Exploring the Role of Religion in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Religious Literacy as a Means and Ends for Civic Competency

Originally presented on Tuesday, November 10, 2020


Kate Soules, ksoules@religionanded.com,  & David Rhodesdrhodes@gse.harvard.edu


While there has been increasing attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion in public education, the impact of religion is often invisible or overlooked. Further, the study of religion is inextricably tied to many topics and themes in the social studies and history classroom, and religious diversity is deeply embedded in public life, individual and community identities, and current events. However, many teachers are apprehensive of any discussion of religion.  When teachers lack confidence in how to address religion in the classroom and curriculum, they often avoid the topic altogether for fear of overstepping boundaries or revealing their own lack of knowledge.  This has significant implications for students’ development of essential skills and knowledge which, in turn, impacts their civic engagement.

This workshop will introduce educators to the principles of religious liberty in public schools and key frameworks of religious literacy so that they can support students in the development of the knowledge and skills crucial for engaged citizenship in a religiously plural society.  

Rights, Responsibilities, Respect: Understanding Civil Dialogue and Religious Liberty in Public Schools

The relationship between religion and public schools is widely misunderstood and can be a source of tension and confusion. Teachers might wonder: 

  • What are the appropriate ways to engage with religion in the classroom?  
  • Am I allowed to respond if a student asks questions about religion? 
  • Can students pray in small groups? 
  • Can teachers wear religious symbols? 
  • How should religious holidays be treated in the classroom?
  • Can students express religious views in their assignments? 
  • What are the consequences of avoiding religion altogether? 

This workshop will examine the principles of the First Amendment as they apply to religion in the public school classroom. We will first provide some background on Constitutional frameworks, and then we will collaboratively explore how those frameworks can/should impact our classrooms and our schools. At the end of this workshop, you will have a greater understanding of the rights and responsibilities afforded by the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment, and you will develop skills for applying those principles in your classroom. 

Unpacking Religious Literacy for Educators

In these times of upheaval, it becomes increasingly important for teachers to understand the roles that religion plays in the lives of students and to develop their own religious literacy. We will examine what the concept of “religious literacy” means, particularly for educators. Once we break down religious literacy into manageable components, participants will explore various resources that can deepen their own knowledge and be adapted for use in the classroom. Ultimately, we will provide a roadmap for continued learning beyond the workshop. Participants will receive a tool to evaluate their own religious literacy and will be encouraged to arrange follow-up consultations with instructors to discuss strategies for ongoing learning and application in their particular contexts.

Please complete the session feedback survey. Upon submitting feedback you will then be able to download a certificate of attendance for your records.