My degree in Religious Studies from the University of Tennessee has been an invaluable asset in my career as a high school social studies teacher at Heritage High School in Maryville, TN. Through my studies I acquired the knowledge and the tools necessary to successfully engage my students in the various subjects I have taught over the years, including World Geography, World History, United States Government, and Bible History. In my experience, a degree in religious studies is one of the best preparations a social studies teacher can have.
When I began my studies of religion at the university, in 1984, my goal was to gain an understanding of the world's religions in order to facilitate my own personal exploration of important spiritual and philosophical questions. The classes that I took were taught from an academic perspective, without bias toward any particular religious tradition. Although I was raised in the Baptist Church and was quite familiar with the stories of the Bible, I never really knew anything about such things as the canonization process that resulted in the final version (or versions) of the text. After taking courses in the Old and New Testaments I gained a fresh perspective on these sacred texts. I understood the historical context from which Judaism and Chritianity emerged.
Additionally, my studies in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions gave me insights and appreciation for these religions, which I was quite unfamiliar with at the time. I took several other courses in which I learned about subjects such as the relationship between politics and religion, racism and religion, science and religion, etc. I also studied the works of prominent theologians and the impact that their work has had on modern religious thought.
All of these courses taught me to think critically, to analyze texts, and to express myself clearly and persuasively. Furthermore, I gained knowledge of the essential aspects of the cultures and histories of a wide variety of places.
Finally, my study of religion has helped me to understand and appreciate the differences between people of different religious traditions and to understand the commonalities among those same groups. I believe that if more people had a deeper understanding of the world's religions, regardless of their own world views, humanity would be better able to transcend the beliefs, practices, and values that divide us and, perhaps, we might be able to avoid many conflicts.
Although there is no 'Religious Studies' course offered in the school system in which I teach, some schools do offer such a course. At my school, I have always incorporated teaching about the world's religions into the classes I teach on World Geography and World History. It has been my experience that the students are very interested in learning about religions, and I wish that we could explore this subject in more depth. Unfortunately, these courses are only one semester long and I have many other state-mandated standards to meet during that limited time.
The course in U.S. Government that I teach affords the opportunity to explore First Amendment issues involving the relationship between government and religion. This part of the course usually elicits a great deal of interest and participation from students. The Bible History course gives students the opportunity to learn about the Bible's influence in literature, history, and culture in general. My religious studies education has been extremely helpful in preparing me to teach this class and in fact be an effective Social Studies teacher in general.