Taking a Closer Look at Religions Around the World

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Objectives: 

  • Compare and contrast beliefs of religions and faith traditions;
  • Evaluate similarities and differences in belief systems and rituals;
  • Encourage research and utilize interactive and experiential activities, pair and group work, debates/dialogues, roundtables and forums with guest speakers;
  • Develop speaking, writing and critical-thinking skills, and
  • Construct knowledge and understanding of world religions.

Essential Questions: 

  • What is religion? What does religious practice mean to different people?
  • How is religion manifested in their daily lives of some people?
  • What effects do outward representation of religion and open expression of religious ritual have on members/non-members?
  • What attracts people to one religion or another?

This lesson includes activities and projects that are easily expanded upon through further research. It is designed to encourage continuous, in-depth study of these topics over a longer period of time.

Glossary

unprecedented |ˌənˈpresəˌdəntid|
(adjective) Never done or known before.

muftis |ˈməftē|
(noun) (pl. muftis) A Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious matters.

tenets |ˈtenit|
(noun) A principle or belief, esp. one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy

solidarity |ˌsäləˈde(ə)ritē|
(noun) Unity or agreement of feeling or action, esp. among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.

signatories |ˈsignəˌtôrē|
(noun) (pl. -ries) A party that has signed an agreement, esp. a country that has signed a treaty.

Resources

Classroom Activities and Projects
1. Write quickly for at least 10 minutes on the essential question: What is religion? After you’ve finished writing, share your responses with a small group. How were your answers similar? Different? Find an example of each: one you consider a religion and another that someone else or media considers a religion but you don’t. Create criteria for what constitutes a religion for your group. Collaboratively, prepare a paper or a presentation on a topic related to the essential question: What is religion?

2. Before you read “A Muslim Letter to Christians” by Emily Flynn Vencat, answer and discuss the question: Is a letter an effective method for bridging differences and recognizing similarities? Why or why not? Add a follow-up question: “When have you written a letter to help to create mutual understanding (i.e., harmony), tolerance or peace?” Form teams of six, with half of you being supporters and the other half being non-supporters of the effectiveness of a written dialogue. Briefly group with your side to share what you know of your position and develop a strategy for the debate. Research and prepare for the debate; but, instead of debating, switch sides and now become supporters of the opposing perspective/position. After your group shares what you already know of the other side’s perspective/position, come together as a group of six again in order to reach an agreement, a compromise. Write a brief summary of your experience in the process of seeing both sides and the outcome.

3. Read "A Muslim Letter to Christians” by Emily Flynn Vencat. While reading, circle any unfamiliar details or facts and underline any difficult vocabulary terms. Make notes in the margins of your reactions, feelings or thoughts in the margins. Also, using either a blank world map or the wall map, note where each of the places mentioned in the article are located. Pair up and work together to reach an understanding of the difficult terms and/or the unfamiliar details/places. Share your reactions. Reread and note at least two deeper or clearer understandings of the text, then share your knowledge with another pair.

4. What else could be done to reduce animosity between religions? What historical precedents exist to show people with diverse beliefs have come to an understanding and practiced tolerance? Write your own letter to a religious leader you consider in a position to promote tolerance or peace between disparate groups or factions. Notice the use of metaphors (e.g., weeks/fruits) by Emily Flynn Vencat. Experiment with using metaphors in your letter. In your opinion, what are the most important points to include?

Assessment
Write about what intrigued or interested you most about this topic. Also, reflect on how you and your local community are interdependent/interrelated to other people and religions and faith traditions in the world. Think about “What you can do to make the world a better place for people of all religions.” Finally, write what you would like to know more about, including any unanswered questions you may still have, as the starting point to delve deeper into this topic.

Extension Activity: 

1. Visit the British Library Web site online for an interactive activity that presents stories from six world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. Divide into six groups with each group exploring one of the six sacred texts. After investigating in depth the sacred text and stories, each group shares their understandings with the class and creates a summary according to characters, moral, and historical references. Each group might want to find quotations from the sacred texts to share with the class.

Note: As a modification to this activity, you may want to explore some religious traditions not listed here (e.g., Wicca, Daoism, Shinto, unaffiliated Pagans, Sufism, etc.).

2. Watch a variety of audiovisuals, like documentaries, which show the practice of rituals of faith. Check your local library for educational films about world religions or faith traditions. Also, you may want to watch “Religions of the World,” produced by Global Nomads Group, which highlights four short documentary profiles of young people talking about their religions. Try one of the rituals yourself every day for a week (recognize and respect that these are “simulations”—be careful not to undermine those who do these rituals from a sincere faith). What did you notice about your reactions as the week progressed? What value did you find in the repetition? Keep track of your feelings/thoughts in a journal and share your conclusions with your group at the end of the week.

3. View the British Library’s interactive site which presents a panel of people, posing questions and discussing the Abrahamic sacred texts: Jewish Bible, Christian Bible and the Qur’an. Hold your own panel discussion in class with groups representing the believers of each text (or texts from other religions). But first, collaboratively create a code of cooperation, which includes respect, non-judgment and compassion to enhance your discussion experience.

4. Invite guest speakers who can present information about their own religion or faith tradition. The Islamic Networks Group is a good starting place to help you locate guest speakers across the United States. Before the guest speaker comes to visit your class, have a pre-discussion on the topic and begin to think of possible questions you may wish to ask. Keep in mind that the guest speaker’s perspective is only one of many. Remember to write a thank you letter to your guest speaker after the session.