Restorative justice is a term that is growing in popularity as people are coming to embrace the approach more and more. But, what is it? In this thought corner, I describe how and why a restorative approach to teaching religious literacy is a valuable approach that would better equip young people (and adults alike) for success in schools and beyond.

What is religious literacy?

As a topic for study, religion provides a platform for civic dialogue.  In schools, many educators engage religious literacy in their social studies, history, and world religions curriculum. For students and the public beyond school spaces, religious literacy is about developing skills and attitudes to prepare people with a deeper understanding of how religion, spirituality, and non-religion inform their lived experiences.

What is restorative justice?

The basic principles of restorative justice are about acknowledging how people are impacted by harm and creating communities, and building relationships that prevent damage from occurring. Through this process, those affected are involved in a process of discernment and reflection. People interested in a restorative process move forward in rebuilding relationships and community. In schools, among other settings, this means that conflicts are managed proactively through ongoing attention to relational connection.

Why do we need Religious literacy and Restorative Justice in schools?

Because conflict and aggression based on religion exists in schools. This includes religious bullying (which happens to those who are religious and non-religious) and is increasing in some contexts. Religious bullying also profoundly impacts marginalized young people, and furthers their exclusion. Such youth may further disengage from school or pursue acts of bullying or violence themselves. Of great concern are adolescent youth who are at a critical stage in their identity development, and therefore most susceptible to adopting religious extremismWhen young people feel like they do not matter in school, they may turn to radicalism for connection and community.

To address these concerns, educators can draw on restorative justice by creating spaces for dialogue and reflection about who has been harmed and what could be done to prevent harm. These critical conversations can counteract religion-based conflict and exclusion. In this way, restorative dialogue is one way to interrupt the promotion of hateful discourse, religiously motivated violence, and exclusion.

To learn more about religious literacy and restorative justice, please see the “Religious Literacy and Restorative Justice with Youth: The Role of Community Service Professionals in Mediating Social Inclusion.

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