THE study of the life of Jesus Christ should be introduced as part of the mainstream history syllabus in Scottish schools, a leading academic has said.

Nicholas Thomas Wright, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Andrews University, said the Gospel stories had been "sidelined" in religious studies in recent years despite their critical importance to western civilization.

Professor Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, said: "If a pupil wanted to study Jesus in his historical context this would not be seen as part of the general history syllabus, but would be seen as something that was the preserve of religious studies.

Read more: Ian Rankin's neighbours call police after mistaking him for a burglar

"Religious studies staff would then say to that pupil that they had Judaism, Buddhism and Confucius, as well as Christianity, and maybe there would be some stuff on the Gospels in the corner.

"It seems to me, in terms of the history of the western world, the narrative of how Christianity got going and who Jesus was are huge questions which ought to be in a more general syllabus."

Professor Wright said every pupil should have the chance to learn about the origins of Christianity not as a subset of religion, but as part of the history of the world.

He added: "The fear I have is that questions about the Gospels and Jesus seem to be restricted to a few parables and the crucifixion rather than being seen as events that changed the world, whether you agree with them or not.

"Religion tends to get shunted to the side and this systematically distorts the world in which we live which has been so radically shaped by the Christian tradition.

Read more: Ian Rankin's neighbours call police after mistaking him for a burglar

"To not know about that is to condemn the next generation to almost ignorance of something that would help them in whatever they want to do because it is part of the scaffolding of the house in which we westerners live."

However, the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) said it was important pupils were given a chance to understand the important role Christianity played in developing history and culture, but argued that religion already played too prominent a role in Scottish education.

Gordon MacRae, chief executive of HSS, said: "I'm sure most people in Scotland can agree Christianity had a profound effect on shaping modern Scottish culture, but we are now at a tipping-point where a majority of people in Scotland for the first time are not religious.

"Earlier this year we published the most extensive research into the influence of religion in Scotland since the Victorian Era and it showed that, despite widespread secularisation of law and public policy in other areas of Scottish life, the influence of religion in our education system remains strong.

"I can't help but feel certain that the largely irreligious children of Scotland do not suffer for a lack of religion in their education, quite the oppose in fact."

Read more: Ian Rankin's neighbours call police after mistaking him for a burglar

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, added: “Religious and moral education in Scottish schools takes a wide-ranging view of all aspects of religion, including the historical and cultural contexts, to offer pupils a deeper understanding of the role of religion across the globe.

"Curriculum for Excellence has cross-curricular learning at its core, so teachers also have the freedom to explore relevant key themes in other subject areas, such as the undoubted importance of Christian imagery and metaphor in literature or art.

"Frankly, however, schools are buckling under competing demands for inclusion in the syllabus and teachers must be allowed some professional autonomy to deliver meaningful learning for students.”