This page offers resources to foster an individual’s religious literacy. The bottom half offers resources that can be quickly shared with students.
Religious literacy is the ability to:
- Know the basic tenets of the major world religions;
- Discern the complexities within and across religions, and that they are internally and externally diverse;
- Critically understand the role of religion in social, political, and economic contexts in history and today; and,
- Understand the cultural and spiritual meaning of religion and belief for people (including religious and non-religious beliefs) in order to foster personal reflection, inquiry, and development for citizenship.
On this basis, religious literacy is a form of citizenship education that develops the attitude, skills, and knowledge students need to recognize and respect the religious and non-religious other (Jackson, 1997, 2004; Miedema, 2014; Moore, 2007; Prothero, 2007). A clear summary of religious literacy as a form of citizenship education is shared here.
Several valuable and informative resources are available to help one become more religiously literate. Below is an ongoing accumulation of a few exemplary resources I have found for educators and the general public.
Free and for the general public:
- Harvard University’s MOOC on religious literacy A fantastic course!
- Religion for Breakfast YouTube videos
- The Pluralism Project at Harvard University presents the tenets, timelines, photos, etc. of religions in America, that include the Bahá’í, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism, among others.
In-person workshops and seminars for teachers’ pedagogical needs:
- The Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion’s See Different Program – offered a “Navigating Religious Diversity in the Classroom” Workshop in November 2016. The next session is TBA.
- Encounter World Religions Centre – offers a weeklong exploration of 11 world religions
- Summer Institute at Interfaith Centre New York – offers an annual summer institute for American teachers
I also encourage you to search for emerging religious literacy programs for educators in your local communities (such as the one coordinated by Chris Murray in Maryland in June 2016).
Online resources for teachers’ pedagogical needs:
- Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States, with “four main sections that address: 1) Why teaching about religion is important; 2) The distinction between a devotional approach to religion and a non-devotional religious studies approach appropriate for public schools; 3) How to teach about religion with a variety of approaches, pedagogical strategies, and “snapshots” of classroom practices across the K–12 spectrum; and 4) The content and skill competencies required for teachers to teach about religion in intellectually sound ways.”
- California 3Rs project
- The Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center
- 10 Tips on how to teach about the world religions in schools, by Linda K. Wertheimer
- Understanding humanism – Lesson plans and resources: many scholars studying religion and education (such as Robert Jackson and Siebren Miedema), including myself, assert the need to include additional worldviews in religious education courses as we believe that the purpose of religious education courses in secular societies today is to foster citizenship education, respect, and understanding. This rich resource offers information on how to understand religiously unaffiliated worldviews.
- Four Directions Teachings: a resource that introduces the First Nation beliefs and cultures of the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq peoples of Canada
Books for teachers’ pedagogical needs:
- Faith Ed.: Teaching about religion in an age of intolerance (Wertheimer, 2015) is a rich resource that discusses how religion and religious identities have been received in American public schools. It shares experiences of teachers across the US, presents case studies to help teachers understand what to expect and how to respond, and offers a teacher’s guide for professional development.
- Religious literacy: What every American needs to know and doesn’t (Prothero, 2008) discusses the state of religious literacy in America and why it is important to teach students religious literacy today. The book includes an 84-page dictionary that offers glossary-like descriptions of various religious beliefs, individuals, sects, etc.
In addition to these resources, I have compiled a document titled “Tips for creating a religiously inclusive classroom” that can be downloaded here. The tips include:
- Schwartz and Pollishuke’s (2013) tips for teachers, from Creating the Dynamic Classroom: A handbook for teachers, Second Edition;
- Five different approaches to teaching religious literacy from various resources by Robert Jackson and Diane L. Moore;
- How to respond to conflict, with four recommendations from Steve Wessler; and
- Five tips for educators from Khyati Joshi from her article Because I had a Turban (2007). These tips are listed below for quick reference.
Joshi’s (2007) five tips for educators:
- Know your own students. There are a lot of religions in the world. Start with the ones present in your classroom.
- Learn our ABCDs. We don’t need to be theologians, but we can at least learn the:
a. Architecture: Know what the house of worship is called, like mandir (Hindu), masjid or mosque (Muslim), and gurdwara (Sikh).
b. Books: Know the name(s) of the religion’s holy text(s).
c. Cities: Know the names and locations of the religion’s holiest cities, like Amritsar (Sikhism), Mecca and Medina (Islam), and Varanasi/Benares (Hinduism).
d. Days: Know the names and meanings of the religion’s major holidays, like Diwali and Holi (Hinduism), Ramadan and Eid ul’ Fitr (Islam), and Vaisaki (Sikhism).
- Recognize religion as part of students’ social identities. Understand how this makes religion especially salient for some students, and how the family’s religion may be important even to students who don’t see themselves as “religious.”
- Avoid the urge to “Christianize” religions and holidays. e.g., saying “Ramadan is like Lent” or “Janmastami is like Christmas.”
- Include religion in our curricula whenever it’s appropriate. Discuss how different religions deal with the concept at hand.
In a class that teaches religious literacy today, it is almost impossible to avoid the discussion of religious extremism. Here are some published resources to support you in those discussions:
Lastly, Abdou and I encourage a teaching of religious literacy that informs students about the cultural influences and exchanges that existed between belief systems throughout history. In doing so, students can foster an understanding and respect for different worldviews. To obtain a free copy of the article, please click: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/UGdjjtyAzUuqiUYV9t4C/full. The first 50 views from this link are free.
(To reference the image, please refer to: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15210960.2016.1263961)
Quick resources that can be shared with students:
Influential role of religion in social, economic, and culture spheres throughout history:
- A video that shows the movement of religions and historical influence they have over numerous geographical contexts over time: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2512088/Watch-major-religions-conquered-entire-world-5-000-years–90-seconds.html
- PBS Learning Media that shows you the geographical presence of religions today: https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/sj14-soc-religmap/world-religions-map/
The diversity within and across religions and religiously unaffiliated beliefs:
- TrueTube, videos that showcase the diversity within and across beliefs visually. Often presented from a student’s perspective
- Videos to help students understand the diversity that exists within religions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-YQXRrNo70&t=74s, https://www.facebook.com/MvslimInspires/videos/1171243186278954 (Alternatively, there is a quiz that students can take to test their understanding about the use of the veil or headscarf – http://veil.unc.edu/resources/quiz/ – which stems from a project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).
- National Geographic Education offers lesson plans and videos on religions here: http://www.nationalgeographic.org/lesson/?q=religion&per_page=25
- British Humanist Association sharing a video on “What is a humanist ceremony?” This is an important video to share in order to ensure your world religions class and religious literacy discussion is inclusive and teaches about other beliefs and worldviews apart from religious ones in society: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzTXicmkrQ4
- First Nations Spirituality: Understanding perspectives on smudging https://www.nfb.ca/film/smudge/
- The importance of sharing minority views: Sample videos to show that can discuss this include https://www.nfb.ca/film/invisible_nation/trailer/invisible-nation-trailer/
Science and religion:
- Actress Miyam Bialik discusses the possibility for scientific individuals to also be religious individuals here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZh1MrDHLoY
- A video illustrating interfaith cooperation between an imam and a priest after a Muslim terrorist attack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFh85K4NFv0
Media literacy and religious literacy:
- A short interview to outline the difference between religion, culture, and politics, and the importance of equipping students with religious literacy alongside media literacy: http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2017/02/17/talking-policy-leila-ahmed-being-muslim-america
- Extreme Dialogue offers testimonial videos from individuals who were previously an extremist and lesson plans on how to discuss it in class.