Three reasons why I feel religiously diverse education influences young adults' overall well-being.
Photo by RODNAE Productions: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-puja-thali-with-powders-and-flowers-7686264/
My first memory of participating in a Hindu ritual was when I was four or five. It was Diwali, "the festival of lights." I remember asking Amma why my pre-school friends were not celebrating this. She answered my query simply with, "it is a Hindu festival, that's why".
I didn't comprehend what it meant then. However, I've noticed how being a Hindu in a predominantly Christian society influenced my sense of belonging and has shaped my identity over the years.
Hence I chose this as my first topic to write about when given the platform to express issues that influence youth and their well-being.
I am a second-generation Australian of Indian heritage, currently completing my secondary education in a catholic school. Since year three, I have experienced a definite division between my classmates, and I attribute one factor to my religion. Being a Hindu in a Catholic school allowed me to realise how much my peers were unaware of the other religions of the world.
Helen Keller said, "The highest result of education is tolerance." This is tolerance for those who are different, marginalised and the minority. I feel that cultural awareness would be improved if a more diverse religious education was taught at school, and these are the three reasons why:
Increases religious tolerance
According to the 2016 Australian census, non-Christian religions make up roughly 39.4% of the Australian population. I found heightened curiosity about my religious beliefs and many misconceptions and myths when I introduced myself. Which led to being interrogated by my peers. At primary school age, I didn't have in-depth knowledge of what my religion was. These interrogations often made me feel uncomfortable and also caused an aversion to learning who I was. I would get remarks and curious questions regarding my beliefs. Some of these questions stuck with me making me wonder why I was different. Questions like, "then why do you go to this school if you're not catholic." and," why do you wear a red dot on your head." These questions often left me in a state of embarrassment. While my parents tried to guide me at home with information and reassurances, I found it hard to single-handedly represent my faith. Most of my teachers were unaware of what practising my faith entailed as well.
Reflecting on them, I realise these questions stemmed from a lack of awareness of other religions. This lack of understanding forms the root cause of viewing another person as different, thus slowly creating a division and leading to intolerance.
Decreases social isolation
When we grow up, we often hear the phrase, "Everyone is different. That's what makes you special." But for many my age, the words special translate to being "weird or different" in a negative way. As my culture intertwines with my religion, It has formed a significant part of my identity.
So to get to know your culture means knowing what makes you different, but knowing more also means acknowledging you are different. To many of us young people, that is scary, so we turn away from it.
We reject it to fit in with the predominant culture, as those in the majority tend to isolate those who are different.
Thus moving away from one's culture can cause a sense of isolation. This social isolation can create anxiety, depression, and loss of confidence and self-esteem. However, the irony is that in this world, conformity is impossible, and everyone stands out in their own way. This lesson can be easily taught through diversity in religious education.
Creates a stronger sense of self
Our sense of self is heavily influenced by what we think of other people's perceptions of us. If we are surrounded by negative comments and questions, we wonder why we are the way we are. A primary reason for discrimination/bullying on school grounds is being different and a lack of understanding of other cultures. In addition, discrimination/ Bullying affects young people's mental health significantly as it invalidates their identity and creates social exclusion and low self-esteem. So through a more diverse religious education, an increase in cultural awareness can be achieved, raising religious tolerance and improving the sense of well-being in young people.
About the Author:
Reya is a year eleven student aspiring to work in human rights and politics. She enjoys music, writing and bringing awareness to important social and political issues.
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