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In secular usage, religious education is the teaching of a particular religion (although in England the term religious instruction would refer to the teaching of a particular religion, with religious education referring to teaching about religions in general) and its varied aspects —its beliefs, doctrines, rituals, customs, rites, and personal roles. In Western and secular culture, religious education implies a type of education which largely separate from academia, and which (generally) regards religious belief as a fundamental tenet and operating modality, as well as a prerequisite condition of attendance.
The secular concept is substantially different from societies that adhere to religious law, wherein "religious education" connotes the dominant academic study, and in typically religious terms, teaches doctrines which define social customs as "laws" and the violations thereof as "crimes", or else misdemeanors requiring punitive correction.
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Since people within a given country often hold varying religious and non-religious beliefs, government-sponsored religious education can be a source of conflict. Countries vary widely in whether religious education is allowed in government-run schools (often called "public schools"). Those that allow it also vary in the type of education provided.
People oppose religious education in public schools on various grounds. One is that it constitutes a state sponsorship or establishment of whatever religious beliefs are taught. Others argue that if a particular religion is taught in school, children who do not belong to that religion will either feel pressure to conform or be excluded from their peers. Proponents argue that religious beliefs have historically socialized people's behavior and morality. They feel that teaching religion in school is important to encourage children to be responsible, spiritually sound adults.
In traditional Muslim education, children are taught to read and sometimes speak Arabic and memorize the major suras of the Qur'an. Many countries have state-run schools this purpose (known as Madrasah Islamiyyah in Arabic; meaning "Islamic school"). Traditionally, a settlement may pay a mullah to teach children. There is a historic tradition of Sufi mullahs who wander and teach, and an ancient tradition of religious universities. However, the study of Islam does not suffice. Students must pass the state mandated curriculum to pass. Religious scholars often serve as judges, especially for criminal and family law (more rarely for commercial law). Non-Islamic religions are tolerated as personal beliefs, but not as public teaching. Most Islamic countries have laws against teaching other religions, and especially against attempts to convert Islamic believers.
In the People's Republic of China, formal religious education is banned except in licensed schools of theology, which are usually college-level and above. These colleges are state-supported and usually very small, with limited enrollments and budgets. Religious education usually occurs in scheduled sessions in private homes. Religious teachers usually move on a weekly or monthly circuit, staying as guests in private houses in exchange for teaching.
In India, there are a number of private schools run by religious institutions, especially for Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains and Buddhists. During the era of British rule, Christian private schools were quite prominent and widely attended by both UK (British) and Indian students. Many of the schools established during this era, especially in areas with a heavy Christian population, are still in existence today.
In modern-day schools, Hindu students are typically taught the Bhagavad Gita, which explains the ethics and duty of a person, as well as one's relationship with Krishna, God. This is taught in Vaishnavism, the Hindu sect for which the Gita holds the most importance. Students are also taught the Sanskrit language, and Vedic) philosophy. Other Hindu religious texts, including the Upanishads and Itihasas, are studied in these contexts, in both religious and secular schools.
The International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), has set up a number[clarification needed] of schools - gurukulas, as well as modern day schools - which concurrently provide a traditional material and spiritual Vedic education. Sri Mayapur International School, perhaps one of the best known of these day schools, is a school for primary and secondary students; the school teaches academic education according to the standard UK curriculum, alongside devotional subjects of bhajan/kirtan singing and instrumentation and also Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy. ISKCON has instituted a number of seminaries and schools of tertiary higher education. In addition to typical formal education, ISKCON also offers specialized religious/spiritual instructional programs in scriptural texts, standardized by the ISKCON Ministry for Educational Development and the GBC committee on Vaisnava Training & Education, categorized by level and difficulty; in India, they are primarily provided by the Mayapur Institute for Higher Education and Training and the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education. ISKCON also offers instruction in archana, or murti worship and devotional ceremony, through the Mayapur Academy.
In addition to regular formal education, a number of religious institutions have instituted regular informal religious/spiritual education programs for children and adults. ISKCON temples have established a number[clarification needed] of such programs.
In Israel, children receiving a traditional Jewish education are taught Biblical Hebrew, and learn excerpts of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and the Talmud (commentary on the scriptures). Secular Jews tend to speak "Modern Hebrew". This tradition generally hopes that by passing on the traditional language, the students will also retain a better memory of their culture's history and a stronger sense of cultural identity.
In Thailand, Burma and other majority Buddhist societies, Buddhist teachings and social decorum are sometimes taught in public school. Young men are expected to live as monks for several months at one time in their lives during which they can receive religious education.
Some European countries and their former colonies maintain a state-supported religion, usually either Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox Christian. It is taught in a special class of the government schools. This policy aims to build and maintain a national identity. In many countries families can get permission to withdraw children from these classes. Many families with other religions use religious schools. The state supports one (usually) central seminary which trains pastoral staff for the state church. Other religions may support private seminaries, but these are smaller and not as well funded. Religions other than the state religion, even if ancient and respectable, are often deprecated in the national cultures (e.g. they are called "cults" in the news media).
Because of Austria's history as a multinational empire that included the largely Islamic Bosnia, Sunni Islam has been taught side by side with Roman Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox classes since the 19th century. However, children belonging to minority religions, like Jewish, Buddhist and Latter Day Saints also study religious education in their various denominations. At many schools, secular classes in Ethics can be attended alternatively.
In France, the state recognizes no religion and does not fund religious education. However, the state subsidizes private teaching establishments, including religious ones, under strict conditions of not forcing religion courses on students and not discriminating against students according to religion. An exception is the area of Alsace-Moselle where, for historical reasons (it was ruled by Germany when this system was instituted in the rest of France) under a specific local law, the state supports public education in some religions mostly in accord with the German model.
Most of the federal states of Germany, which has a long history of almost even division between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, have an arrangement where the religious bodies oversee the training of mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious education teachers. In one of the federal states this includes Orthodox Christian teachers as well. The training is supposed to be conducted according to modern standards of the humanities, at mostly state-run colleges and universities. Those teachers teach religion in public schools, are paid by the state but answerable to the churches for the content of their teaching; however they must not teach behaviour widely considered to be against the law. Children who are part of no mainstream religion or wish to opt out for another reason must usually attend neutral classes in "Ethics" or "Philosophy" instead. From the age of 14, children may decide on their own if they want to attend morality classes and if they do, which of those they are willing to take. For younger children it is the decision of their parents. The state also subsidizes religious schools by paying up to 90% of their expenses. These schools have to follow the same curricula as public schools of their federal state, though.
Currently there is an ongoing controversy about the introduction of Islamic religious education in Germany. While there are around three million Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin, now in the country, many of them are not members of large religious bodies with whom the states could arrange such matters. Some religious bodies are publicly suspected to further anti-constitutional values, such as inequality of men and women before the law. However, proponents of Islamic religious education in public schools maintain that state-controlled Islamic education would be a means to prevent immigrants' children from joining ranks of so-called Qur'an schools, which are accused of promoting Islamic intolerance outside the federal government's control.
In the Republic of Ireland, religious education is a State examination subject. It is optional at senior level for the Leaving Certificate exams, but all students take religious education for the Junior Certificate exams. The course consists of theology, world religions, morality, global and environmental issues and philosophy. The exam for junior level consists of a written paper which counts for 80% of the overall marks. A written project with set topics consists of 20%. Students can take a higher level or ordinary level paper.
In Poland, religious education is optional in state schools. Parents decide whether children should attend religion classes or ethics classes or none of them. Because aApproximately 88% of Poles are Roman Catholic, selecting "religion" classes is common. Children learn about Catholicism in school. This has produced disputes about religious intolerance. Since 2007 grade from religion (or ethics) classes is counted towards grade point average.
In the United Kingdom, Catholic, Church of England (in England) and Jewish schools have long been supported within the state system with all other schools having a duty to provide compulsory religious education. State Religious Education is non-proselytising and covers a variety of faiths, although the legislation still requires it to include more Christian content than on other faiths. The Church of Scotland does not have schools, although they often have a presence in Scottish non-denominational institutions. There is no National Curriculum for Religious Education in England. In England and Wales, the content of the Syllabus is agreed by Local Authorities, with the ratification of a Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) comprising members of different religious groups, teachers and local councillors.
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In Canada, religious education has a varying status. On the one hand, publicly funded and organized separate schools for Roman Catholics and Protestants are mandated in some provinces and in some circumstances by various sections of the Constitution Act, 1867. On the other hand, with a growing level of multiculturalism, particularly in Ontario, debate has emerged as to whether publicly funded religious education for one group is permissible. For example, Newfoundland withdrew funding for Protestant and Roman Catholic schools in 1995, after a constitutional amendment. Quebec abolished religious education funded by the state through the Education Act, 1998 which took effect on July 1 of that same year, again after a constitutional amendment. Quebec re-organized the schools along linguistic rather than religious lines. In Ontario however, the move to abolish funding has been strongly resisted. As of 2005, funding from the taxes of those who specifically request to have their educational taxes allotted to Catholic education, remains in place and will remain for the foreseeable future. In the 2007 provincial election the topic of funding for faith based schools that were not Catholic became a major topic. The provincial conservative party was defeated due, in part, to their support of this topic.
In the United States, religious education is often provided through supplementary "Sunday school", "Hebrew school", catechism classes, etc. taught to children at their family's place of worship, either in conjunction with worship services or some other time during the week, after weekday school classes. Some families believe supplementary religious education is inadequate, and send their children to private religious schools, called parochial schools when they are affiliated with a specific parish or congregation. Many faiths also offer private college and graduate-level religious schools, which may be accredited as colleges. Under U.S. law, religious education is forbidden in public schools, except from a neutral, academic perspective. For a teacher or school administration to endorse one religion is considered an infringement of the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment. The boundaries of this rule are frequently tested, with court cases challenging the treatment of traditional religious holidays, displays of religious articles and documents such as the Ten Commandments, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance (which since 1954 has described the U.S. as "one nation under God"), and how prayer should be accommodated in the classroom.
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