The major religions of the world have evolved a wide array of formal and informal educational organizations to perform a variety of functions. They provide (1) information and points of entry for interested publics and possible new converts to the religion in question, (2) direct instruction via print, audio, and visual media for children, youth, and adults, and (3) diverse resources which adults and local organizational units can employ in formal and informal learning settings with their constituents. All major world religions have extensive and growing educational resources available online on the World Wide Web, some representing official positions and most representing the viewpoints of distinct subgroups within particular religions.
The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), Religious Research Association (RRA), American Academy of Religion (AAR), and the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education (APRRE) are umbrella international organizations for persons who study the educational dimensions of world religions and who share their findings in peer-reviewed publications and annual conferences. Members of these organizations produce the bulk of the research that informs the work of a much vaster set of educational organizations who create and distribute materials and provide services for intermediary organizations such as denominational groups, mosques, synagogues, temples, and churches and for practitioners and adherents, both young and old.
Christianity has spawned more educational organizations than any other major world religion, likely due to both its fractious doctrinal developments over time and its overwhelming presence within technologically advanced and economically robust countries.
The World Council of Churches, an umbrella international organization for Christian denominations and groups, has the long-standing World Council of Christian Education. There has also been a recent surge of interest in adult theological education with an attendant Association of Centres of Adult Theological Education based in the United Kingdom.
Many countries with a large Christian presence have a plethora of national Christian education organizations. In the United States, for example, one can find organizations for private and parochial Christian schools (e.g., Association of Christian Schools International, National Catholic Education Association, Accelerated Christian Education), church-affiliated universities and colleges (e.g., Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, American Association of Bible Colleges, Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools Accrediting Commission), Sunday schools and church-based education (e.g., National Sunday School Association, Professional Association of Christian Educators, Commission on General Education of the National Council of Churches), informal Christian youth and children's groups that engage in education (e.g.,Youth for Christ International, Catholic Youth Foundation, Campus Crusade for Christ, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship USA, Life Teen, Awana Clubs International, Pioneer Clubs, Navigators, Youth Ministry Network, Baptist Young People's Union, Child Evangelism Fellowship), seminaries (e.g., Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada), television networks and programs (e.g., Trinity Broadcast Network, Christian Broadcast Network), and the extremely large and active world of Christian publishing companies (e.g., Zondervan, Baker Book House, Group Publishing, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Thomas B. Nelson, Intervarsity Press, Hendrickson Publications, Our Sunday Visitor, Maryknoll, American Bible Society, and Gospel Light).
There are still other sources of religious education. Major mechanisms for the transmission of Christian beliefs and understandings to the next generation in the United States have been church rituals of confirmation and baptism, Sunday School or Sabbath school, parachurch and church-based youth groups, summer camps, Christian concerts, church services or masses, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and conferences and retreats for youth or adults.
Judaism, although much smaller in terms of the number of adherents, also has extensive networks at the global level and within particular countries where Jews are numerous. Global organizations include the World Union of Jewish Students, World Union of Jewish Studies, B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, European Association for Jewish Studies, and the European Union of Jewish Students. Sample Jewish educational organizations within the United States include those targeted to seminaries (Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools), youth (North American Federation of Temple Youth, Young Judaea, United Synagogue Youth, Hillel, Bnei Akiva, Betar Likud, and the National Conference of Synagogue Youth), and the general public (e.g., the Jewish Publication Society). Sabbath schools or congregational religious schools have been a principle means for formal education in Judaism outside of the family unit since the mid-19th century in the United States, and organizations such as the Jewish Educators Assembly exist to share ideas among educators within this arena. They are increasingly common in Europe and elsewhere.
The role of educational organizations becomes somewhat less clear when considering Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shinto. This is likely due to the particular ways in which education historically was seen as related to the religious quest. The strongholds for these religions (e.g., the Arab world, Indian subcontinent, and Asia) generally have maintained practices linked more fully and explicitly to the historic bases of these religions. Most religious leaders have been reticent to make accommodations to modernity or to allow traditional religious practices to evolve.
Traditional Islamic education in the Middle East begins in the masjid (school) where instruction consists chiefly of memorizing the Qur'an and learning to read and write Arabic. Further study occurs at schools of higher study known as madrasahs, early Arabic precursors to the European universities of the Middle Ages. In some countries, the madrasahs are restricted to males only. Today, the curriculum still generally focuses on grammar, logic, rhetoric, law, early mathematics, Arabic literature and history, and Qur'anic studies and prayer. Occasionally medicine and agronomy are also taught, usually along traditional lines.