I’ve been teaching an elective called World Religions for the last six of my ten years teaching. Some years I have one section of 16 students, ranging from sophomores to seniors. This year I have two sections of 34. Whatever the size of the audience, it is always one of my favorite groups of students to teach. The freedom that an elective course offers allows me to slow down, get to know my students’ interests and strengths, and follow them. Every year is different, and every year is a rich experience for (almost) all involved.
An elective course like this does come with a few challenges. First, there are few resources available for a high school level comparative religions course. There are plenty of texts aimed at college survey courses (one end of the spectrum), elementary-school level activities about holidays (the other), and sure, there are lesson plans that focus on the Axial age religions that are incorporated into many World History courses. My class is nothing like these, and so finding appropriate readings and activities often requires a long search into the wild and woolly world of the Internet.
Next, there is the blessing/curse of having no set curriculum. There are just a few teachers in my district that offer this course and the state has not outlined any requirements. This is great–you can do whatever you want! This is also the reason why new teachers (and particularly my interns) often don’t want to get anywhere near it…it can be difficult to define the concepts and skills that you want to develop over the course of a ninety day schedule, especially when we are discussing the big ideas that go hand-in-hand with an overview of the world religions: reincarnation, the afterlife, the existence of a higher power, ethics, origins of faith, and more.
But therein also lies the beauty: this is a chance to talk with teenagers about the big ideas that *everybody* has questions about. It builds on their natural curiousity and exposes them to new ideas. We can tie in historical roots and current events, and we can engage in exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking, discussions (I always wonder what some kids are thinking about when we get down to some of the nitty-gritty debates)! It also is an opportunity as a teacher to truly take on the role of the facilitator–there is no way I can be the expert on all of the religions we study–and let students fill in and take the lead in their learning.
I see this blog as an opportunity to capture some of the thrill that teaching a course like this provides to me and also (somewhat selfishly) as a way to organize some of the content that I have pulled together over the years. I aim to share lesson ideas, resources I’ve found, and some thoughts and ideas about what I am learning along the way. Since building this course has been somewhat of an individual endeavor for me, I’m eager to hear feedback from and connect with others that teach a similar class. Let’s get started!