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For the Civic Good

The Liberal Case for Teaching Religion in the Public Schools

Walter Feinberg

Publication Year: 2014

Why teach about religion in public schools? What educational value can such courses potentially have for students? In For the Civic Good, Walter Feinberg and Richard A. Layton offer an argument for the contribution of Bible and world religion electives. The authors argue that such courses can, if taught properly, promote an essential aim of public education: the construction of a civic public, where strangers engage with one another in building a common future. The humanities serve to awaken students to the significance of interpretive and analytic skills, and religion and Bible courses have the potential to add a reflective element to these skills. In so doing, students awaken to the fact of their own interpretive framework and how it influences their understanding of texts and practices. The argument of the book is developed by reports on the authors’ field research, a two-year period in which they observed religion courses taught in various public high schools throughout the country, from the “Bible Belt” to the suburban parkway. They document the problems in teaching religion courses in an educationally appropriate way, but also illustrate the argument for a humanities-based approach to religion by providing real classroom models of religion courses that advance the skills critical to the development of a civic public.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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This book has been several years in the making, and we could not have accomplished it without the generous participation and support of a number of people. First and foremost, we would like to thank all the teachers and administrators who generously responded to our initial survey, who opened their classrooms...

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Chapter 1. Introduction: The Liberal Case for Teaching Religion in Public Schools

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pp. 1-14

The introduction of courses about religion can arouse strong passions with the potential to tear communities apart. In Odessa, Texas, for example, the community divided sharply over two potential Bible curricula proposed for the local high schools. The majority of the school board and constituents favored the curriculum...

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Chapter 2. Bible History Courses, I: Partnership between School and Community

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pp. 15-24

Bible History courses are offered as electives by history or social-studies departments alongside of American History and World History. These courses are especially popular in rural areas in the South, but there is an effort by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) to introduce...

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Chapter 3. Bible History Courses, II: The Art of Staying on the Surface

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pp. 25-48

David White, as discussed in the previous chapter, advocates a pedagogy of presenting the text at face value, avoiding “overanalysis,” and staying on the surface. By staying on the surface, Bible History courses in communities like Tearville legitimize the public school and gain the support of Christian parents and parents...

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Chapter 4. Misrecognition and Nonrecognition: A Caution for Religion Courses

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pp. 49-57

Staying on the surface in Tearville-Tapscott and Ridge reinforces a default moral message that God rewards virtue and punishes sin and also provides recognition to the values and beliefs of the dominant Christian community. In turn, the schools gain credibility with the religiously Christian segments of the community...

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Chapter 5. The Bible and Its Influence: Instilling Equal Recognition into the Curriculum

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pp. 58-86

While the Bible History programs we examined in the first chapters served the dominant local religious community, they failed to provide adequate recognition to other voices. The result was the totalization of a narrow Christian perspective and the submergence of all other points of view to this perspective...

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Chapter 6. The Bible as Literature: Detachment as a Means toward Autonomy

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pp. 87-105

Before they are subjects to be studied, the humanities are practices to be engaged in—practices that produce, perpetuate, and reproduce human communities. One important task of the humanities as curricular subjects is to enable students to recognize themselves as embedded, often through canonical texts, in...

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Chapter 7. World Religions: Reflection as an Educational Goal

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pp. 106-128

World-religion courses have two important roles to play in the shaping of a civic public. First, they can provide accurate information about different religions, correcting misinformation and stereotypes. Second, they can prepare future citizens for engagement as members of a multireligious liberal democracy. Many...

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Chapter 8. Problems, Reservations, and Recommendations

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pp. 129-142

Religion courses can add considerably to a student’s general fund of knowledge. They can provide insights into intellectual and cultural foundations of modern societies. They can balance the utilitarian aims of much of the modern curriculum. They can provide students with ample material for critical thinking and...

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Appendix. Method and the Schools Included in the Study

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pp. 143-146

Our study is an exercise in applied philosophy of education that employs ethnographic, historical, and biblical scholarship to understand the teaching of courses with religious content in public schools. We aim first to understand what teachers are trying to do and why they are trying to do it. Our goal is, in part...


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pp. 147-156


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pp. 157-162


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pp. 163-164

E-ISBN-13: 9780472120000
E-ISBN-10: 047212000X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472052073

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2014