World Religions is probably my favorite topic to teach because it is something the students are genuinely interested in, yet woefully misinformed of, and I can see right before my eyes how much they grow in their global-cultural awareness. As a public school teacher however, there are definitely some icebergs to avoid but in the years I have taught this subject I have had hardly had an issue and here’s how:
Have a serious discussion on an “intolerance on intolerance.”
I do not allow any jokes, funny comments, or rude/insensitive remarks made in my classroom and I hold them to that strictly. I model ways to ask questions/make comments that are appropriate. Doing little lessons like that help to channel some of their questions from possibly inappropriate to welcoming. I do however give a wide berth for students asking questions about everything, even if they are not “politically correct.” I will answer any and every question but if a question is framed in an inappropriate way I will model how the student can change their question and ask them to repeat it.
Read more: Learning not Converting
Keep students in small groups.
Not only will this help students be more comfortable asking those “hard” questions, but it allows you to field things before they are necessarily brought to the whole class. My students are typically in groups of 4 but I like to move my desks a lot and switch them up from pairs, triads to groups of 5 (never bigger than that if I can help it!). If teaching aspects of world religions online, I will assign students small groups virtually so that discussions and questioning can still happen in a safer, smaller format.
Provide opportunities for personal research.
I always admit when I am not an expert in a certain area and I highly encourage students to research things I cannot answer. I have a Lending Library in the classroom filled with academic books to choose from but I also integrate opportunities for internet research. With this unit I stress getting information “straight from the source,” that is, from a scholar’s or insider’s perspective. I give the example that a conservative Christian website on Satanism may not be as good of a source as a university or the church’s website. Provide students with strong parameters, i.e. do not have them research all 2,000 years of Christianity, give them a narrow topic and sample of good websites to start.
Focus on things besides religious belief.
As a Humanities teacher I do most of my instruction on the arts and culture of a religion, not exclusively their beliefs. I find that this helps from having arguments about who is “right or wrong.” I typically introduce a new world religion with an article that covers basic beliefs and principles so it serves as a foundation for the rest of the week’s activities. Even in my World History classes, I try to use the arts to teach about religious fundamentals and I love to bring up examples that contract this notion that religious are homogeneous monoliths. For example, if I teach that Muslims pray five times a day I will mention many Shias combine some prayers so they may only pray 3 times a day.
Read more: Student Series! Islam & The Five Pillars
Allow them to have fun!
Learning about religions shouldn’t be filled with just rote memorization of important people or writings; let them get their hands dirty too! I will do anything to get my students up, talking, and working as a team! Some ideas related to world religions:
- Hindu god iconography scavenger hunt
- Jewish holidays stations
- Artistic depictions of Jesus around the world
- Jain or Hindu temple webquest
- Listening to Buddhist mantras or meditation
- Drawing blueprints of mosques