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Schooling the Courts: Education as Site and Source for Religion and Law beyond the Courts

  • Hyatt Regency Centennial E (Third Level) Denver, CO USA (map)

A panel hosted by the Law, Religion, and Culture Unit and the Secularism & Secularity Unit at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (Denver)

Panel abstract:

Public schools are noted sites of legal battles over the religion clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Yet, even as scholars have noted the significance of religion and law outside the courts, few have turned their attention to public schools and education as sites and sources of religious practice, organizing, and debate. Building on work that denaturalizes the court-centric categories of religious freedom and establishment, this panel aims to decenter American legal definitions of religion altogether in scholarship on twentieth- and twenty-first- century religion and public education. With papers on corporations and patriotic education in mid-twentieth century Japan and America, government aid to parochial schools and public school desegregation in 1967 New York State, homeownership and the Islamic school movement, and contemporary Holocaust education, the panel will take an interdisciplinary and transnational approach to explore themes such as secular governance, corporate influence, race, respectability, and national identity.


Jolyon Thomas, University of Pennsylvania

Inculcating Corporate Morality in Public Schools: A Comparative Look at Japan and the U.S.

This paper uses archival materials from Cold War-era Japan and the United States to examine corporate influence on public school education, especially as related to morality and patriotism. While morality and patriotism training in public schools serve obvious disciplining functions by socializing students in preparation for civic life, they also serve ideological functions by preparing humans to accept the potentially dehumanizing demands of the workforce as normal and natural. Punishment and rewards systems in schools inculcate allegiance, obedience, and specific modes of comportment. Training in morality and civics gives students concrete tools to distinguish “right” from “wrong.” Because corporations play major roles in curriculum development and because training in morality and civics overlaps with implicit religious norms and ideals, the academic study of religion can benefit from sustained inquiry into the complicated relationship between morality, patriotism, and corporate interests in postwar Japan and the United States.