History of Religion Guide for Teachers and Parents

Religion Teachers' Guide

Sacrifice
Suevovotaurium, Louvre Museum, Paris
It can be difficult to teach the history of religion without being offensive to somebody, and it is very important here to respect the enormous diversity of beliefs held by students in the average class (and by their parents). This means not only a lot of different branches of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but also realizing that your class may well include neo-pagans, Buddhists, and so forth too.
One way I do that in my own classes is to try to keep all our discussions firmly in the past. I don't relate them to the students' personal religious feelings at all. I don't tell them what my own beliefs are, because I don't feel that is any of their business. And I try not to find out about theirs.
It's always tempting, when you find out that there is a minority religion like Judaism or Buddhism represented in your class, to get the child to tell the rest of the class about it. But modern Judaism or Buddhism isn't the same as the ancient religion anyway, and it just singles out the one child as being different from the others. And the child probably doesn't know very much about it anyway. I just say, "this is what some people believed in the past, and this is what some other people believed," and that is the tone you will find on these pages.

Some suggestions of things to do:

1) ask how different cultures might have dealt with a particular situation. If an enemy was attacking your city, what would a Greek do? What would a Zoroastrian do? How about a Hindu? What would an early Christian do? How about if your mother was sick? What did the different religions have to say about stealing? Are all these faiths basically the same, or do they have real differences?

2) look at a particular story, like the story of Oedipus or the story of Noah, and ask how this story might have gotten so popular: what was it about this story that seemed important to people? Was it because there is some historical truth to it? Or because it deals with something people worry about? Or because it helps to pull the community together? (There can be more than one reason at the same time; that just makes the story stronger).

3) have them write a letter to a friend pretending to be a Roman thinking about converting to Christianity, and giving reasons why they might or might not do it. Or someone thinking about converting to Zoroastrianism, or from Christianity to Islam. Or a letter trying to convince their friend to convert, or not to convert.

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