"It is well to know something of the manners of various peoples, in order more sanely to judge our own, and that we do not think that everything against our modes is ridiculous, and against reason, as those who have seen nothing are accustomed to think."—René Descartes, philosopher and mathematician (1596-1650)More than 100,000 people signed a petition in support of making Religious Education (RE) a requirement for British students. Actually, I thought it already was required, and I wish that American school systems required comparative religion classes. As Stephen Prothero, author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn't, wrote in a USA Today article, "Even if religion doesn't make any sense to you, you can't make sense of the world without knowing something about the world's religions."
Surprisingly, at least to me, British faith leaders agree that RE should be required. They claim that without it, "a generation of children will have no knowledge of the role Faith plays in society" (capitalization in the original). Is this an acknowledgment that Brits just don't spend much time in church anymore? Personally, if I were religious and had kids, I'd worry that the knowledge they were exposed to in RE classes might encourage them to "comparison shop" and adopt a religion that appealed to them more than mine. That may be the concern of some Canadian parents who have unsuccessfully tried to keep their children out of the controversial Ethics and Religious Culture program taught in Quebec's schools on the grounds that the class could interfere with their children's moral education.
I couldn't find anything specifically about the effect of comparative religion classes on religious belief, although there are studies that show a negative correlation between education in general and religiosity. In other words, the more educated a person is, the less likely s/he is to be religious. And while you might think that people who've been exposed to lots of different religions are likely to believe in one of them, studies show that having an overwhelming number of choices may actually discourage people from making any choice.
Wow. As an atheist, I strongly oppose indoctrinating kids into religion, but now I have even more reason to support teaching them about as many religions as possible!
H/T to Howard Friedman at Religion Clause