Here’s a fascinating discussion of how religions communicate in the modern world, and why they are so successful. A great comparison is made between religious education and secular education. As societies moved from the doctrine, morality and ritual in the church to other means of cultural and moral transmission (Shakespeare, Plato and Jane Austen), the secular world of education left behind important truths. Several points de Botton make are absolute gold.
For instance, the secular education system assumes a rational, well-adjusted adult as the primary unit of transmission (take at least high school and beyond). That assumption makes the transmission of ‘data’ and ‘information’ at universities much simpler and efficient, but also misses the point of what education was originally all about culturally. Religious education of course never waivers from its fundamental purpose. (whether we agree with it or not). Assuming a pragmatic rationality, secular education frequently leaves behind the body, to make education a purely mental activity. Again, religious education, with its hymns, rituals, pilgrimages, prayer, baptisms, etc. does not contribute to any mind-body duality.
Finally secular education tacitly assumes that everything we are to learn needs only to be learned once, and that all knowledge needs to be ‘new’ or some type of progressive accumulation. That’s an overstatement, but I think it holds true, especially when you look at the life-long, continuous repetition involved in religious education. If educators really want to make progress in human development–moral, cognitive, interpersonal, whatever–they need to instill a similar focus and larger purpose.