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Ari Kelman on religious experiences in and out of school

illustration of different religions
(Illustration: altmodern / Getty Images)

Ari Kelman on religious experiences in and out of school

On this episode of School’s In, a Stanford professor talks about religion and education.

Ari Kelman, the Jim Joseph Chair in Education and Jewish Studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, joined GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to discuss why religion in schools is a contentious subject and how young people can experience religious education outside of a school setting.

Listen to the full episode at the link below and find more episodes at Stanford Radio. School’s In airs weekends on SiriusXM Insight channel 121.

Interview highlights

The separation of schools and religion

Way back when the colonies were fighting for independence, the Church of England that was one of the big sticking points. In the Constitution, there are two clauses. One is the Establishment Clause, which is that there shouldn't be a state church, which is where the arguments around funding often come in. That is, if public funds are being dedicated to religiously-specific activities, there's probably going to be a fight over that. The other is the Freedom of Expression Clause, where anybody of any religious community has the right to express themselves and their faith freely.

Schools [are] a really unique institution in the United States: Attendance is compulsory, and you're talking about educating children. [Schools] become a flashpoint for these kinds of arguments around what kind of faith expressions are permissible in that setting within which everybody has to participate. No one's really forced to participate in too many other places.

Religious experiences outside of school

I'm of the belief that people learn to cultivate religious commitments through experiences out of school, as opposed to learning how to do them in school. Not many people have religious experiences in school that are profound in the ways that those kinds of experiences can be profound. They tend not to be in school; they'll be in other places.

The role of camps in religious education

Camp is a really important institution in religious communities. People love camp. There's a famous story where a Jewish girl goes to summer camp and has this amazing time and comes back and says that she wants to do this one ritual that marks the end of the Sabbath. Her parents, who had virtually given up on her desire to do anything Jewish, said, “We'd love to.” And she said, “But we can't do it at home, because we don't have a lake.”

I think one of the successes of camps are youth movement efforts in religious education. The success of that has put the challenge to the more school-based efforts to transmit religious life, because it really can't match the kind of excitement or thrill of being with your peers for a weekend – or a week or two weeks or four weeks – and the depth of that.

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