Maureen Fiedler is my hero.

I’ve talked about her radio show before, Interfaith Voices, which is wonderful and informative. But today as I listened to a recent podcast, I heard her challenge Ben Carson and Donald Trump on their bigotry, and was just inspired again by her intelligence, feistiness, and open-minded approach to religion and religious issues. Nuns are awesome, aren’t they? Truly, I admire her independence, her thoughtfulness, and her curiosity about the world and I always learn from her show.

Read her editorial here: No religious test for public office | National Catholic Reporter History nerds will note an allusion to my favorite Abraham Lincoln speech and a great rundown of religion in politics.


Understanding the Responses to Charlie Hebdo, part 1

My World Religions class is an elective course, which gives us a chance to stray when the world provides us with “teachable moments.” As a result, this blog gets a chance to stray once in a while as well. Below is a summary of the lesson I developed about the Charlie Hebdo attacks–it’s long, so feel free to skip around (or bypass altogether!).


In the responses to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the controversy a bit closer to home at Duke University just a week later, I saw an opportunity to connect my students with the news around them and also to get them thinking about how they could contribute to the conversations about these events. The terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the controversy at Duke over using the university bell-tower for a Muslim call to prayer were only loosely related by religion, but both events prompted a bewildering array of media commentary. In regards to Charlie Hebdo, I was somewhat fascinated as various hashtags, used to show solidarity, spread quickly across social media. When I read about the situation at Duke, I was appalled by some of the comments I saw posted. As I thought about how to implement discussions about these events in my own classroom, I realized that my goals were to build understanding of the variety of responses to said events and to help students develop their own opinions while navigating the sea of information and editorializing that is out there.

In the course of developing these lessons I also came across this blogpost by Emma Pierson on women’s comments on online media sites. To sum up briefly: women are far less likely to comment in online forums. Reading the post continued to make me think about the question of whether online forums are truly a meaningful place for debate and/or how we could make them into more thoughtful centers for discussion. So much of my students’ worlds are online now—how can we get them to think critically not only about big media, produced and delivered by such giants Fox News and the New York Times, but little media too: the comments and tweets that they write, read, and repost oh-so-regularly? Pierson rightfully links the reluctance to contribute online to a reluctance to speak in classrooms during childhood and adolescence, and suggests advocating for “speaking up as an act of leadership:  a way to advance a cause worth caring about.” Pierson’s follow-up recommendations include not only encouraging women to speak up more, but for men to “talk less.” While I did not overtly discuss the gender dynamics of this in my classroom (we’ll save that for another lesson!), I think the concept of thinking more carefully before engaging in discussions, both online and in real life, would benefit many of my students, while others could certainly be encouraged to let go of fears about the imperfections of their contributions. Reading Pierson’s piece shifted my lesson to include direct and explicit conversations about the tone and format of our debates about complex issues.

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What Can You Teach About Religion?

When I first started teaching this class, I was really nervous that I would get frequent calls from parents, or the principal, or the superintendent for that matter. I wanted to be clear about what I could and could not teach, and I decided to share that pretty openly with the students as well. We spend a day at the beginning of each year reviewing the first amendment clauses protecting religion, their religious rights in school, and the school’s limitations in terms of what it can and can not do. I figure if we all know the rules, than we can call each other out if we are not following them! The following resources have been extremely helpful in planning and creating those lessons:

Finding Common Ground: A First Amendment Guide to Religion

Your Right to Religious Freedom: an ACLU published guide aimed at students

Religion in the Public Schools: a guide from the Anti-Defamation League

Religion in the Public Schools: Center for Public Education overview (this one has some interesting scenarios that we use as discussion points in class)

Religion in the Public Schools: Pew Forum Report

I hope these are helpful to you! For the record, the only complaint that I have ever recieved in regards to this class was from a parent after we did some yoga stretches to warm up one day before a lecture on Hinduism. Based on my understanding of the law, my understanding of yoga (can you really force someone to do yoga, really?) and the fact that it is totally optional, we still do the stretches. One of the golden rules of teaching: you will always be surprised.