EDITORIAL: That will (not really) teach them

Religion literacy classes are good start to solving intolerance


In an atmosphere where flyers promoting a “Muslim-Free America” have been circulating the Rutgers campus, it is safe to say that not everyone in the Rutgers community is as religiously tolerant as one would have thought. This religious intolerance most likely stems from the mere lack of understanding or lack of exposure to Islam, and to other religions in general. The solution to this? Perhaps Rutgers should look to Harvard University for answers.

Six religion professors from the Ivy League university as well as Harvard Divinity School and Wellesley College all came together to create a series of classes that cover world religions and promote literacy of these religions. These online classes are free and even offer a non-audit track where those who want to move forward with their education can work toward a certificate. The religious study that the online course covers focuses on more than just the basic doctrines of each religion. Instead, the course works toward targeting stereotypes head-on with the use of the religious texts in question, and also speaks on the “internal” differences within varied religions.

Harvard has its head in the right place with this online course. But the course  — and Rutgers as well — can go the extra mile. This is a tremendous step for Harvard in promoting religious understanding and tolerance but the problem with a free online course is that the people who are most in need of learning about religions, the people who are hateful toward other religions because they don’t understand them, are not going to be the people who sign up to take this class. It would be wonderful for Rutgers to implement these types of classes into their own curriculum but in a more effective way.

Perhaps, the same way Rutgers makes it a requirement for incoming students to take a short Alcohol Education class to learn about the dangers of alcohol consumption and the consequences of underage drinking, Rutgers can work to incorporate a religion literacy course that is mandatory for students to take prior to signing up for classes or attending the University. Or perhaps Rutgers can go even further and integrate religion literacy and tolerance classes into its core curriculum. As important as learning about extinction is, in the current political climate, nothing is more relevant or important at the moment as learning about other people’s beliefs and how to understand them.

There is no doubt that this would not be popular with every single member of the Rutgers community, and for a variety of reasons. Some people may believe that these classes would be stupid or a waste of time, especially if they have no interest in the topic, as it does not pertain to people who identify as atheist. Others may believe that their devotion to their own religion is so strong that it would be wrongful of them to take a course on learning about the inner details of another religion. And some people may even feel as though they are so against one or some of the religions that would be covered that it would be unbearable for them to take part in such a class.

Learning to obtain literacy in religion and to be more understanding of other religions is beneficial in any situation. For those who want to argue against religions, the first step in debating something is having an extensive knowledge of it. Even if you are against the idea of religion, learning what others believe makes it easier to connect to them. And to those who wouldn’t want to learn about a religion aside from their own ... At the core of every religion is the message to spread love and understanding and if you cannot find this aspect in learning about other religions, then you would be rejecting the values of your own.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 149th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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