As part of the comment discussion in Tim's weblog post "Disco-dancing with the scientists" a point was made about how religion is taught in UK schools (at least, Tim's experience of it anyway, I'm a little older than he is and I recall things being a little different). The idea is that different types of religion are given differing amounts of time and are taught in differing levels of detail based on how prevalent they are in the UK. Here's what Tim said on the matter:
Abrahamic religions got most of the time, and IIRC something like Hinduism and a few others got a couple of lessons each - sort of bogo-proportional-representation as per UK or something. No harm in giving it a blast in the US - the kids can only end up better-educated about folks they're likely to meet, after all.The idea being, in the UK you're probably more likely to bump into a Christian than you are, say, a Hindu and so it would appear to make sense to teach Christianity in more detail.
It's not the first time I've seen this said and this approach has bothered me for some time but, oddly, I've never really been able to put my finger on what it was that concerned me. Having given it some thought last night the obvious concern came to me.
Assuming that Religious Education in the UK is about teaching children about religion in general and specific religions in particular it doesn't seem to make much sense to portion out the time and the detail based on number of followers (for want of a better word) that are found in the UK. If the idea is to educate children in the beliefs of the people they'll engage with over their lifetime why would it be that the more common religion requires greater detail? Why would it seem reasonable that a child knows more about the beliefs of someone who is a Christian than, say, someone who is a Bahá'í? If the idea is to equip children with details of religious beliefs why wouldn't it make more sense to equally teach them about all of the religions that appear in the UK?
The more I think about it the less I find the "portion out time and detail based on numbers of followers" idea credible. I don't know how RE works in UK schools these days (with a child heading off to school this year I'll be finding out soon enough) but if past experience suggests that one religion got more time than another the motivation can't have been "chances of encountering a follower" or, if it was, it seems like flawed reasoning to me.