Posted On 16 Jan 2021 by religionmatters

In commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr Day, it would be good to examine Luther’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail in relation to the importance of religious literacy. Written in longhand on April 16, 1963, King wrote this letter from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, after being arrested for nonviolent protests in the city. The letter itself was a response to public criticism by eight white church leaders who expressed their concern and need for caution in Birmingham. They labeled King an outsider and troublemaker since he was from Atlanta and from their perspective was extreme in his actions.

King addresses the criticisms and concerns with systematic clarity. To do so, he cites St. Augustine (354-430), who stated that “an unjust law is no law at all.” Moreover, King recounts St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) that wrote: “an unjust law a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.” Building upon these quotes, King incorporates the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” relationship and Christian philosopher Paul Tillich’s sin as separation from God into his argument. Collectively King uses these Judeo-Christian perspectives to argue that the illegal nonviolent protests of Birmingham are justified. He goes further by detailing the civil disobedience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego against the law of King Nebuchadnezzar because “a moral high law was involved.” Later in response to the label of extremist, King refers to the actions and teachings of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul, and Christian writer John Bunyan who made similar “extreme” responses based on their love for God and humanity.

By the end of the epistle, what becomes clear is that the reader would not be able to understand it entirely unless they have a distinct idea of how informed King’s thinking and writing is by his Christian background. King’s thought is rooted in the Judeo-Christian understanding of natural law and the human person. To not be able to recognize this connection is to not entirely understand Martin Luther King Jr. and his actions.

Based on this quick example, it becomes clear that learning about religious perspectives and faith traditions is essential to education. If students are ignorant of religious perspectives, they will only have a superficial understanding of cultures, including their own. Historically, religious traditions are the root of cultures as Christopher Dawson, 20th-century world historian, stated in text Progress & Religion: An Historical Inquiry: “It is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies society and culture.” (1) Moreover, Alasdair MacIntyre, philosopher, compares the knowledge of a culture’s religious traditions to an understanding of a culture’s language: “Learning its language and being initiated into their community’s tradition or traditions [including religious] is one and the same initiation.” (2)

If you want to learn more about religious literacy, you can read or follow my blog at Religion Matters.

(1) Christopher Dawson, Progress and Religion (Princeton: Doubleday Image, 1929), 167.

(2) Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 382.

Posted On 10 Dec 2020 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D., Founder and Lead Consultant

In previous blogs, I detailed ways that educators could teach about religious literacy in the classroom where appropriate following a sound framework. This six-point framework comes from the Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the U.S. published by the American Academy of Religion and the Religious Freedom Center of The Freedom Forum Institute. With this framework, teachers can integrate the study of religion into the classroom while avoiding generalizations and oversimplification. Finally, I provided four excellent reasons for the incorporation of religion in schools, including civic, constitutional, educational, and global reasons.

With all of the tough questions answered, why do teachers still hesitate to incorporate religion into the curriculum where appropriate and needed? What keeps educators ignoring the place of religion in the classroom?

With religion in the classroom, educators have made certain assumptions or expressed concerns that have slowed its entry into the 21st century globally connected classroom. These assumptions come Warren Nord‘s seminal text, Religion & American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma. And from my experience as an educator, these assumptions are valid.

Assumption 1: Sacred and secular (meaning not religious) can be divided readily, and most of the world can be understood in purely secular terms.

Response: The separation of secular and sacred is still very contested. This is evident in the many political perspectives that are based on religious grounds. Historically, most religions connect secular and sacred with everyday life. So this assumption is not at all accurate.

Assumption 2: Secular ways of knowledge are neutral; as a result, secular education is unbiased.

Response: The assumptions, methods, and conclusions of most secular scholarship since the Enlightenment (17th & 18th c.) have not been neutral to religion but explicitly hostile to it. This theme varies across religions, but the generalization holds. One quick example can be taken from a quote by Voltaire (1694-1778), who epitomizes the spirit of the Enlightenment and secularity who said, “Religion began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.”

Assumption 3: Reason and logic are associated with secular ways of thinking. Religion is based on irrational ways of thinking or as Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) once wrote by the “virtue of the absurd.”

Response: Indeed, religion sometimes relies on faith. But it has very often used reason and scholarship. Also, modern science cannot claim to be objective, only ruled by disinterested reason. Like religion, it can reflect ideology, power, relationships, and faith, becoming as doctrinal as religion.

To add to these assumptions, teachers have specific concerns which I have condensed from an excellent article in Social Studies Research and Practice by Sarah B. Brooks, Millersville University. Again, with my experience as an educator, I can confirm these concerns. (1)

Concern 1: Teachers are concerned about insufficient knowledge of the religious spectrum. Many educators struggle to identify basic religious facts, such as critical leaders, sacred texts, or events. This lack of content knowledge includes their religious affiliation.

Response: Just a modest amount of Professional Development (PD) on teaching the content of religions can help with knowledge and skill base.

Concern 2: Teachers are concerned about teaching without bias towards any religion.

Response: Some teacher PD focused on the six-point framework of teaching about religion helps to proactively address concerns of students and families on the legality and appropriateness of education about religion.

Concern 3: Teachers are concerned about offending students or families who adhere to a religion.

Response: Again, PD applying the six-point framework goes a long way in these preventable offensives.

So to conclude, teachers need to be aware that the assumptions of the past about religion are not correct. Also, educator concerns can be alleviated with some pre-service education or in-service PD focused on the content of religions and a constitutionally sound framework to bring that content into the classroom.

(1) Sarah Brooks, “Secondary teacher candidates’ experiences teaching about religion within a history curriculum

Selected source: Warren Nord, Religion & American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma.

 

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Posted On 13 Nov 2020 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D. Founder and Lead Consultant

In previous blogs, I have detailed some of the reasons for religious literacy in the classroom. These have included philosophical arguments like the civic, constitutional, liberal education, and global competence arguments. But there are also some practical reasons, as Kimberly Keiserman from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding notes:

  1. Classrooms are becoming more diverse
  2. Religion continuously plays a role in current events
  3. Religion can be the basis for prejudice, hate crimes, and bullying. [1]

Thus, it becomes increasingly more critical to teach religious literacy earlier in a student’s school career. But how should an educator approach religion in the K-5 classroom?

First, a teacher should be familiar with some guidelines. From The First Amendment Center text, A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools, these include:

  • 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 evangelizing 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 students on the diversity of religious views and not impose 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 represent the 1.8 billion other Muslims.)
  • Teachers should only inform about beliefs, but they should not seek to make students believe. [2]

Keiserman adds a few other helpful guidelines from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. These additions include:

  1. Create a safe, respectful, and inclusive classroom through civil dialogue. (You can read more on civil dialogue in my previous blog.)
  2. Allow children to explore their own identities.
  3. Compare the commonalities among faith traditions.
  4. Communicate with parents on intentions
  5. Incorporate religious literacy into existing curriculum. [1]

This last point is especially crucial in the K-5 classroom in which much content is being taught. Thus, an educator can address this challenge to teaching religious literacy through literature in the classroom. Reading stories that incorporate faith traditions provide an opportunity for students to learn about religions as “lived religions.” As Leonard Norman Primiano Professor and Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Cabrini College stated, lived religions are “lived, as human beings encounter, understand, interpret, and practice it.” This contrasts with the typical method of learning about static religions, embedded in the past, and thus out of context for students. Through stories and the lived religion model, religions come to life in the classroom for young readers, allowing them to become acquainted with religious beliefs and traditions’ diversity and flexibility. Even with the non-fiction books on religion for K-5 readers, there is a focus on connecting the reader to the real-world. This also contributes to the lived religion approach, which helps students fully participate in a civic life filled with diversity. 

Below are three short religious literacy text sets sorted by grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5. These can be used in the classroom to engage students in understanding lived religions. Please note that teachers should carefully read and review texts before using them in the classroom to ensure alignment with curricular goals. Also, if an educator is not entirely familiar with a faith tradition, use the Religion Matters educator resources page to find out more.

Grades K-1

Bullard, Lisa, and Holli Conger. My Religion, Your Religion. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2015. This book provides a multi-perspective story on four major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.

Coombs, Kate, and Anna Emilia Laitinen. Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2017. This book showcases mindfulness poems for young readers.

Polacco, Patricia. Mrs. Katz and Tush. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books, 2009. Larnel gets to know Mrs. Katz and her Jewish heritage as an immigrant from Poland.

Rylant, Cynthia. Creation. New York, NY: Beach Lane Books, 2016. This book tells the story of creation from a Judeo-Christian perspective.

Verde, Susan, and Peter H. Reynolds. I Am Human: A Book of Empathy. New York, NY: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018. This humanistic story is about making good choices and finding common ground.

Wilson, Anne. Noah’s Ark. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2002. This book retells the story of Noah and the flood.

Grades 2-3

Bauer, Marion Dane, and Ekua Holmes. The Stuff of Stars. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018. This story details the wonder of every child who made from stardust. It isn’t religion specific but about awe and wonderment. 

Das, Prodeepta. A Day I Remember: An Indian Wedding. London, England: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2014. This book documents a Hindu wedding through colorful photographs.

Hoffman, Mary, and Karin Littlewood. The Color of Home. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002. Young Hassan arrives in the United States from Somalia and paints a picture at school of his homeland.

Khan, Hena, and Julie Paschkis. Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2018. This book tells the story of Yasmeen and her family and friends celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

McDermott, Gerald. Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti. New York, NY: Square Fish, 2011. This book tells an Ashanti tale of Anansi, his arduous journey, and decision.

Muth, Jon J. The Three Questions: Based on a Story by Leo Tolstoy. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2002. A Leo Tolstoy story about Nikolai asking three very important questions in life. What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?

Seattle, Chief, and Susan Jeffers. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle. Boston, MA: National Braille Press, 1995. Chief Seattle describes his people’s utmost respect and concern for the earth.

Grades 4-5

Ajmera, Maya, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon. Faith. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2009. Photographs document how children around the world celebrate their faith traditions.

Bortzer, Etan, and Robbie Marantz. What Is God? Willowdale, ON: Firefly Juvenile, 2002. This text provides a comparative introduction in text and colorful pictures to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and their sacred texts.

Buller, Laura. A Faith Like Mine: A Celebration of the World’s Religions – Seen through the Eyes of Children. London, England: DK Publication, 2006. A comprehensive informational text provides plenty of pictures that detail the major and even some of the world’s more minor faith traditions.

Demi. Confucius: Great Teacher of China. New York, NY: Shen’s Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2018. A short biography of Confucius details his life and some of his essential teachings.

George, Charles. What Makes Me Amish? Farmington Mills, MI: Kidhaven Press, 2004. This text discusses the origins, beliefs, praxis, and celebrations of the Amish.

_____________. What Makes Me a Buddhist? Farmington Mills, MI: Kidhaven Press, 2005. This text discusses the origins, beliefs, praxis, and celebrations of Buddhist faith tradition.

_____________. What Makes Me a Hindu? Farmington Mills, MI: Kidhaven Press, 2004. This text discusses the origins, beliefs, praxis, and celebrations of Hindu faith tradition. Teachers should note that this text incorrectly represents Hinduism as polytheistic.

_____________. What Makes Me a Mormon? San Diego, CA: KidHaven Press, 2005. This text provides core beliefs, rituals, holidays, and challenges to Mormonism.

Glossop, Jennifer, and John Mantha. The Kids Book of World Religions. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2013. An informative text details the major faith traditions of the world.

Goble, Paul. Song of Creation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2004. Adapted from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, this story invites readers to see God in creation.

Hamilton, Virginia, and Barry Moser. In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988. Stories about the origins of life from around the world. 

Marsico, Katie. Buddhism. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2017. This text, which is part of the Global Citizens: World Religions series, describes Buddhism through text and pictures.

­­­­­­___________. Christianity. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2017. This text, which is part of the Global Citizens: World Religions series, describes Christianity through text and pictures.

___________. Hinduism. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2017. This text, which is part of the Global Citizens: World Religions series, describes Hinduism through text and pictures. Teachers should note that this text incorrectly represents Hinduism as polytheistic. Read more from on this challenge guest blogger Sabrina D. MisirHiralall, Ph.D.

___________. Islam. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2017. This text, which is part of the Global Citizens: World Religions series, describes Islam through text and pictures.

___________. Judaism. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2017. This text, which is part of the Global Citizens: World Religions series, describes Judaism through text and pictures.

___________. Sikhism. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2017. This text, which is part of the Global Citizens: World Religions series, describes Sikhism through text and pictures.

McDermott, Gerald. Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale. New York, NY: Viking Press, 2002. An adaptation of the Pueblo Native American myth explains how the Spirit of the Sun was brought into the world.

Osborne, Mary Pope. One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship. New York, NY: Knopf, 1996. A non-fiction story uses photographs to detail seven major faith traditions today.

Patel, Sanjay. Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group, 2006. Pixar animator and director Sanjay Patel describes Hinduism’s most important gods and goddesses with full-color illustrations and profiles. Teachers should note that this text incorrectly represents Hinduism as polytheistic. Read more from on this challenge guest blogger Sabrina D. MisirHiralall, Ph.D.

Polacco, Patricia. The Trees of the Dancing Goats. New York, NY: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2011. Jewish and Christian families work together to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas.

__________. Christmas Tapestry. New York, NY: Philomel Books, 2002. This touching story is about two families and two faiths (Christian and Jewish) during the holiday season.

Woog, Adam. What Makes Me a Protestant? San Diego, CA: KidHaven Press, 2005. This text provides core beliefs, rituals, holidays, and challenges to Protestant Christian traditions.

 

[1] The First Amendment CenterA Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools

[2]  Kimberly Keiserman, “Chapter 20: Teaching about Religion in the Elementary Classroom,” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.

Posted On 9 Oct 2020 by religionmatters

Guest Blogger: Sabrina D. MisirHiralall, Ph.D.

In my book, Confronting Orientalism: A Self-Study of Educating Through Hindu Dance, I point to the different pedagogical spaces that I teach in and the pedagogy that I employ while in each space.  When I teach in the pedagogical space of the classroom, I regularly encounter students who have misconceptions of Hinduism. 

First, students often misunderstand Hindu metaphysics.  They frequently point to Hinduism as a polytheistic religion, but this is not the case.  Hinduism is a monotheistic religion that believes in One Supreme Being who manifests in many different forms, at many different times, and for many different purposes.  Hindu scriptures refer to the Supreme Being as One.  I tell my students to think of the many different names and roles that they have.  For example, one person might be a student, a mom, a sister, a wife, a friend, an employee, and so forth.  Even though this person has different roles and perhaps various nicknames while in each of these roles, this person is still the same individual.  Likewise, One Supreme Being has many names and several roles according to Hinduism.  This does not mean that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion.  As I said, Hindu scriptures state that the Supreme Being is One. 

Second, students repeatedly have a difficult time understanding religious epistemology from a Hindu perspective.  My students read Chapter Five: Religious Epistemology With a Focus on the Ramayana from my abovementioned book that discusses the Ramayana as a part of Hindu history.  Students often read a very watered down, skeleton of a skeleton version of the Ramayana in Hinduism courses and Eastern religion courses.  However, the Ramayana is thousands of pages long.  Furthermore, students question how the fantasy-like characters of the Ramayana, such as Shri Hanumanji, could be historical and not mythological.  In my book, I discuss this in depth as I share archaeological evidence.  However, my goal in the chapter was not to prove the Ramayana as history.  For Hindus, faith is all the necessary proof that one needs.

Some versions of the Ramayana misrepresent Hinduism either in the text or the title.  For example, Ramayana: Divine Loophole (Hindu Mythology Books, Books on Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Indian Books for Kids) points to Gods and Goddesses, which misrepresents Hinduism.  These phrases should not be used lightly without acknowledging the complexity of Hindu metaphysics.  Hinduism is a monotheistic religion according to Hindu scriptures.  The title of this version of the Ramayana is an example of a misrepresentation of Hinduism as polytheistic.  Evidently, the title disregards the complexity of Hindu metaphysics.  The media regularly employs a Western, Orientalized framework when discussing Hinduism.  I illustrate how to return to a de-Orientalized framework in my abovementioned text. 

The Life of Pi likewise misrepresents Hinduism as polytheistic – at least the film does.  These media sources promote the problem of Orientalism, as Edward Said acknowledges when he discusses how the West develops misrepresentations of the East based on what the West wants the East to be. 

Individuals who wish to learn about Hinduism should study primary scriptures of Hinduism because there are many Western and now Eastern resources that are tainted with Orientalism, and thus, misrepresent Hinduism.  For instance, the Shri Ramacharitamanas by Tulasīdās, G. & Prasad, R. C. (1991) serve as a primary source.  One must read this text critically to understand Hindu metaphysics and ethics.  For instance, although the text may mention “Gods” it does so in a manner that refers to manifestations of the Supreme Being.  A verse from the text clearly portrays Hinduism as monotheistic.

“Eka Aniiha Aruupa Anaamaa

Aja Saccidaanamda Paradhaamaa

Byaapaka Bisvaruupa Bhagavaanaa

Tehim Dhari Deha Carita Krta Naanaa

God, who is One, desireless, formless, nameless and unborn, who is Truth,

Consciousness and Bliss, who is Spirit Supreme, all-pervading, universal, has

become incarnate and performed many deeds. (Tulasīdāsa & Prasad, 1991, p. 13).”

Thus, one who does not read this text carefully may still misinterpret and misportray Hinduism.  For this reason, Hindus usually read this text with a respected Guruji (spiritual teacher for a lack of a better phrase) to help them to understand the text critically.

To continue, as a faith-based Hindu and Kuchipudi dancer, my research on Hinduism develops from my lived-experience as a Hindu.  Those who read my book will understand the challenges that I encounter in higher education as I teach about Hinduism.  I also convey how I confront the pedagogical issues that arise in my text.  I share my dances on my YouTube channel to supplement my book.  My dances are not meant as entertainment but rather serve a pedagogical purpose to educate about Hinduism through Hindu dance.

I ask educators to please teach Hinduism with caution and attention to ensure that Orientalism does not occur and misrepresentations of Hinduism do not develop.  Hinduism is often taught on the surface through a textbook from educators who do not know or understand the religion.  It is unfortunate that this habitually adds to the Orientalizing legacy.  Those who teach about Hinduism should do so from a de-Orientalized pedagogical stance that deals with the issues of Orientalism.  Educators may contact me at MisirHiralall.S@gmail.com for suggestions of resources or to discuss this further. 

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, the University of South Carolina Aiken, 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 17 Sep 2020 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, PhD Founder and Lead Consultant

In previous blogs, I examined the six-point framework in teaching about religion in the classroom. This framework provides a strong foundation in which to approach the topic of religion in the classroom. I also added a pedagogical method of teaching about religion: the lived religion model. This model exhibits the diversity and flexibility of religious beliefs and traditions. Graphic novels, in particular, bring this lived religion model to life so to speak. 

Many educators use graphic novels in the English and Social Studies classrooms to engage students in reading literacy. They also can be used very effectively to benefit student religious literacy. The powerful and eye-catching stories found in graphic novels appeal to students while also successfully demonstrating lived religious traditions. Below is a shortlist of graphic novels that can be used in the classroom to engage students in understanding lived religions. Also, below are some academic works on religion in graphic novels/comics and the graphic novel’s pedagogy in the classroom. Finally, I have provided a simple graphic organizer based on the six-point framework for understanding religion developed by Benjamin Marcus. [1] Students can complete the organizer when reading graphic novels to help build a fuller understanding of lived religions. The graphic organizer also aligns with standards from the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework: Religious Studies Companion Document. These include the following: D2.Rel.2.9-12, D2.Rel.3.9-12, D2.Rel.4.9-12, D2.Rel.5.9-12, D2.Rel.6.9-12, D2.Rel.7.9-12, D2.Rel.8.9-12, and D2.Rel.9.9-12. Please note that teachers should carefully read and review graphic novels before using them in the classroom. Some graphic novels may not be appropriate for all students. For example, Ms. Marvel may be suitable for most middle school classrooms, while Habibi may only be appropriate for college classrooms. 

Graphic Novels

  • Delisle, Guy, and Lucie Firoud. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. Montreal, ON: Drawn & Quarterly, 2012.
    • Delisle and Firoud explore the complexity of contemporary everyday Jerusalem from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian perspectives.
  • Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2003.
    • Persepolis is a coming of age story of Marjane Satrapi who was raised in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution and Iran-Iraq War.
  • Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2011.
    • Maus is a classic. The graphic novel focuses on a son’s pursuit in understanding his father’s experience of the Holocaust as a Polish Jew. What makes the graphic novel stand out is the author’s use of animals in depicting Jews, Germans, and Poles.
  • Thompson, Craig. Habibi. New York, NY: Random House, 2011.
    • Habibi details the story of refugee child slaves, Dodola and Zam while also contextualizing the culture of Christianity and Islam found in the modern Middle East.
  • _________. Blankets: A Graphic Novel. Montreal, ON: Drawn & Quarterly, 2016.
    • This semiautobiographical graphic novel explores the tensions in Christianity associated with new love relationships as a young adult.
  • Wilson, G. Willow, and Adrian Alphona. Ms. Marvel: No Normal. New York, NY: Marvel, 2014.
    • Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim girl from New Jersey, is the new Ms. Marvel in this reboot of a classic Marvel character. 
  • Yang, Gene Luen, and Lark Pien. Saints Volume 2. New York, NY: First Second, 2013.
    • Saints follows Vibiana who will have to decide on her loyalties – country or faith – in midst of the Boxer Rebellion in 1898 China. In this struggle, she eerily dialogues with the ghost of Joan of Arc.

Academic Works on Graphic Novels

Lived Religion Graphic Organizer

 

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

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Posted On 28 Aug 2020 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, PhD Founder and Lead Consultant

In previous blogs, I provided reasons and frameworks for teaching about religion in the classroom. The six-point framework, in particular, provides a strong foundation in which an educator can approach the topic of religion. Also, I sketched out civil dialogue as a pedagogical tool to use in discussing religion in the classroom. In this blog, I will add another pedagogical method of teaching about religion: the lived religion model.

In the past, there has been one way of teaching about religion or religious studies in the classroom. This approach is the world religions model. In general, it has the following elements. First, it typically only addresses the “big” six religious traditions. In no particular order, these are Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Each of the major religious traditions is defined by core doctrines or beliefs, life history of the founder(s), geographic origin and spread, selections from the significant sacred text(s), ritual practices, and major holidays. For example, students would be taught about Islam through a biographical study of Muhammed, a description of the Five Pillars, the rapid growth out of Saudi Arabia into North Africa and the Middle East, a few brief selections from the Quran, details of rituals in a mosque and customs surrounding Ramadan. For another example, students would be taught about Christianity through a biographical study of Jesus Christ, a description of the beatitudes, the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire, a few reading selections from the gospels and acts of the apostles, rituals associated with the early Church, and the holidays of Christmas and Easter. 

The problem with the world religions model is that it is typically static, embedded in the past, and thus out of context for deep student understanding. For students to fully participate in civic life filled with religious diversity, they need to understand the diversity and flexibility of religious beliefs and traditions. To gain this understanding, educators should use the lived religion model. This approach, used by Henry Goldschmidt of Interfaith Center of New York, takes religion out of “the rarified realm of doctrine and text and places it instead within the give-and-take of a multicultural public sphere.” (1) Using the 3Bs which I have detailed in a past blog, students will understand the uniquely embedded beliefs, behaviors, and belonging of religious tradition. Whereas the world religions model is focused mostly on beliefs and behaviors at a fixed point in time, the lived religion model takes into account the religion within its current context. As a reminder, the 3Bs are framed as follows:

  • Beliefs: Religions are diverse and not internally homogenous. Internal diversity challenges prevailing stereotypes and prejudices by deconstructing crude generalizations.
  • Behavior: Religions are dynamic and changing, not static and fixed. There are multiple perspectives of a religious tradition intertwined in the period of time in which they occupy. This perspective assures a multiplication of views per legal guidelines when teaching about religion. 
  • Belonging: Religions are embedded in the culture, not isolated from it. Public and private spheres are in constant contact, not separated. This perspective avoids promoting non-religion over religion, which is needed legally when teaching about religion. (2)

For Goldschmidt, there is no better way in which to demonstrate lived religion and the 3Bs but through literature—although an educator should not look toward only one source of literature but develop a range of literary texts and also films. The Religious Worlds of New York institute, a collaborative project of the Interfaith Center of New York and Union Theological Seminary, has a great teacher resources page for those who are looking for a place to begin. Regardless of the literature and films selected, students must understand that no representation of religion is perfect. Faith traditions are living and breathing. As such, they are dynamic and changing with the culture in which they are embedded. For students, this critical perspective will help faith traditions become more real and rooted in a more profound human experience.

(1) Henry Goldschmidt, “Chapter 7: Teaching Lived Religion Through Literature: Classroom Strategies for Community-Based Learning” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.

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

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Posted On 13 Jun 2020 by religionmatters

Use of the Bible in public education can beg questions and promote educator anxiety? Can and should educators teach about the Bible in the classroom? What would be the pedagogical approach? Can schools have an elective class focused on the Bible? What would the benefits of a course focused on the Bible be? The purpose of this blog is to answer these questions, which can cause many challenges and controversies. 

To begin, I will answer the most simple questions first. Can the Bible be used in the classroom? Can an elective class be taught about the Bible? In short, yes. As Justice Clark stated in the majority opinion in landmark First Amendment case, Abington Township School District v. Schempp (1963), an education “is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historical qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.” Of course, this does not mean that teaching about the Bible in the classroom has not been without controversy. Most recently, The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a case challenging the constitutionality of a Bible course in Mercer County, West Virginia. In the end, the school system suspended the Bible in the Schools program for the 2017-2018 school year, offering a new elective class to high school and middle schools. The new course called “The Bible and Its Influence” teaches about the Bible’s literary and historical significance. 

The controversy surrounding the Bible in schools can be avoided through the educational approach in the classroom. The Freedom Forum’s Religious Freedom Center provides guidelines in its A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools. These objective and academic guidelines include: 

  • 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 view, 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 specific tradition of faith 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]

But there are additional guidelines for the Bible in schools for educators who want more specifics. These can be found in the following documents:

There is also a textbook which has been extensively vetted for its constitutionality entitled, The Bible and Its Influence published by The Biblical Literacy Project, which provides excellent guidelines about teaching the Bible in the classroom. 

So an educator has the tools to teach about the Bible in the classroom. What are the benefits of student knowledge of the Bible? What is the educational payoff? To differing degrees, the Bible is a foundational source document of the Abrahamic religions, which include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These religious traditions make up a little over half of the world’s population. So an understanding of the Bible provides some insight into half of the world’s population. Additionally, if students learn about the diversity of belief and interpretation associated with the Bible within those traditions, it supports the Asia Society’s model of Global Competence. In this case with this type of teaching and learning, “students recognize that they have a particular perspective and that others may or may not share it.” [2] For the success of our students in the globalized world of the 21st century, this will be essential. 

[1] First Amendment: A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools

[2] Asia Society: Center for Global Education

General source: Mark A. Chancey, “Ch 12: Teaching about the Bible in a Social Studies Context,” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.

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Posted On 21 May 2020 by religionmatters

What is religious literacy? What does it mean to be religiously literate? In past blogs, I have specific reasons why an understanding of religion is vital to students of the 21st century. I provide a sound framework for educators to teach about religion in the classroom. But, I haven’t defined the end goal for religion in education, which is religious literacy. 

The American Academy of Religion has adopted a very exact definition of religious literacy. It should be used by educators to understand the end goal of teaching about religion in the classroom. 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.” [1]

Most important to this definition is the understanding of religion in a cultural context. This understanding draws on the framework that I detailed in an earlier blog summarized below.

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

Sadly, many current approaches to teaching about religion in the classroom are 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. 

Rachel Rueckert, a member of the HarvardX World Religions Through Their Scriptures courseprovides five easy steps to build your religious literacy in which 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. [2]
  6. Work to defend religious freedom for all faith traditions around the world

These steps should be aspirational for all people, and they start with teaching about religion in the classroom. 

Posted On 23 Apr 2020 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D., Founder and Lead Consultant

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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Posted On 29 Mar 2020 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, PhD, Founder and Lead Consultant

In education, there is a fear of bringing religion into the classroom. This fear founded on a misunderstanding of the application of the First Amendment has a huge potential negative impact on students growing up in the globalized twenty-first century. But why is there a misunderstanding? And why should we care?

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Many in public education have interpreted the First Amendment to mean that religion should not be taught in the classroom. But this is not the case at all. As Justice Clark stated in the majority opinion in landmark First Amendment case, Abington Township School District v. Schempp (1963), an education “is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historical qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

Then, students need to learn about religion in the classroom. Knowledge of other faith traditions helps to eliminate prejudice, hate, and intolerance. Students who have a better understanding of religion and its importance to societies will be preparing to thrive in a global community. Therefore, teachers shouldn’t run from the topic of religion; instead, they should embrace it. The better students understand the importance of religion to culture, the better equipped they will be to face and form our globalized future.

But we can go deeper into the reasons that religion should be incorporated into the classrooms in America. These deeper 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 curricula 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.

Regardless, whenever reasons for religion in schools are offered, it is common to hear a chorus of “Yes, but…” from anxious teachers and administrators. Yet, if we are working toward a world with better understanding, our students must conceive the dimensions of religion in it.

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

FourDomainsDiagram_2016_copyrighted

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