Eight out of 10 pupils who study RE at GCSE believe it promotes understanding between people with different religions and beliefs, according to a survey.
More than 60 per cent said that taking the subject had been a "positive influence" on them, in a poll of more than 1,000 young people carried out by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC).
The findings come amid a controversy on the role that RE should play in the English Bac, the Government's proposed new measure of school effectiveness.
Ministers want to measure school performance based on the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, including English, maths, a foreign language, a science and a humanity.
But according to a list published by the Department for Education, RE - which has grown in popularity at GCSE level - will not count as a humanity.
Dr Brian Gates, emeritus professor of religious and moral education at the University of Cumbria and chair of the REC, said: "RE in schools shouldn't be viewed as controversial or a minefield but an essential part of the humanities mix."
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We recognise the benefits that religious studies can bring to pupils, and that is why success in religious studies GCSE will continue to be recognised by other performance table measures."