It’s been a long, long, time.

Hi friends. I haven’t been posting here in many many moons, but I wanted to share a few details about why, and a few resources for where you can go to find great (and similar) content on teaching World Religions.

The why: So many things! But mostly motherhood (the little peanut is almost 8 months now) and a new position as a coordinator and coach for the Smithsonian Learning Lab. It’s a entry-point into the Smithsonian Institution’s digitized resources (including video, artifacts, images, magazine articles, texts, and lesson plans), designed for teachers and students to explore and create their own collections. It’s been a really interesting adventure into the world of learning with digital media and a great opportunity to work with wonderful museum educators and classroom teachers.

The plug for where to go: I’m still so interested in learning more about World Religions, and I keep my blog feed stocked with several sources. The best one out there has got to be World Religions by George S. Coe. He has a teacher’s eye and does a wonderful job of finding interesting and accessible resources on a variety of religions. I encourage you to check his site out.

In addition, I’ve pulled together some collections of World Religions materials within the Learning Lab site, and I’d love to share those with you:

One of the great things about the site is its flexibility. Each of the above collections are designed so that students can independently access museum materials and learn from them. However, there are also a number of collections that are aimed at teachers and gather materials and teaching ideas around particular topics. I’ve created one of these on Sacred Texts that might interest some readers. You’ll also just want to explore–there is so much to engage with and excite your curiosity!

So, this is goodbye. Thanks so much for all those that read my posts over the past few years and shared ideas here. I’m sure I’ll keep writing somewhere, just not here, so I’ll borrow a closing line from one of my favorite podcasts: “see you on the Internet!”

 

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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.

Enjoy!

How Indigenous People’s Stories Help Scientists Understand Earthquakes in The Pacific Northwest – The Atlantic

This is a great article from The Atlantic about how scientists and historians have begun to use the myths of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest to inform their understanding of earthquakes and tsunamis.

In each of the indigenous communities, scientists found incidences of stories retelling a particular earthquake in 1700.  This has helped to solidify the notion that this region is ripe for another such natural disaster. While the myths don’t necessarily give solid advice for survival or preparations, they do offer a sense of the peoples’ resilience, especially when you consider how they have been orally transmitted from generation to generation. For example:

Younker thinks his uncle told him that story partly so that Younker could tell even younger people how to prepare, and partly to say, “make sure you keep your ropes long and your connections to home are well-maintained so you can pull yourself back to home. Because you really can’t separate the past from the present.”

If you teach about indigenous religions, you undoubtedly talk about myths and how they help reveal the ways in which a culture understands the world. What I like about this article is that is shows myths being used in a meaningful way by current researchers (not just as a quaint relic), and also that it offers some reasssurance about cultural and physical survival, in the face of natural or human-induced disasters.

Read more here: How Indigenous People’s Stories Help Scientists Understand Earthquakes in The Pacific Northwest – The Atlantic

Good advice on Digital Literacy from EdSurge News

Last spring, I wrote about lessons in my World Religions class that veered away from simply being about religion and religious bias to thinking about how we read, interpret, and interact with what’s on the web. This article reminded me of some of those lessons and gave me some ideas to take it farther next time. Enjoy the excerpt below and keep reading at the link…

Twenty-five years ago, the term “literacy” was synonymous with the printed word. Today, that definition has evolved and being literate necessitates more than simply interacting with text. We must be digitally literate, too…

Source: Three Techniques for Teaching Digital Literacy | EdSurge News

What Are the Limits of ‘Religious Liberty’? – The New York Times

What Are the Limits of ‘Religious Liberty’? – The New York Times.

Quick read on new questions of religious liberty that have developed in response to the gay rights movement. It seems to me that a shift is underway from citing religious liberty as a protection for action’s that affect one’s self (declining to attend public schools; claiming conscientious objector status) to name it as your reason to limit the rights of others (to purchase contraceptives). That shifts seems to move us away from the very intent of these laws to ensure freedom and protection for individuals.

This topic has always been an interesting talking point with students–I find that teenagers are highly preoccupied with infringements on their rights! I would be interested to hear their thoughts on what private companies can or cannot do.

When the Course Swerves…

Sometimes courses, or particular classes, take on their own particular theme or direction. This year’s unit on Islam made an unexpected shift to include a heavy dose of media literacy, partly because we had covered Islam through so many current events throughout the year already, and partly because the students and I both recognized it as being at the root of so many misunderstandings.

For the past few years I have assigned a project about Myths and Misconceptions in Islam where students take a belief about Islam that is incorrect or oversimplified and work to both explain the source of that misconception and the truth they would use to explain it. Noticing flaws in what previous years’ works had resulted in, I decided to pay a little more attention to the selection of resources as students researched their topics–and in so doing I think I unknowingly planted a seed that blossomed when they turned in their finished works.

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What You Don’t Know (according to Stephen Prothero)

I’ve slowly been working my way through two Stephen Prothero books this fall: God is Not One: the Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–And Doesn’t. While I’m using the first as a resource and referring to chapters when they complement my teaching, the latter I read straight through. Upon reading the introduction, I felt a sense of satisfaction (the feeling you feel when someone incredibly smart agrees with your point of view). Parts of Prothero’s introduction read like a much better written version of my course syllabus. As he argues for the promotion of religious literacy, he states:

…I write here not as a believer (or unbeliever) but as a citizen. My purpose is not to foster faith or to denigrate it. Neither is it to advance the liberal arts or to boost high school students’ SAT scores (though these are both laudable educational ends to which religious literacy might be put). My goal is to help citizens participate fully in social, political, and economic life in a nation and a world which religion counts. (p. 15).

Yes!!! Like Prothero, I encounter huge gaps in my students’ religious knowledge, both in my elective course and as I try to wade through the American history curriculum. And, like Prothero, I strongly believe that increasing religious literacy is critical to building better citizens (and just better people). But while we agree on the problem facing America today, and I appreciated his scholarship on why exactly religious literacy has declined,  I do differ with Prothero when it comes to the solutions he suggests.

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Snakes and Ladders

From the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has a great website full of information and art related to Jainism. It makes perfect sense–the Jains, noted for their scrupulous honesty, have acquired some wealth in fields like business and the law. Yet their religion emphasizes having only the things you need–and as a result they have become great patrons of religious art, giving away excess wealth in order to benefit their faith. Many of the objects and tapestries they have created are catalogued on the site.

What is probably the most useful for teaching about Jainism to high-schoolers, however, is the online version of Snakes and Ladders that the V&A has available for exploration and play. This was brand-new to me! Apparently “Chutes and Ladders” is a blatant rip-off of a game developed in ancient India. The ladders represent virtues–actions Jains can take to become more like the enlightened beings. The snakes represent vices, or those behaviors to be avoided. (I think this might be because in Jainism, there is a story about Mahavira being bitten by a poisonous snake. Or just because snakes are noted for being mean and slippery.) As my students worked through the game online, they learned about the characteristics that are valued by Jains, and a little bit about Jain interpretations of the cosmos. They also got increasingly frustrated by the snakes that took them farther and farther away from becoming liberated beings, but hey, you can’t expect to get enlightened in just one class period.

Another “fun” activity that we did during this short unit on Jainism was that I challenged my students to be vegans for a day. Coincidentally, the start of this unit coincided with the Jain worldwide day of compassion on November 1st (more info here). Not a one of my students (except for the one who already wears the vegan badge), made it through the day, but I think it helped get them to focus on just how diligent and aware one has to be to maintain such a diet. (Nevermind that Jains also avoid some vegetables grown underground. We didn’t even get into those limitations!) I think that following a restrictive diet like that leads one to be exceptionally aware and mindful of what one is eating. Based on the one month of my life where I tried to give up sugar, I can tell you that it can be exhausting to check over every single thing that you eat. I wonder if for Jains, however, this attention to detail also helps connect them to and constantly remind them of the reason they are doing it: ahimsa (non-violence), compassion, and kindness. I’m not sure my students felt that same compassion or kindness when they were thinking about what they couldn’t eat that day, but it was good to hear their reflections. It certainly got them talking about Jainism.

Colors and Sounds

One of the amazing things about Hinduism, like many faiths, is the way that its rituals and practices awaken the senses. I’ve found a couple of good video resources that help share the sights and sounds of the religion, injecting a human presence into our study of its beliefs and practices.

The New York Times produces a variety of beautiful short videos that are great for lessons. My favorite for teaching about Hinduism is this one about the sadhus, or holy men, at the Kumbh Mela festival (which is an enormous Hindu religious gathering). Not only are the sadhus visually arresting–as they shed their clothes and paint their faces out of reverence for the gods–but the video hints at their controversial position in Indian society as either revered men or crazies on the fringe.

Another great video for teaching about India is from the series Around the World in 80 Faiths. This BBC show traces the path of an Anglican vicar, Peter Owen-Jones, as he travels the world to learn about other religions. He’s a perceptive and sensitive host, and in each episode he really works to understand the people he encounters. He doesn’t shy away from stating his own biases or skepticism, which I think is part of why he is relatable. In the India episode, for example, he questions how men really walk on hot coals and is just impolite enough to ask them if he can check out the soles of their feet. He also finds some amazing rituals and experiences, from talking with an aghori who lives in a cemetary to visiting with an ascetic Jain nun, they are opportunities that many of us are unlikely to have first-hand.

The series has eight episodes, and I show clips from it throughout the year, but I take the time to show the entire one on India. It is great for the diversity it reflects while still focusing on religions that developed on the subcontinent. The shows are all available on Youtube, although I would gladly buy it if I could find it on DVD (are you listening, BBC?). It makes me want to take a similar journey!