Following on from the events of 15 March 2019 there has been demonstrably increased public interest in the diversity of religious communities in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, we are also seeing an increase in the reported
number of public incidents driven by religious misunderstanding and anti-religious sentiment.
The gathering of religious leaders saw both these developments are pointing towards an urgent need for educational response. It is time to facilitate increased religious literacy for all New Zealanders.
While many faith and interfaith groups currently active in Aotearoa New Zealand provide educational programmes and activities these are presently run by voluntary effort. A longer-term solution is needed to ensure that the next generations of young New Zealanders learn enough about religions to discover the common core of human values at the heart of all religions and some understanding of the ways in which diverse cultures practice.
For this reason the gathering decided to urge the Government to include religious studies in the New Zealand school curriculum. We envisage a positive effect on relationships in the classroom, the school and community. Longer term we would expect a decrease in religious bigotry resulting in less marginalisation of cultural and religious minorities.
In Aotearoa New Zealand this teaching will be Treaty of Waitangi based, building on its foundations for the harmonious development of diverse religious and ethnic communities. The proposition is that the study be included in Social Studies in Years 1-10 and that it is comprehensive, non-confessional, and non-partisan. Also an option would be provided for specialist courses in Years 11 – 13 using the present NCEA Levels 1-3 Achievement Standards.
Since the resulting message was received the Government has asked the Religious Diversity Centre to assist the Ministry of Education with research for them about Religious Studies in other countries.
Sometime later in the year we hope to be able to engage the Buddhist community in discussing the whole issue.
We applaud the efforts of the Religious Diversity Centre to engage with the spectrum of religions in Aotearoa. NZ Buddhist Council is interested to keep track of this matter both to assist and well as to keep an eye on how Buddhist values, teachings and traditions are represented.