Students need religious education

A religion Gen-Ed would help students better understand each other and society.


Earlier in the semester, my roommate and I were hanging out in our dorm like we often do. She started to say something I found particularly funny, and I wanted to capture the moment on Snapchat.

“No, stop, my hair is out,” she said.

My roommate wears a hijab, a headscarf worn as a sign of modesty by Muslim women in public. She didn’t want the video I took to be shared with others without her hair being covered.

Of course, I told my roommate I wouldn’t post the video and promptly deleted it, but I still wish I hadn’t taken my phone out in the first place. I wish I were more aware of my new roommate’s religious beliefs from the start.

I’m sure many other students could benefit from being more educated about various world religions, not just for practical purposes as in cases like mine, but also to better understand the society and world in which we live. The university should consider creating a religion General Education Program requirement for all students.

“Religion has shaped the world more so than any other force,” said Terry Rey, an associate professor of religion. “Religion for most people who ever walked on this planet has gone farther in shaping their values and sense of self than anything else.”

If this is the case, it seems all students would benefit from learning about various world religions, since they will interact with a diverse set of belief systems at Temple and in their future career paths.

And while students can currently take courses offered by the religion department to fulfill requirements in the Gen-Ed program, like the race and diversity category, they are not required to do so.

Unfortunately, this could prevent some students from taking a religion class because it doesn’t fit into their schedule, or because they don’t want to learn about religion altogether. I don’t think either of these scenarios are ideal. Religion is not an expendable subject, as people from all fields and walks of life will be confronted with the matter at some point in their lives.

“Religion touches every dimension of our lives,” said Mark Leuchter, an associate professor of religion.  “And religion isn’t just about faith.”

“Religion is much more about the structure of society,” he added. “It’s about models of authority, it’s about ways that people communicate … how using the right word can convince somebody to believe or do something.”

A solid understanding of various religions can allow people to simply better understand the daily happenings in their own lives and the communities in which they live.

Rebecca Alpert, a religion professor and the senior associate dean of academic affairs, said this applies to life right here in Philadelphia, too.

“The Mormon Temple opened and it’s crazy to live in Philadelphia and not know about that,” she said. “Or when ‘Philly Jesus’ was kind of wandering around, well, what is that [about]? It’s getting into those worlds that I think are very helpful.”

A firm understanding of different religious beliefs is also imperative to understand the implications of larger current events and to participate in political discourse.

Rey said a firm understanding of Islam, for example, is necessary to understand the truth of the events that unfolded on 9/11.

“What were the motivations of those terrorists?” Rey said. “They claimed to have been doing this…in the name of Islam, so let’s study Islam and let’s see if this is really something that is embraced in Islam. And well, in fact it is not.”

Rey said the al-Qaeda pilots who crashed planes into the towers of the World Trade Center in 2001 were not acting in line with the teachings of Islam because suicide is banned in the Quran.

“And that’s the only way you’re going to know that, is if you take a religion class,” he added.

Some of the professors who I spoke with told me they see some roadblocks to implementing a religion Gen-Ed requirement, like limited faculty members in the religion department.

But I believe we could find solutions to conflicts like this. Perhaps professors for the religion Gen-Ed requirement could be found in departments like sociology and history.

Plus, as Rey points out, the study of religion lines up quite nicely with the university’s mission statement.

“The last few lines express that our mission here as a community is to create new knowledge that improves the human condition and uplifts the human spirit,” Rey said. “That’s what religion is. Religion should inspire animation and humanity that breeds compassion.”

I hope the university considers more thoroughly integrating religious studies into its General Education Program. Students will then better understand each other and the belief systems that dominate the world they inhabit.

Jenny Roberts can be reached at or on Twitter @jennyroberts511.

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