Five Ideas for Teaching East Asian Religions

Whew! My classes have made it through our unit on East Asian Religions, taught half by my student teacher and half by myself. Hopefully they saw past the shifting teaching styles and gained some understanding of Confucanism, Daoism, and Shinto. Here are some ideas I thought worked well:

1) Is Confucianism a Religion or a Philosophy? This was a discussion led by my student teacher that linked back to our conversations earlier in the year about what it means to really be a religion. She used excerpts from a Useless Tree blog post that responded to this article by Peter Berger, as well as another short excerpt from Prothero’s Book, God Is Not One. While I think the readings themselves can be challenging for students, I enjoyed how they got students to re-evaluate the question of what is a religion. While Useless Tree notes that “there is little, if any, concern for cosmological origins or after lives” in Confucianism, I would challenge my students (and Useless Tree) to consider whether spirituality must be confined to questions of our beginnings and endings. Like Prothero, it seems to me there is some sense in a spirituality that aids in the “individual transformation” (his words) that is the mark of our living experience. On the heels of learning about Buddhism, which, depending on the branch, can be similarly removed from deities and the cosmos, and as we prepare for diving into the religions deriving from the Middle East, this conversation was particularly useful as a means for discussing what it means to be a religion and to stretch our original definitions even further.

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Wu wei, the Pooh way, and New Year’s Resolutions

It seems like every article, blog post, and Pinterest “pin” I see right now are about which resolutions to make, or not to make, this year. There’s a lot of wisdom out there on how to improve ourselves. Usually, I’m quite in favor of New Year’s resolutions. I enjoy the opportunity to take stock of the year that has gone by and to think about how I would like to adjust my routine and ways in the coming days. This year, however, I didn’t have anything great in mind when New Year’s Day rolled around.

Even before the  New Year’s rush, I’d been contemplating meditation (or contemplation!) and been making some attempts to fit it into my life. I even downloaded an app, Headspace, that I enjoyed using occasionally to help guide me through that practice. However, I found that I wasn’t feeling like I really gained much, or gained enough to keep doing it on a regular basis.

And then we started our unit on Daoism. My wonderful student teacher has picked up my World Religions class, which gives me the opportunity to observe the class and to think about the concepts in a more abstract way. As supervising teacher, it’s less about how we will fill 90-minutes and more focused on the bigger ideas that I want to help her convey to the students. Glancing through my materials, I was reminded of the Daoist concept of wu wei. Continue reading