New text relates Catholicism to the other world religions

  • August 6, 2008

TORONTO - A new world religions textbook being prepared for Ontario high schools will offer a distinctly Canadian and Roman Catholic perspective on different faiths, according to one of its authors.

The textbook, with the working title World Religions: A Canadian Catholic Perspective, will be the first of its kind specifically geared towards Grade 11 world religion students in Catholic schools.

“For us to live in Canada is to take into account that a shifting cultural perspective is taking place,” said John van den Hengel, a theologian at Saint Paul University in Ottawa and one of the authors.

Canadians need to build on the harmony between different ethnic and religious groups, he told The Register from Ottawa.

World religions is a mandatory course for all Grade 11 students in the Ontario Catholic school system. The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the textbook last October and mandated the Institute for Catholic Education to write a proposal and approach publishing companies. The project, to be completed within two years, is a partnership between Novalis and Nelson Education publishers.

The Catholic angle comes from the textbook’s approach. Van den Hengel said its “point of departure” is the Catholic faith. From there, it will examine how Catholics can relate to other religions. The book will also have a section on interreligious dialogue at the end of each chapter.

“In this text, we are more aware that God is speaking in other religions,” he added.

The section on Catholicism will focus on the Eucharist because it says so much about who Catholics are and what they believe, van den Hengel said. And instead of the traditional emphasis on doctrine by other textbooks, this will focus on the rituals of different faiths.

“It’s rituals that set religions apart, not so much belief systems. It’s how people act in day-to-day living in relationship to the divine.”

Sharron McKeever, a former religious and family life consultant in Oshawa, and another of the authors, said it is important to have the Canadian perspective. The textbook will examine the contributions of different religious groups to Canadian society, including social justice and cultural activities.

It will focus on the major religions identified by Canadians in the latest  census such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, van den Hengel said.

Students will also learn about the spirituality of the aboriginal peoples in Canada, indigenous spirituality and secular humanism.

Examining secular humanism is something new for world religion textbooks and takes into account the number of people in Canada who have declared themselves as having no religion in the latest Canadian census, van den Hengel said.

“This is not just a study of religions, but also what kind of relationship can (Catholics) have with other religions,” he said, adding that most world religion textbooks “leave the individual studying it out of the picture.”

Another unique aspect of the book will be its section on praying with other religions. It will feature prayerful reflections for students using traditions of other faiths such as a Jewish text or Buddhist poem, McKeever said.

Van den Hengel said the textbook will echo the spirit of Vatican II which has called for interreligious dialogue, but added that inter-religious prayer “is still a highly contested area.” He said the book will try to help Catholics relate to other religions but added “we have to be careful as to how we structure these kinds of interactions whether prayer for the other or prayer with the other. These are areas that the course wants to explore.”

Ontario Catholic high school teachers and authors, and scholars from different religions will also act as contributors to and experts for the book. Bishops, principals, students, teachers and principals have already acted as reviewers, McKeever said.

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