Education is Key to Nurturing Religious Tolerance

IRLA leader urges educators to place greater emphasis on teaching acceptance of religious differences

The future of inter-religious tolerance and harmony may well rest, in large part, on the shoulders of today’s educators, says Dr. John Graz, Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association.

“The young, impressionable minds of young people are open to be nurtured toward tolerance or intolerance—toward seeking to understand others of different faiths, or toward fanaticism,” he says. “It’s difficult to overestimate the tremendous responsibility carried by educators—especially those of primary-age students—in shaping tomorrow’s global landscape when it comes to religious discrimination, intolerance and conflict.”

Dr. Graz’s comments follow the release last week of a study which found that Pakistan’s public schools and privately-run madrassas use textbooks which serve to underline religious differences, rather than encourage greater understanding and acceptance of people of different faiths.  The study, undertaken by the International Center for Religious and Diplomacy, was based on interviews with teachers, visits to classrooms, and a review of curriculum.  It found that children’s textbooks in grades 1 to 10 contained a significant amount of inaccurate information and derogatory descriptions of non-Islamic religions, including Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism. Researchers concluded that Pakistan’s education system provides inadequate teaching about religious tolerance and acceptance of religious minorities.

“It would be a mistake to assume that this is simply a problem in Pakistan or that the temptation to paint minorities in negative terms belongs to just one religious tradition,” says Dr. Graz. “There is much more that can be done—even in countries where protection of religious freedom is strong—to actively nurture a sense of religious tolerance in young minds.”

“Perhaps the most important step we can take today toward reducing interreligious conflict is in how we teach our children—in our schools, our churches and within our families,” says Dr. Graz, “and each one of us shares in this responsibility.”  

[Bettina Krause/IRLA]