Religious Education Most Appropriate for Adolescents According to Developmental Psychology

INTRODUCTION:According to Developmental Psychology, Religion is not an innate aspect in human beings. It is an acquired phenomenon. As J.J. Smith (1941) views it is like any other quality that is acquired by the child while growing up. “A child is non-religious at birth as he is non-moral, non-aesthetic, non-thinking. He inherits none of these qualities in a functional form but acquires them gradually through experience.”It is one of the concerns of Developmental studies to deal with the changes in religious concepts with one’s age and how it originates, develops and gets refined with age. These changes can be clearly observed from the research findings of Harms on the stages of religious beliefs. He evolved a three fold structure.Stage 1- (3 to 6 years)- The fairy tale stage of Religion. Here God is perceived as a great King, Daddy of all children living in clouds etc..Stage 2- (7 to 12 years) – The realistic stage. The child is more able to adapt itself to institutional religion.Stage 3- (12 & above)- The individualistic stage. Children show a variety of interpretations from the conventional to the creative & mystical.The above findings show that there is a constant change or rather development in one’s way of understanding religion. This process to a greater extent depends also on the religious education offered to the pupils at different stages of growth. Hence it is the responsibility of the religious educators to impart right knowledge at right time. It should be borne in mind that the religious education offered is neither too elementary nor beyond the power of apprehension of a particular group. This essay will discuss about the type of religious education that is more appropriate for adolescents in terms of Developmental Studies.RELIGIOUS TRAITS OF ADOLESCENCE:It is important to take a brief look at the religious traits that can be identified among the adolescents before we delve in to the discussion on religious education that is more appropriate for the adolescents. Adolescence is the period that is beginning with puberty that is approximately 13 years, and up to about 18 years. It was Stanley Hall (1882), the first one who drew the correlation between puberty and conversion experience. This conversion experience may occur in three different types as explained by Allport:1) Definite crisis or conversion experience2) Emotional stimulus type of awakening where a significant event or factor can be attributed to such an awakening or religious re-orientation3) Gradual awakening which does not have any particular occasion whereby one experiences a sudden conversion.Therefore adolescence is not only an age of sexual maturity but also a period of spiritual transformation. The religious belief which was at fairy tale stage gradually develops to the realistic stage. This stage is a crucial stage when the adolescent’s attitude changes ‘from egocentrism to altruism’. Also the adolescents at this stage undergo an intellectual and moral crisis trying to justify between his scientific knowledge and the traditional concepts of an all powerful creator God.Few other traits that could be identified are: wavering faith which oscillates from self-assertion to self-abnegation; from a fanatical dedication to religion, to discarding of traditional doctrines; feelings like alienation from parents and the Church or the religious institute one belongs to; harsh moral judgments and questions about problems of evil and existence of God will be predominant. According to Erickson’s stages it is a stage of ‘identity confusion’.RELIGIOUS EDUCATION:The religious educator should have a clear understanding of the nature and the needs of the adolescents as discussed above so that the education offered would really promote growth in the individual.As far as the religious education is concerned, there is always the danger of over stuffing the pupils with the historical facts, doctrines, chronological and informative details about religion. As Pierre Bouet (1878-1965) says, ‘the primary task of religious education is not the inculcation of doctrine but the loving transmission and evocation of love.’One should also pay attention to, ‘How adolescents are taught’ because it is as important as ‘what they are taught’. The most common complaint of adolescents is that they are being treated like children. Adolescence is a period where there is a search for identity and a need to prove that they are someone. They try to project themselves as grown ups. Therefore they should be treated likewise, if contradicted in this respect; there is a possible danger of refusal to accept what is being taught. Instead of spoon feeding them they should be allowed to think on their own. Their tendency to question and explore into the problems and to verify the truths should be positively utilized rather than restraining their capabilities. Dr. Hilliard suggests that, ‘the teacher now has to begin deliberately and consistently to help his pupils to explore the inner meaning of stories, incidents,… myths, magic, miracle, …angels, evil spirits, and heavenly voices all these phenomena must be discussed in terms of which thoughtful adolescent can accept’ and understand as ancient modes through which a particular religion was expressed.GOAL OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION:It is substantial that the religious education offered during this stage makes one realize or to identify one’s vocation. By vocation we do not necessarily mean religious consecration as opposed to marriage, but the universal call, the vocation to follow one true God and to love and serve the society, which is one’s vocation as a religious person and as a professional. The religious education offered should enable one to clearly understand who s/he is, that is s/he is only a ‘creature’ and not the ‘Creator’ and hence teach humility, and what s/he wants to become for the good of the humanity. In other words it should lead one to ‘identity formation’. It should help one to transcend the mundane standards and to attain maturity and realization of the call to love and that set as one’s goal of life. In the words of Hall, ‘To love and to be interested most in those things that are most worthy of love and of interest that is the end of life.’ It should also build in the individual, basic trust, initiative, industry, identity and integrity.CONTENT OF TEACHING:The content of religious education should be decided keeping in mind the above aim. The intellectual state of an adolescent would allow abstract thinking and hence to understand the truths of one’s faith and belief system. The adolescents at this stage will be able to incorporate the religious values into one’s own life.Therefore two major areas of concern that would facilitate the inculcation of religious value thereby to the realization of one’s vocation would be initiation into 1) Scriptural Themes and 2) Life Themes.1) SCRIPTURAL THEMES:The adolescents should be initiated into one’s own Scriptures and should be helped to identify respective Scriptural themes such as forgiveness, salvation, life, prayer, law, morality, charity, interpersonal relationship, relationship with God, marriage etc. it is the responsibility of the religious educator to provide adequate motivation required in order that the pupil may appreciate and accept these values as life guiding principles. Besides providing the adolescents with the history of religion they should also be made aware of the effect which their Scripture and their religious leaders are having on the world. This is to give the pupil an idea of what is expected of them as an adherent of any particular religion.2) LIFE THEMES:Religious education can bear fruit or rather can only begin, when the pupils are exposed to the concrete problems of the world. Religious education should incorporate social awareness. It should make one’s religion real and as something enacted in everyday life.Harnold Loukes suggests ten such life themes: ‘Friendship, sex, marriage, snobbery, money, work, leisure, prayer, death, suffering and learning.’ The individuals should be enabled to question themselves about their attitude towards each of these themes and where one stands with regard to these. This questioning should gradually lead one to self-realization. Apart from leading one to self realization the adolescents should be involved in the practical approaches related with social concerns and needs like helping the sick, the orphans and elderly for whom there is no one to care for, aids victims, the handicapped and the refugees etc. This would help one to recognize and discern in what way one is capable of serving the humanity. However if these values are not incorporated into religion the adolescents can justifiably disregard religion as impractical and useless to everyday life.EDUCATION ABOUT OTHER RELIGIONS:After all religious education should contribute towards the maturity of the individual. One’s maturity can be gaged through his or her capacity for tolerance towards the other religions. Today’s world with the vast movement of people from one end of the world to the other and with the immigrants filling in different parts of the world, forces one to come into contact with different religions, cultures and faiths different from one’s own. Since adolescence will be a period when basic attitudes and values are formed religious education at this stage should inculcate toleration and respect towards other religions and faiths while still being faithful to one’s own religion.CONCLUSION:In this essay we tried to have a brief look at the religious education that is appropriate to the adolescents. But, ‘is this religious education all that important?’In today’s world it is a common sight to notice the sordid and callous behavior of humankind. It is only the human race which can degrade into a lower state of ‘bestial existence’ and it is not the animals that can descend to a lower state . This curse on the human kind is because of the freedom s/he has been endowed with. This freedom when left unbridled without any principle or guideline to counter check, will shove one into this ‘mean existence’. This is where the role of education is called upon. The prime goal of any discipline of education should be to elevate one into a fully dignified status as human beings. Therefore one should realize the gravity of religious education which is all the more important in making one fully human and in helping one to maintain his or her status as a human being by widening the horizons of one’s ability to love through their relationship with the Divine. It is not only the stage of adolescence that is important but also the other stages of life which needs to be studied in order that an appropriate religious education may be availed to all.BIBLIOGRAPHYALLPORT, G., The Individual And Religion, The Macmillan company, NEWYORK, 1961.BERRIDGE, D.M., Growing To Maturity, Burnes & Oates Ltd., LONDON, 1969. BROWN, L,B., (edr), Psychology And Religion, Penguin Education, AUSTRALIA, 1973.BROWN, L,B., The Psychology of Religion An Introduction, SPCK , LONDON, 1988.GOLDMAN, R., Readiness For Religion, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., LONDON, 1970.GOLDMAN, R., Religious Thinking From Childhood To Adolescence, Routledge & Kegan Paul, LONDON, 1968.WULFF, D.M., Psychology Of Religion, John Wiley & Sons, NEWYORK,1991.ZUNINI, G., Man And His Religion, Geoffrey Chapman Ltd., LONDON,1969.END NOTES Available on request.