Religious Education: A Rationale

Why Religious Education? A Working Document

We ask students to take Religious Education courses in our Ontario Catholic Elementary and High Schools. This discussion paper offers a rationale for this requirement. If you have other reasons to add, please email If you feel the rationale offered here could be stated more clearly, please offer alternative wording. Also, if you find quotations that better illustrate the point, please let us know at

  1. Religious Education offers opportunities to cultivate integrity. It integrates insights from other disciplines with their experiences and aspirations in the framework of spirituality. It nurtures a holistic vision of life.

RE contributes significantly, indeed uniquely, to the education of the whole person. Defined in a way that is appropriate for the young person’s age and stage of development, good RE honours the freedom of conscience of the young person while revering their family faith and/or belief traditions and expectations. Dr. Gareth Byrne Irish Times, July 4, 2014.

  1. Religious Education enhances cultural understanding. It encourages and equips students to critically assess different aspects of culture. This allows them to more deeply appreciate its gifts and creatively transform its negative aspects.

Over a period of time, RE contributes enormously to the development of the young person’s literacy across a wide range of texts and resources and of challenges to the human psyche. The ability to express the big questions in words, story, art, song, ritual and prayer, for example, has an impact at a whole series of levels on the developing knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes of the young. Dr Gareth Byrne Irish Times, July 4, 2014.

Religious Education, as an evolving discipline, enables young people to discover the truth, nurture the attitudes and develop the skills necessary to grow as young Catholics in these changing times. Ontario Catholic Religious Education Curriculum Policy Document, 2006, p. 3.

  1. Religious Education encourages and equips students to explore the deeper questions of the human condition. Students respond to such questions as: Why do just people suffer? What is love? Why be just? What happens after we die? How do know God exists? What is my purpose in life? Why should I care about other people?

New horizons will be opened to students through the responses that Christian revelation brings to questions about the ultimate meaning of the human person, of human life, of history, and of the world. These must be offered to the students as responses which flow out of the profound faith of the educator, but at the same time with the greatest sensitive respect for the conscience of each student. Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith #28.

  1. Religious Education provides access to the religious perspectives around the world. 80% of the world identify with a religious group. Religious Education promotes the exploration of the religious way of looking at life in general and different religions in particular. This can only enhance the global literacy so needed today.

Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion. The Global Religious Landscape Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project

  1. Religious Education offers a focussed exploration of the moral challenges facing young people today. Religious Education classes explore key issues of sexuality, bioethics, ecology, family life, among many.

A form of education that ignores or marginalises the moral and religious dimension of the person is a hindrance to full education, because “children and young people have a right to be motivated to appraise moral values with a right conscience, to embrace them with a personal adherence, together with a deeper knowledge and love of God.” Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences On Religious Education in Schools #1

  1. Religious education offers opportunities for students to develop their understanding of Catholicism. For Catholics this religious literacy gives students access to the spiritual resources in the Catholic tradition. Deeper understanding of Jesus Christ, Scripture, Church teaching, moral principles, Catholic social justice principles, the Church in the world, liturgy, sacraments, and prayer help enrich students faith life. For those outside Church, Religious Education affords opportunities to know about the way religion operates in the world.

The primary purpose of Catholic Religious Education is to come to know and understand God’s revelation which is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. –Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Department of Catholic Education and Formation, Religious Education Curriculum Directory (3-19)

  1. Religious Education develop the intellectual skills necessary for moral living including “reflection, discernment, critical thinking and deciding how to act in accordance with an informed conscience.” Religious Education offers opportunities to explore ethical principles as well as rehearse behaviours when presented with moral dilemmas.

Conversion to Jesus Christ implies walking in his footsteps. Catechesis must, therefore, transmit to the disciples the attitudes of the Master himself. The disciples thus undertake a journey of interior transformation, in which, by participating in the paschal mystery of the Lord, “they pass from the old man to the new man who has been made perfect in Christ”. The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus takes up the Decalogue, and impresses upon it the spirit of the beatitudes, is an indispensable point of reference for the moral formation which is most necessary today. Evangelization which “involves the proclamation and presentation of morality”, displays all the force of its appeal where it offers not only the proclaimed word but the lived word too. This moral testimony, which is prepared for by catechesis, must always demonstrate the social consequences of the demands of the Gospel. General Directory for Catechesis (85)

  1. Religious Education helps students to develop spiritual resources and skills such as prayer, reflection, and liturgical practice. It nurtures a sacramental outlook on the world that sees creation as sacred and the human as being made in God’s image.

A sacramental outlook invites Catholic educators to develop and nurture their own sacramental consciousness. When Catholic educators live their own lives in appreciation of the goodness of creation and as meaningful and worthwhile, their attitude permeates their interactions in the educational milieu and will encourage a similar outlook in others. The ideal of a Catholic school is to educate its members into a world that is sacred and holy because it is God’s creation. Appreciation for God’s gift finds expression in the attitudes and actions of a school community through liturgy and stewardship. The Religious Dimension of Education in Edmonton Catholic Schools

  1. Religious Education can reduce the temptation for young people to subscribe to extremist religious positions. Much publicity has been given to the recruitment of young people to violent fundamentalist causes. Religious Education promotes values directly opposed to these positions. World Religion courses provide a balanced view of religions, stressing the points of dialogue and inter-faith cooperation.

… There is probably no issue of any greater concern around the world than the rise of religious fundamentalism. Nothing is more dangerous than the radicalised mind and there is nothing worse than the indoctrinated child. We will not, however, defeat such extremism simply by confronting it across battle lines. The frontline for winning this battle is education and the school is the place where young minds need to be introduced to the power of critical enquiry. How else will a young person ever grow to be able to make wise choices unless they are allowed access to the widest possible range of knowledge and how else will they learn tolerance unless they are introduced to the wide ranging menu of different ideas that populate the world. The Rt. Rev John Chalmers, Moderator of the Church of Scotland. Moderator says religious education holds the key to defeating extremism. December 30, 2014

  1. Religious Education gives students tools to discern a vocational path. Students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 are developing skills, attitudes, capabilities and knowledge to help them discern and respond to their callings.

Courses in Religious Education clearly support student learning in the areas of personal and interpersonal development and career choices. When taught that the Christian commitment to justice, peace, and the dignity of all can only help to promote the wellbeing of individuals and society as a whole, the student can evaluate his or her career aspirations in relation to the concepts of Christian vocation and discipleship. As well, Family Life strands, by focusing on personhood, relationships, and sexuality complete the students’ self-understanding and in this way complement the Career and Guidance Education presented within secondary school programs. Ontario Catholic Religious Education Curriculum Policy Document, 2006, p. 27.

September 10, 2015

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