Religion has played an important part in the development of education ever since the beginning, even before the creation of schools. The first schools, which were monasteries, started around the Dark Ages, approximately 450 A.D.; Back then, education’s only purpose was to people of the religious persuasion, especially Christianity. Christianity is the religion that has most affected education, and so was the case back then, too. Those people I was talking about before were the ones with the power, however. The pope commanded more respect and authority than the king, the church taxed the people, and the church dictated the laws of the land. The church was in charge of the people’s souls, so they took responsibility for everything else. Even the king and his court was subject to the church’s rule, as no one would really stand up to the church’s authority. So of course, certain people in the church became corrupt and used religion as a way to coerce their own fortunes or luxuries. This went on for hundreds of years. Some of the abuses were issues of immorality, such as the practices of celibacy not being followed and indulgences (pardons for your sins) and offices were sold out. Erasmus, a monk and humanist who wrote “In Praise of Folley”, was one of the first people who outright condemned the abuses of the church. He believed education should develop piety and morality, and should give the people vocational skills.
Then around the 1300’s, around the time of Protestant Reformation, a monk named Martin Luther became the first well-known opposer of the church’s abuses. He wrote many books, some of which stirred popular unrest among the people. Around this time, more people started thinking more in secular terms, and not so much blindly following the church. More and more, commoners were becoming poorer so they followed the secular movement; needing a scapegoat (the church) to blame for the lack of food and money. Then to add fuel to the fire, the printing press was invented. This allowed the people to see the bible for themselves, a book which was before only held in the hands of the church. People could interpret the book for themselves, and didn’t need the church or it’s priests as much as they used to. Religion was the only kind of education until then, as people started to try and see the world in a more secular sense. This was the beginning of the end of education and religion being tied so closely together. The church lost a lot of power, as the bible became the ultimate authority replacing the pope and the priests. Around this time, universal education started. Universal education is the system in which everyone, even commoners, have the right to a basic elementary education. Martin Luther also introduced other new ideas concerning education, such as state controlled curriculum, teacher certification, and finances. He also believed in vocational and higher education being made available for everyone, not just the wealthy or elite.
The next great development in the Religion/Education relationship came around the time of the population of North America by the Europeans. There were three major colonies in the territory that is now the U.S.: the North, Middle and South colonies. Each took to education in a different manner.
The Northern colonies formed a theocratic government, as the people were of similar religion and ethnicity. Universal education was upheld, as schools were paid for by subscription, or church taxes. This meant the curriculum was Christianity-based, just as in England before. Communities with 50 households were made to establish a school (Old Deluder Satan Law of 1647) and truancy was enforced upon.
The Middle Colonies had a lot more diversity, and religion played less of a role in the education system. The South Colonies had a lot of space between the residents, so religion played even less of an important role in education.
The biggest blow to date to the relationship between education and religion was the Establishment clause (1789) in the Bill of Rights, stating the separation of church and state. This ended the religious influence on education, at least in the United States. There are other countries in the world where religion plays a part in the educational system, but more and more countries are shying away from it.
In conclusion, Religion (especially Christianity) has played an important part in Education all over the world up to about the 1700’s. There are still some lasting reminders, though, such as colleges once built for religious purposes but now the prominent secular education centers. Some examples are Harvard University (1636), College of New Jersey (later named Princeton, founded by Presbyterians in 1746), Kings College (later named Columbia University, founded by Anglicans in 1754), and the College of Rhode Island (later named Brown University, founded by the Baptists in 1764). But needless to say, the contributions given to education by religion can never be replaced or taken back, and maybe it’s better that way.