, overlooks, or demeans the unavoidably religious dimensions of human life?

    Other claims follow. Do public schools do a good job of integrating children of diverse backgrounds into a common American culture? Schools tend to reflect local conditions, following residential patterns, and hence are often segregated along lines of race and class. For a better model, perhaps we should take a look at parochial schools, which draw students from different neighborhoods and where races more freely intermix. With this evidence, who can say that public schools somehow do a better job of creating good citizens than private and parochial schools?

    The questions continue to pile up. Many parents, especially those from clearly defined religious traditions and communities, argue that the public schools teach a generalized form of religion. Is it fair or constitutional, they ask, for them to pay taxes in support of "secular humanism," "democracy," or other worldviews that contradict or undercut their own? If they want to protect their children from that generalized religion, whatever it might be, parents must send them to private or parochial schools. Doesn't this represent an unfair system of doable taxation, they ask? Why should we have to pay taxes toward a public education system from which we derive no benefits? To make things fair, these parents argue for tuition vouchers that allow everyone the freedom to choose their own schools. And by the way, they add, won't placing all schools on equal footing create a climate of competition that will ensure that schools improve? What, after all, could be more American than an educational free market?

    We've only begun to touch on the complexities of the issues surrounding religion and education. Certainly these issues will continue to trouble citizens, both locally and nationally, for years to come. Both voters and courts will be required to wrestle with school vouchers and similar programs. No matter what the outcome, many citizens will be unhappy. How can we keep those unsatisfied citizens from withdrawing into circles where resentment builds and sniping begins? How can we keep all parties, not just the winners, from abandoning the search for the common good?


From Argument to Conversation


You will have misread the book's purpose if you think that I'm suggesting that conversation can replace argument. In the end, courts have to decide issues, and we are all in trouble if judges do not hear arguments, ponder them, and then argue among themselves. Interest groups—whether Presbyterian, atheist, creationist, union-affiliated, ethnic, or class-based—have a right to be heard. And for the common good, these groups need to be heard. Because many of their interests will clash, we need argument. No matter how distasteful we sometimes find it, argument in legislatures and courts is necessary for an effective public order.

    When contentious issues are in the air, citizens naturally choose sides. They line up the armament of their arguments and fire away. Often their shooting is so noisy that they cannot hear one another. But some combatants may tire of such a battle, lay down arms, and begin to listen to what opponents have to say. That listening begins to shape and change what goes on in their own minds. That listening may alter what happens at the school board meeting or in the voting booth. Some, weary of warfare, may begin to wonder, isn't there a better way to engage issues passionately than endlessly to hurl argument against argument, returning fire with fire?

    One alternative to a rhetorical war of attrition and unending battle is conversation. Opponents can step back a bit and, without tossing away their arsenal of answers, start making more of questions. This is the essence of conversation: participants allow the question to guide them. Unlike a heated argument, conversation can be freer, sometimes almost playful. Combatants can let down their guard, meet the other, and begin to listen. Constructive responses often follow: "Until I met you and we began conversing, I never thought of your position that way." "I think you have a point, too. But I really wonder if ..." You can fill in the blank from there. Conversations, guided by questions, usually surprise us as they carry us in unexpected directions.

    For that argument to be enriched and nuanced, however, it needs refreshment. Listening to the other—-conversing—is one of the best ways to deepen and broaden public discussion. That's why this book is dedicated to fueling a conversation about education, religion, and the common good.


Our Own Conversations


The argument for conversation—yes, argument, because we're defending a position—grows out of a long record and recent interest in conversation as an instrument to advance the common good.

    For the historical part, I recall on occasion sitting in the circle of advisers to the late Martin Luther King Jr. when he was seeking change in Chicago. It was easy for King, his associates, and all civil rights supporters to bring forth arguments, defend answers, and attack others with different answers. Integrationists could explain how present policies contradicted themes in both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. To the large majority of citizens who belonged to the biblical tradition, civil rights proponents could bring forth arguments from the prophets, from the Gospels, and from the religious traditions to which Americans were committed.

    They also knew the limits of argument. When you and I argue, one of us must either win or lose. One of us must triumph, while the other might be driven away—or, on occasion, be convinced to switch positions. (Conversation differs here: no one ever says, "I won that conversation.") To truly change people, King and his advisers knew they had to come at issues a different way.

    I kept hearing one of his lieutenants constantly talk of "incubating" so that people would change their ideas, beliefs, and actions. What did he mean? How did this incubating work? People interested in the mechanics of conversation can learn much from King's deputy. "Here's how it works," he said. "You get a great big hall. You invite as many and as many kinds of people as you have room for. You hope they jam the place. Then before you shut the door, you say, `Don't any of you come out until you have the answer.' And they will always ask, `Well, what is the question? What is the problem?' And we tell them, `Just start talking, and you will find out what the problem is.'"

    For all the simplicity of that technique, and for all the chaos we can easily imagine if something goes a bit wrong, there is much to recommend that approach. The King aide did not have a naive faith in human goodness or intelligence. He was not writing off the value of experts—he was an expert. But he trusted the experience people would bring to conversation about problems. He had to know that a good deal of posturing, bickering, and self-centeredness could restrict the conversation's agenda. And he knew he could not know exactly what topic the conversation would address. But he trusted a group to formulate priorities; he knew that leadership would get some fresh perspectives and new agenda items. In short, King's associate trusted in the promise of conversation.

    Some of us tried this kind of thing in public housing during the time following King's death. More militant black separatists, often inspired by radical versions of Black Power, started providing their own agendas. They served notice that black consciousness was radicalizing all blacks, and a race war might well impend. These militants produced manifestos, made demands, declared ideologies, and often provoked backlash. Moderate African Americans and whites in general began to feel upstaged and irrelevant, unheard and incapable of responding.

    Some leaders began to survey the poorest of the poor, African American victims who had been unjustly shelved in urban high-rises in the name of urban renewal. Not one of them—mostly women, young mothers, or often older single women—ever mentioned anything on the Black Power agenda. The respondents shocked us by sounding so ordinary, so middle-class in their hopes and interests. Not that they were unmoved by calls to action. But their list of desires—not demands—was familiar: better protection, safe neighborhoods, better schools. Put these African Americans in a room together, and through incubation and conversation, those with ears to hear discovered problems and even some solutions.

    In addition to this historical precedent, with many lessons gained from theorists of conversation, the background of this book is also a relevant reference point. Here I draw explicitly on concrete experience in the recent past. In fact, three specific conversations stand behind these pages, giving shape to the agenda and outline. Those conversations might be a model for what we hope will transpire in church and synagogue forums, parent-teacher organizations, groups of schoolteachers and university professors, and indeed for citizens in general.

    These three conversations, on education and religion, were instigated by the Public Religion Project, an endeavor I directed that initiated our discussions, produced many ideas, and finally made this book possible. As described at the back of the book, the project's agenda was to "bring to light and interpret the forces of faith in a pluralist society" in a country where so many people think of religion as "a private affair." To accomplish the project's mission, we could use any strategies that would bring people together in contexts where civility would rule and yet convictions could and would be expressed. In short, the project's model was conversation, among a wide range of interests and people.

    Though we didn't strictly follow the model of King's aide, you can sense how his technique influenced us on a smaller scale. At each of three conversations (one on elementary and secondary education, one on private colleges, and one on public universities), we convened approximately twenty different people around a big table, with room for others to encircle the group, listen in, and occasionally contribute. Invited were interesting combinations of people, many of whom were quite used to arguing, often with each other. The invitation list included some who held extreme positions, but in this and other instances we found that those who were most polarizing were often the most reluctant to accept our invitation, either because they mistrusted the idea of dialogue or because they have too often been merely sneered at, rather than engaged, by their opponents. No doubt those of you who want to incubate ideas and create true conversation will experience similar difficulties. Not everyone is ready to voice opinions in the presence of their foes, who are often just as ready to blast away in response. Not everyone wants to recognize the full humanity and dignity of people who differ. Many sometimes fear that their own positions might be eroded should they converse with enemies. Sometimes invitees "type" the inviters—as liberal or conservative, pro or con—and question the motivations for the invitation.

    Around our table, we had advocates of home schooling and school vouchers next to individuals heavily invested in the future of public education. At the gathering to discuss church-related higher education, our conversation partners ranged from people upset that secularists had been allowed to take over to people seeking new policies to negotiate American pluralism. There were both supporters and opponents of religious studies departments in public universities and colleges. All kinds of positions on how to understand the separation of church and state were at our tables. Together these participants, in the course of conversation around the table, arrived at informal but coherent outlines of topics. We listened carefully to the concerns and ideas that arose in the discussion and took notes. They form the background for this book and, we hope, will give impetus to your own conversations about education, religion, and the common good.

    This book is written with the hope that all over America, more people will be inspired not only to argue over answers to such issues but also to converse about the right questions. The following pages will bid repeatedly for your responses to this challenge. Perhaps similar issues will be taken up in conversations that you help establish. I hope so.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Read This Book?

Just What Are We Talking About, Anyway?

Why This Civil Conversation Is Urgent.

A Historical Map of the Present Situation.

Religion and Education: The Pitfalls of Engaging a Complex Issue.

Why Religion Belongs in Publicly Funded Primary and Secondary Education.

The Religious Schooling Response.

Public Universities and Graduate Education.

Religion and Higher Education: A Specific AgAnda for Advancing the Conversation.

After Listening, a Time to Act.

Resources.

Notes.

The Author.

About the Public Religion Project.

Index.

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