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 21 May 2021 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D.

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] (AAR Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools)

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 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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Posted On 5 Apr 2021 by religionmatters

Social media today is often used for a variety of purposes.  In particular, Facebook provides an opportunity for academics to engage in public intellectualism.  On Friday, April 9, 2021, Dr. Christopher Fici, Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall, and Dr. Tim Hall will present on a panel for the Northeast Regions of the American Academy of Religion on a panel entitled Facebook as a Venue for Public Intellectualism.  With this topic in mind, Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall provides a foundation for using Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism in this guest blog. 

A Foundation for Facebook as a Venue for Public Intellectualism

Guest Blogger: Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall

In 2018, Dr. Chistopher Fici, Dr. Jerry Vigna, and I edited the text Religious Studies Scholars as Public Intellectuals, which is published with the Routledge in Religion Series. As the lead editor, I developed the vision for the text to center on the Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Academy of Religion’s 2017 conference theme about public intellectualism.  In my Presidential Address that year, I spoke exclusively about religious studies scholars as public intellectuals who teach in a variety of pedagogical spaces, which was the focus of the abovementioned text.

My colleague, Dr. Christopher Fici and I continue to explore how we engage in public intellectualism as religious studies scholars specifically through Facebook.  We center attention on how we envision employing Facebook as an educational tool for research and teaching.  Before we continue our journey as public intellectuals on Facebook, I will specifically center attention on a foundation for the usage of Facebook in a manner that creates a space for public intellectualism.  To begin with, it is crucial to share a foundation for Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism.  Individuals should understand the purpose of posts, how to use tags appropriately, and engage in suitable commenting.  Following this, I will relate how I envision my usage of Facebook as an academic scholar who works in the intersecting fields of philosophy, religion, and education.

Basic Facebook Tools

Development of Posts

According to Facebook, the mission of Facebook “is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” (Facebook, 2019).

Individuals who develop posts on Facebook should create posts that will build a safe community.  Posts must not spread hate or target individuals.  When immoral activities occur in the world, posts may share the vices to raise awareness of the immorality.  People may choose to pray for the Supreme Being to guide immoral individuals towards morality instead of endorsing the hatred of these individuals.  Generally, people should not use Facebook posts to create animosity towards individuals or groups of people.

For instance, I see several posts from individuals who promote anti-education sentiments by discouraging scholars from pursuing a higher education degree or being proud of their degree.  Perhaps this is because some people feel academics are full of ego, which is frequently not the actual case.  At any rate, while we should not push a college for all norm and vocational jobs are just as important, people should not condemn those who pursue higher education.  Comments such as “A degree does not matter,” is insulting to academics who have pursued higher education.  Currently, I see an anti-PhD movement on Facebook that shows a lack of respect for academics and the journey that academics have endured.  Being an academic is a part of the identity of many academic scholars because their identities intertwine.  In other words, being an academic often does not consist of merely working a “job.”  Usually, for an academic, a path in academia is a way of life that blends a personal and professional identity.  Thus, targeting academics through posts based on their identity creates a community of hatred towards academics and a lack of harmony for the overall community.

Using Tags Appropriately

Too often, I see that individuals tag fifty plus people on a post.  Sometimes, the reasons are clear for the tags.  For example, an individual who creates a death announcement post may tag a number of family members.  Likewise, if an individual requests people to pray for a loved one who is ill, the individual may tag a majority of close family members and friends.  If a post mentions other individuals, then the author of the post may tag the other individuals. However, sometimes, it is unclear why some people tag fifty plus people on a post.  On the one hand, it seems that some people simply wish to use family and Facebook friends for popularity and fame.  On the other hand, some individuals tag fifty plus people when they know that those individuals will certainly wish to share the developed post.  For instance, people who are a part of a particular group, such as a mandir (Hindu temple) may tag several members of the group because they evidently have a strong, common interest.  If you tag someone, your post will appear on that individual’s profile, which means that the individual’s Facebook friends will see your post.  Thus, one must ask what is the purpose of having your post appear on someone else’s profile?

There is a way to avoid being tagged on another individual’s post without your permission.  Facebook provides you with the chance to review tags.  First, click the drop-down arrow in the top right corner when logged into Facebook.  Go to settings and privacy.  Click on settings.  Click on timeline and tagging.  Click on review tags people add.  Click edit.  Click enabled.  You will then receive a notification if someone tags you in a post.  You can either accept or dismiss the tag.

Appropriate Commenting

The commenting tool on Facebook provides the chance to engage with a post.  While personal posts, such as posts about birthdays or anniversaries, may warrant a simple “Happy birthday” or “Happy anniversary” response, other posts may provoke one to move deep into critical thought.

When an individual offers comments on Facebook, the individual should aim to create a safe, non-combative, non-threatening, inclusive space.  Sadly, I observe passive-aggressive comments that praise an individual or a group of individuals while putting down another individual or another group of individuals.  There is no need to judge others while praising someone else.  For example, someone posts an inspirational quote.  Another person offers a comment such as, “This is inspiring.  Some people will never understand or get this.”  That comment is passive-aggressive.  It praises the author for being inspirational but also puts down a group of people for essentially lacking the intelligence to understand.  It almost makes the commenter seem full of an ego that views the self as superior to others because of the so-called knowledge that the commenter has.  The commenter may not even realize that this is passive-aggressive commenting.  Nevertheless, it is crucial to draw attention to comments such as these because these kinds of comments create a combative, unwelcoming space.

Here is another example that I observed in the Hindu community.  Hindus on Facebook often attend virtual satsanghs (religious gatherings) hosted by a variety of pandits.  As I write in my book, Confronting Orientalism: A Self-Study of Educating Through Hindu Dance, the term pandit is problematic to translate.  A pandit is similar to a priest, minister, or pastor but yet none of these terms adequately describe a pandit.  Essentially, a pandit is a religious leader in Hinduism who officiates pujas (religious worship) and guides devotees through spiritual counsel.  I once saw a passive-aggressive comment from an individual demeaning pandits by accusing the majority of pandits of using Facebook for popularity because the pandits encourage devotees to share the virtual satsangh posts, especially during Livestreams.  In many cases, hundreds and thousands of devotees attend the virtual satsanghs that these pandits lead during Livestreams.  However, here sharing is not for popularity or fame in most of these cases.  On the contrary, during the virtual satsanghs, many of which I attend, pandits encourage virtual devotees to share the virtual satsangh posts that occur during a Livestream so that other devotees will be aware of the virtual satsangh and will join in the service for the purpose of receiving the darsan of the Supreme Being.  Darsan is a Sanskrit term that essentially means to attain a glimpse of the Supreme Being.  Knowing the pandits of the virtual satsanghs that I attend, I can say that I do not believe that they use Facebook as a tool for mere fame.  On the contrary, the life of a pandit necessitates a life of devotion and usually aims to share that devotion with the public to guide individuals towards moksha (liberation) upon death.  Moreover, many of these pandits express concern for their devotees because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many mandirs (temples) to remain closed to the public or open with a limited capacity.  Devotees frequently yearn to attend mandirs to engage in worship to the Supreme Being.  Some devotees may endure severe depression because of their inability to attend mandir.  Thus, pandits who reach a wide audience provide devotees with an opportunity to move away from depression and instead towards communal worship in a virtual, Livestream satsangh.

The point is that individuals should not use commenting passive-aggressively to scold an individual or a group of individuals.  Commenters should not use comments to judge others when commenters do not know with absolute certainty what someone’s motives or intentions are.  On the contrary, commenting should provide a safe, non-combative space that unwelcomes passive-aggressive behavior, which may eventually lead to cyber-bullying.  Those who receive passive-aggressive comments on their posts should consider removing the passive-aggressive comments because they create an unsafe, unwelcoming, combative environment that could eventually cause cyberbullying to occur.

To delete a passive-aggressive comment from your post, go to the comment.  If you are using a desktop device, click on the three dots that appear on the right of the comment.  Click delete from the menu.  From a mobile device, press on the passive-aggressive comment.  A menu will appear with the option to delete.

My Vison for Facebook

As an academic scholar, I aim to create a safe, non-combative space that builds community as I use Facebook.  This must be a respectful space where people feel welcomed and accepted as a part of the community.  I envision using Facebook as an academic space where I share my scholarly work as academic resources and also learn from the scholarly work that my friends, colleagues, and other academics share.

Overall, individuals use Facebook in a variety of ways.  Therefore, one should think about the following questions from a personal stance.

  • What is the purpose of using Facebook?
  • How should one develop posts?
  • What are the appropriate ways to use tags?
  • How should one engage in appropriate commenting?
  • How could one maximize the usage of Facebook in a manner that promotes a community of love and respect as opposed to a community of hatred and animosity?
  • How could one confront or deal with passive-aggressive behavior from others on Facebook?

My goal was to provide a basic foundation to consider when thinking of Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism.  I ask individuals to pay attention to how they use basic Facebook tools and how others use basic Facebook tools.  I request individuals to maintain an awareness if they see posts that build a community of hatred, or passive-aggressive comments.  Remove yourself from being tagged in these types of posts.  Delete passive-aggressive comments from your Facebook page.  Instead of condoning behaviors like this, let us work together to build a Facebook community of love and respect as we work towards harmonious relations.  This will help to provide a basic foundation to employ Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism that promotes a community of love.

With this basic foundational knowledge of Facebook in mind, Dr. Christopher Fici, Dr. Tim Hall, and I will engage in a discussion on how to use Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism when we present for the Northeast Regions of the American Academy of Religion.  We strive to promote a Facebook community that provides a safe, non-combative space for all individuals who aspire to employ Facebook as an educational tool.

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 24 Feb 2021 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D.

In my past blogs, I detailed the guidelines found in A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools, written and edited by Charles Haynes, which an educator should follow to bring religion into the classroom. These guidelines are as follows:

  • Teachers should be academic, not devotional in their treatment of all religions. 
  • Teachers should only teach for awareness of religions, not an acceptance of faith.
  • Teachers should not promote OR denigrate religions.
  • Teachers should only inform about beliefs.
  • Teachers should only teach about religion, not the practice religion.
  • Teachers should educate for student understanding of the diversity of religious views. (1)

To put these guidelines in practice, we will add a constitutionally sound framework for teachers to access readily. This six-point framework comes from two sources. Points one through three come from Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the U.S. published by the American Academy of Religion, while points four through six are based on the work of Benjamin Marcus of the Religious Freedom Center of The Freedom Forum Institute. Using this framework, teachers can successfully integrate the study of religion across curricula or develop stand-alone religion courses that avoid generalization and oversimplification of the old religious traditions-based model. 

So the six-point framework can be defined as follows:

  • Point One: Religions are diverse and not internally homogenous. Internal diversity challenges prevailing stereotypes and prejudices by deconstructing crude generalizations
  • Point Two: 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. 
  • Point Three: Religions are embedded in the culture, not isolated from them. 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)

Points four through six are based on the 3Bs of The Religious Freedom Center of The Freedom Forum Institute. The 3Bs are behavior, belief, and belonging.

  • Point Four: Religious beliefs (theology and doctrine) affect the lives of people in a variety of ways in daily life. 
  • Point Five: Behaviors (rites, rituals, habits, and practices) affect belief and belonging to religious communities. 
  • Point Six: Belonging (communities of co-religionists) affect a person’s behaviors and beliefs. (3)

If an educator can convey the complexity of this interchange of beliefs, behaviors, and belonging that is both historically and culturally embedded, students will have insight into the uniqueness of religious identities. This is the “lived religion” model of teaching about religion defined as “religion as it is lived, as human beings encounter, understand, interpret, and practice it.”(4) As Henry Goldschmidt of Interfaith Center of New York states, the lived religion model 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.” (5) 

Thus using this six-point framework inclusive of the lived religion model, teachers can develop constitutionally sound lessons and curricula that uncover the importance of religion to global cultures. This is not only constitutionally sound but extremely valuable in developing students with a deeper understanding of religious literacy and diversity and higher levels of global competence. 

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

(2) American Academy of Religion, Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the U.S. published by the American Academy of Religion.

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

(4) Primiano, Leonard Norman. 1995. “Vernacular Religion and the Search for Method in Religious Folklife.” Western Folklore 54(1):37–56

(5) 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.

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Posted On 16 Jan 2021 by religionmatters

Tim Hall, Ph.D.

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.