In this talk, Rajeev Bhargava argues that states already committed to the rule of law, that guarantee a bundle of meaningful individual rights, criminalise hate speech and have an established system of ‘secular’ education, should shed their inhibition about religion and adopt a policy of inter-religious education.
This is neither an argument for formal religious instruction in schools which states might legitimately discourage, nor, given deep religious diversity in all modern societies, the advocacy of teaching the dominant religion.
Instead, Bhargava’s claim is that states must assume responsibility for teaching the ethical traditions of all religions. Religious education should not be left to the family where learning is largely unsystematic and informal, nor be confined to schools run by private (individual or community) money where biases might go unchecked. Unbiased inter-religious education alone enables citizens to learn about and responsibly criticise each other’s ethical values. It also helps place their own ethical tradition in critical perspective.
This is necessary for social harmony, a value irreducible to individualistically-construed moral values. The argument is strengthened by a discussion of inter-religious problems in India.
Rajeev Bhargava is professor of political theory and Indian political thought, a prolific writer, and the Director of Parekh Institute of Indian Thought, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.