Posted On 19 Nov 2021 by religionmatters

Dr. Tim Hall

I had a fantastic night hosting #sschat on November 15th on teaching the holidays. The Twitter chat session was titled: “The Difficulty of December: Teaching Holidays.” It was full of participation and energy from teachers across the nation. But if you didn’t have time to catch it on Twitter, I have compiled the Q&A from the hour-long Twitter chat in today’s blog. I hope you find the questions and answers practical and valuable for your classroom especially with the approaching holidays.

##SSCHAT Religion Matters in Every Classroom

Question #1

Answer #1

Question #2

Answer #2

Question #3

Answer #3A

Answer #3B

Question #4

Answer #4

Question #5

Answer #5

Question #6

Answer #6

Thank you!

Posted On 22 Oct 2021 by religionmatters

What are Some Reasons to Bring Religion into the Classroom?

Dr. Tim Hall

Religious literacy is important to our students since helps to build a religious pluralism that strengthens a pluralistic democracy. Research demonstrates that knowledge of other faith traditions helps to eliminate prejudice, hate, and intolerance. Therefore, teachers shouldn’t avoid the topic of religion. Instead, they should support and incorporate it into the classroom. 

Yet understandably, there is some hesitancy with teachers. So some deeper more sustained reasons for incorporating religious literacy into the classroom would be helpful. These arguments can be used separately or jointly to provide a solid case for teaching about religion in the schools with the first three being advanced by Warren Nord and Charles Haynes in the text Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum published at the end of the millennium.

  1. Civic Argument: Schools must have a common ground. We need to learn to listen to and respect each other on deeply held understandings. So curriculum should reflect inclusivity—teaching about religious and secular ways of thinking.
  2. Constitutional Argument: Schools should remain neutral, meaning religiously neutral, neutral among religions, and neutral between religion and nonreligion. Schools should not ignore religious perspectives of thinking and living and only teach secular views of thinking and living, which can be religiously contested.
  3. Liberal Education Argument: Schools based on a liberal arts model of education require that students should be liberally educated. So they must understand a good deal of the content and context of religions. Liberal education is a long educational dialogue in which students listen to, reflect on, and think critically about a variety of perspectives tackling the most critical questions of life. Students should be learning about and from religions to gain a deeper awareness, reflectivity, and understanding of themselves and others. (1)
  4. Global Competence: Knowledge of religions is essential as we globalize in the twenty-first century. Our world is only getting smaller, and students will have more contact with other faith traditions. An understanding of religions will allow students to interact with others successfully. In more concrete terms using the Four Domains of Global Competence developed by the Asia Society, an understanding of religions provides students an opportunity to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, recognize their own and others’ perspectives, and communicate their idea effectively with diverse audiences.
Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And what do we, as educators, want to change? Oppression, racism, prejudice, and discrimination so that ALL students can reach their highest potential as human beings. Religious literacy is critical to that goal.

(1) Warren A. Nord and Charles C. Haynes, Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 1998).

Posted On 1 Oct 2021 by religionmatters

What is Religious Literacy?

Dr. Tim Hall

What is religious literacy? What does it mean to be religiously literate? And why is it essential to our students? These are crucial questions towards better civic literacy and global competence in the 21st century for our students. 

Religious literacy can be simply defined as a basic understanding of beliefs, behaviors, and institutions of global religious traditions. Stephen Prothero, professor at Boston University and author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Need to Know-And Doesn’t, defines it as ” the ability to understand and use the religious terms, symbols, images, beliefs, practices, scriptures, heroes, themes, and stories.” [1] But it is Diane Moore’s, Director of Religion and Public Life at Harvard Divinity School, definition of religious literacy that guides the American Academy of Religion’s defining of the term which provides the most exactitude. According to the AAR: “Religious literacy entails the ability to discern and analyze the fundamental intersections of religion and social/political/cultural life through multiple lenses. Specifically, a religiously literate person will possess:

  1. a basic understanding of the history, central texts (where applicable), beliefs, practices and contemporary manifestations of several of the world’s religious traditions as they arose out of and continue to be shaped by particular social, historical and cultural contexts.
  2. the ability to discern and explore the religious dimensions of political, social and cultural expressions across time and place.” [2] (AAR Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools)

Embedded within this definition is a cultural studies perspective. This perspective asserts the following when studying religions:

  1. Religions are internally diverse.
  2. Religions evolve and change over time.
  3. Religions are embedded in culture. 

The cultural studies approach to religion is interrelated to religious pluralism, in which students learn about other religious traditions as a means of appreciating, understanding, and respecting the diversity of others. This religious pluralism helps to strengthen a pluralistic democracy by improving civic literacy and global competence. Yet sadly, many current approaches to teaching about religion in the classroom are too simplistic and stereotypical (e.g. a focus on religious holidays during December). These approaches give students an inaccurate and inauthentic understanding of faith in the globalized 21st century which does not provide true civic literacy and global competence. 

Rachel Rueckert, a member of the HarvardX World Religions Through Their Scriptures courseprovides five easy steps to build your religious literacy as an educator. I have added a sixth critical addition. 

  1. Learn more about a variety of religions to understand the influence of religion on all cultures more deeply. HarvardX World Religions Through Their Scriptures is a great place to start.
  2. Recognize religious illiteracy and the need for religious literacy through education. 
  3. Reject religious prejudice and bigotry towards all faith traditions. 
  4. Build authentic relationships with new people and communities of different faith traditions. 
  5. Recognize the diversity of religions in the 21st century and also the internal diversity of those faith traditions. [3]
  6. Work to defend religious freedom for all faith traditions around the world. (My addition)

These steps should be aspirational for all educators as they start a more profound journey teaching about religion in the classroom. 

[1] Stephen R. Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008), p. 16-17.

[2] American Academy of Religion, “AAR Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools,”, p. 4

[3] Rachel Rueckert, “How to Be More Religiously Literate (and Why It Matters),” edX Blog: Stories, Insights, and News, accessed October 2, 2021, https://blog.edx.org/religiously-literate-matters.

Posted On 9 Aug 2021 by religionmatters

A review of Linda K Wertheimer’s Faith Ed. Teaching about Religion in an Age of Tolerance

Dr. Tim Hall

 

“I want a society where children of all faiths can grow up being proud of who they are and not feel threatened or harassed because of their religious identity.”

– Hassan Shibly, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (p. 95)

How can an educator successfully teach for a deep understanding of religious traditions in the classroom or school during divisive times? This vital question for an ever-increasing global and diverse America is the subject of Faith Ed. Teaching about religion in an Age of Intolerance written by noted journalist and award-winning education writer Linda K. Wertheimer. Typically, as an educator begins to tackle this challenge in the classroom, school, or district, they would turn to several foundational texts and documents, including:

Although these texts provide rigorous guidelines and frameworks to teach about religion, they do not humanize the project, highlighting the more profound complexities of teaching religious literacy, including pitfalls. This is the reason that I highly recommend Linda Wertheimer’s book. In this fascinating and readable text, Linda tackles the critical questions that every teacher or administrator should understand as they seek to bring religious literacy into the classroom, school, or district. Linda highlights these questions with case studies of recent controversies and hours of in-depth interviews representing the diverse perspectives involved.

In “Chapter One: Burkagate,” the author tackles the question of teaching about religion through experiential learning by thoroughly detailing the Burkagate controversy of 2014. Building on the first, the next chapter, entitled “Did a Field Trip Put Student’s in the Lion’s Den?” examines the controversy surrounding a field trip to an Islamic mosque at Wellesley Middle School in 2010, asking whether students should take field trips to houses of worship. In “Chapter 3: Whose Truth Should They Hear?” Linda details the controversy surrounding the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) guest speaker who visited Steinbrenner High School in 2014, addressing whether teachers or schools should allow guest speakers to speak for religious traditions. Following this chapter, the author describes the debate in late 2013 surrounding the Minneha Core Knowledge Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas. This dispute focused on the grade level appropriateness of learning about religious traditions, whether in elementary, middle, or high school. In Chapter 5, Linda provides perspectives from her own childhood experience of religious instruction in the public schools in Ohio. During the 1970s, the author, who is Jewish, was pulled from the classroom where Christian religious instruction classes were being provided during the school day. Not only was this practice unconstitutional (McCollum v Board of Education), it is very exclusionary and deeply hurtful. Linda’s perspective personalizes and highlights the importance of religious literacy in preventing bullying, discrimination, and exclusion. 

In the final two chapters, the reader gets to witness “religion done right,” which details a successful religious literacy class in Modesto, California. Linda concludes the text by describing the positive impact of religious literacy on the lives of various students from the Modesto program while also preparing educators for the “long game” of progress and setbacks before seeing any results from a sustained project of this type.

iStock

Throughout the text, the author is meticulous in providing the many reactions and perspectives of students, teachers, administrators, and parents to the different approaches used in teaching religious literacy. These details give an essential human understanding of the challenge of teaching about religion in public schools. It is this perspective that makes the text so valuable. The other texts and documents on the subject provide frameworks and guidelines to teach religious literacy, while Linda gives us the human perspective of this educational endeavor. The questions asked and responses from the school communities involved in these case studies are invaluable as teachers and/or administrators consider implementing a more rigorous approach to religious literacy in the classroom or school. I highly recommend it!

Posted On 30 Jul 2021 by religionmatters

Teaching Religion in the History Classroom, Dr. Tim Hall

 

Part of Civic Conversations: A Teacher Townhall from the Bill of Rights Institute, summer series on teaching about Race, Religion, & Politics

I was honored to be invited to be part of Civic Conversations with the Bill of Rights Institute. This three-episode summer series focused on teaching about race, religion, and politics in K-12 classrooms. My contribution to this series, recorded on July 27th, was on “Teaching Religion in the History Classroom.”

Posted On 16 Jul 2021 by religionmatters

Dr. Tim Hall, Founder of Religion Matters website and blog

I had a fantastic night hosting #sschat on July 12th on religious literacy in education. My Twitter chat session was titled: “Religion Matters in Every Classroom.” It was full of participation and energy from teachers across the nation. But if you didn’t have time to catch it on Twitter, I have compiled the Q&A from the hour-long Twitter chat in today’s blog. I hope you find the questions and answers practical and valuable for your classroom. 

##SSCHAT Religion Matters in Every Classroom

Question #1

Answer #1

Question #2

Answer #2

Question #3

Answer #3

Top fears for teachers include:

  1. lack of context knowledge
  2. pushback from parents & students
  3. bias towards particular religious traditions

Read more about the challenges to teaching about religion in the classroom on my blog: religion-matters.com/blog/what-are-

Question #4

Answer #4 a

Answer #4 b

Question #5

Answer #5

Tough question!?!? @Lindakwert speaks to this question in Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom published by @NCSSNetwork. You can read more on this topic on the Religion Matters blog here: religion-matters.com/blog/to-have-r

Question #6

Answer #6

Thank you!

Posted On 2 Jul 2021 by religionmatters

A Briefing About the Virtual Book Launch of Devotional Hindu Dance: A Return to the Sacred

Guest Blogger: Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall

On Sunday, June 27, 2021 I hosted a virtual book launch on zoom for my third book, Devotional Hindu Dance: A Return to the Sacred.  After a blessing from Pt. Ravi Ratan from Shaanti Bhavan Mandir of Queens, New York, I presented a book talk that focused on key concepts of the text.  My goal was to share an overview of the book along with a summary and an analysis of each chapter.  I presented the problem that provoked me to write the text, discussed why the problem is important, and explained why individuals, especially devotees of Hinduism should read the book. 

I wrote this text because I am deeply concerned with the problem of Hindu dance as primarily cultural.  My problem is that Hindus especially have come to view Hindu dance with a Westernized lens.  Hindu dance is no longer performed primarily by students to worship the Supreme Being.  Instead, students perform mostly on stage for cultural events.  The solution here is to return Hindu dance to a sacred art that is not “performed” but rather used by devotees to engage in worship.  I illustrate how to return Hindu dance to a religious, sacred, dance form.  I show how dancers, regardless of whether or not schooled in Hindu dance, could dance devotionally.  Those who view Hindu dance should view the dance through a religious, sacred lens.  Viewers of Hindu dance ought to focus on having a phenomenological experience, which may involve a religious experience, spiritual experience, or aesthetic experience.  

Many texts today discuss Hindu dance as a cultural dance form of India.  However, this book is original because it focuses on Hindu dance based on its origin.  I explain why Hindu dance is religious, how to engage in devotional Hindu dance, and how to negotiate the boundaries of religion and culture to position Hindu dance in the West.  Postcolonialism is a main theme throughout this text since religion and culture do not remain static.  I keep in mind the hybridity of religion and culture as I position Hindu dance in the West.     

The book provides guidance on how students should prepare to study Hindu dance.  I, set my expectations and prerequisites for students in this text, which is why I ask that all potential dance students of mine and/or their parents read this book before they begin to learn dance from me.  Hindus should read this text to gain clarity on the role of Hindu dance in Hinduism. Non-Hindus should also study this book to understand the theological links between Hinduism and Hindu dance. 

Following the book talk, a number of attendees contributed commentary on the problematic nature of viewing seemingly Hindu dances today that do not focus on a spiritual connection to the Supreme Being.  Other commentary encouraged me to move past the criticisms of being a dance guru and a scholar and instead focus on pursuing the goals of my spiritual dance journey. 

The virtual book launch was a great success.  The book was well-received by the participants who understood the problem that provoked me to write the text. The attendees urged me to continue to present the book in a variety of pedagogical spaces within and outside of the Hindu community because this will shed light on the problem of Hindu dance as primarily cultural.  I aim to return Hindu dance to a sacred art form as I teach about Hinduism through Hindu dance that centers attention on Hindu philosophy.

Author Bio:

Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall is an editor at the Blog of the American Philosophical Association who currently teaches philosophy, religion, and education courses solely online for Montclair State University, Three Rivers Community College, and St. John’s University. She is a Kuchipudi Indian classical Hindu dancer who frequently presents and dances in higher education as she confronts Orientalism through a variety of pedagogical spaces. Aside from several journal publications, she published Confronting Orientalism: A Self-Study of Educating Through Hindu Dance, and also served as the lead editor for Religious Studies Scholars as Public Intellectuals, which is published in the Routledge in Religion Series.    

 

 

Posted On 1 Jul 2021 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D.

For many teachers, to understand the diversity of a lived religion is a difficult task when relying only on textbooks. In response, many invite guest religious speakers to the classroom to address this need. The results have been mixed and not without some controversy. So in this blog, I will detail some of the precautions from the experts. Additionally, I will provide some guidelines an educator can take if they’re going to invite a guest speaker into the classroom to speak about a particular religion.

We will start with the First Amendment Center’s Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools, which has been used by many educators to help incorporate the teaching about religion in the classroom. The guide encourages the use of local professors and academics to speak about faith traditions in the school. Furthermore, the guide cautions educators about the use of a clergy with the assumption that academics can be more objective in teaching about religion. Finally, it is recommended that speakers be briefed on the First Amendment guidelines associated with teaching about religion in public schools which I detail in previous blogs.

But with the Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States, there is a more stern tone. These guidelines were produced by a task force of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). The AAR is a diverse academic organization focused on religion and religious studies with over 10,000 members. In the guidelines, the task force explicitly discourages the use of religious leaders in the classroom, while it encourages the use of professors of religious studies who could better represent diversity within a faith tradition. But the guidelines imply that classroom visits can be very unpredictable. And if the goal is the understanding of diversity within a faith tradition, the use of films or personal written narratives can be more productive. An example of this representation of diversity within a religion would be the PBS Frontline documentary, The Muslims.

In addition to these recommendations by the First Amendment Center and the AAR, Linda Wertheimer, the author of Faith Ed: Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance, provides some guidelines from best teacher praxis in bringing in guest religious speakers. Educators should follow these guidelines: 

  • Inform social studies supervisors and building administrators of the classroom visit and its goals related to the curriculum.
  • Provide speakers the context of the course and the student outcomes.
  • Provide speakers First Amendment guidelines for teaching about religion in the classroom. 
  • Coach speakers on ways in which to articulate unique and personal perspectives on faith tradition as appropriate. 
  • Clarify as needed if contradictions arise during the presentation. 

From these three expert sources, educators, administrators, and superintendents can develop the most appropriate guidelines for guest religious speakers in the classroom that fit their local needs.  

Source: Linda K. Wertheimer, “Chapter 3: Whose Truth Should Students? The Debate over Guest Speakers on Religion,” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.

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Posted On 1 Jul 2021 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D.

It is a daunting task to teach about religion for even a veteran teacher entering the classroom. So what web resources are available to educators to aid them in their efforts? So with this blog, I will be writing less and linking more.

As I have detailed before, the problem with the world religions model used in most classrooms is that it is typically static. The methodology is embedded in the past and out of context for deep student understanding. For students to fully participate in civic life filled with religious diversity, they need to understand the variety and complexity of religious beliefs and traditions. To gain this understanding, educators should use the lived religion model. One way to enhance this model can be through the effective use of film in the classroom. Good movies on religion help diminish stereotypes. As Ben Marcus suggested, they help reveal to students that:

  • Religions are internally diverse, not homogenous. 
  • Religions are dynamic, not static and fixed.
  • Religions are embedded in cultures, not isolated from them. Religions influence culture, and culture influences religions.

Also, the movies on religion demonstrate that religious identities are formed in a variety of ways through the 3 B’s, which I have detailed in past blogs:

  • Belief
  • Behavior
  • Belonging (1)

So below are some media resources that teachers may use to draw out these understandings for their students as they learn about the world’s religions. 

Also, here is a list of useful websites by educators to be used as general resources for the classroom.

Finally, here are the links to various national institutional guidelines and documents, which can help administrators and teachers create the best possible learning environment for teaching about religion in their schools and classrooms.

All of these resources will help educators in the development and teaching of religion in the classroom in a dynamic and lived way, enhancing a deep student understanding of the variety of beliefs and religious identities in the twenty-first century.

(1) Benjamin Marcus, “Chapter 1: Teaching About Religion in Public Schools,” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.

Source of some links: Christopher C. Murray, Jr., “Chapter 9: Navigating Media Sources to Study World Religions,” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom

 

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Posted On 23 Apr 2021 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D.

As stated in my previous blog, there are four good reasons to incorporate religion into the curriculum in suitable ways readily (e.g., Social Studies, Literature). These arguments are summarized in graphic below.

4 Reasons to Teach about Religion in the Classroom

 

In simple terms, students should learn about and from religions. But are there any guidelines for educators to teach about religion to help with this important task?The answer is yes!

These established guidelines have been agreed upon and published in several educational documents including:

So below are the guidelines for educators to use while incorporating religion into the classroom.

  • Teachers should be academic, not devotional in their treatment of all religions. Objectivity is the key to this perspective.
  • Teachers should only teach for awareness of religions, not an acceptance of religion. There should be no proselytizing in the classroom regardless of personal religious perspective, which is private.
  • Teachers should only teach about religion, not practice religion. Students should not be participating in religious ceremonies.
  • Teachers should educate for student understanding of the diversity of religious views and not have an imposition of a particular viewpoint.
  • Teachers should not promote OR denigrate religions. Adverse events associated with a particular faith tradition do not characterize the entirety of the religious group. (e.g., the perpetrators of the horrors of 9/11 do not characterize the 1.8 billion other people who are Muslim.)
  • Teachers should only inform about beliefs, but they should not seek to make students believe. (1)

If an educator follows these guidelines, they are on the way to successfully incorporating religion into the classroom. 

(1) First Amendment Center, A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools

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