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Religion in Schools: Controversies around the World
R. Murray Thomas
248 pp., $55.00
Reading, Writing, and Religion
Of all the fronts opened up in today's culture wars, the most volatile may be the public schools. The Religious Right, at its inception in the 1970s, mobilized grass-roots support largely over opposition to two court cases—Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963)—which together outlawed public prayer and devotional Bible reading from public schools. Since that time, many conservative Christians have come to believe that the public schools are fomenting what Stephen Carter referred to as "the culture of disbelief." Some have even argued that secular humanism has become the established religion of American public education.
Much has been written about the history of American education in general and the relationship between religion and education in particular. The decade following the appearance of Warren A. Nord's landmark study, Religion and American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma (1995), saw the publication of a variety of useful books along similar lines, including Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in a Multicultural America (1999) by history professor James W. Fraser, The Fourth R: Conflicts over Religion in America's Public Schools (2004) by English professor Joan DelFattore, and Does God Belong in Public Schools? (2005) by law professor Kent Greenawalt.
Lost on these important studies, however, was the fact that, while the American situation is unique in its particulars, it is not unparalleled. Although Europe is a hotbed of the culture of disbelief (or "Eurosecularity," as sociologist Peter Berger calls it), the study of religion is far more advanced in secondary education on that continent than it is in the United States. So Americans can learn much from European examples about how to educate our children concerning the ways and means of religion. Elsewhere in the world, believers and nonbelievers alike are engaged in cultural skirmishes of their own about just how closely religion should ...