Putting religion in its global context (3): three premises of Religious Studies

The new school year has begun. I confess: remote (online) teaching is a lot more work than ‘normal’ teaching. That being said, I’m glad we started the year online where I work. It was the safe decision. It was the right decision.

It’s been a few weeks since I blogged about my course ‘Religion in Global Context’. I’m enjoy the semester thus far. I really like how the curriculum is unfolding. In my most recent post on the topic I mentioned how I’ll be introducing (and now have introduced) my students to some of the principles found in AAR‘s ‘Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States’. That previous post looked at three reasons (premises) for why high school students should learn about religion. The follow-up lesson (in progress with my students) examines three premises for Religious Studies, or three premises for how Religious Studies should be teach. Those premises are:

  1. Religions are Internally Diverse
  2. Religions are Dynamic
  3. Religions are Embedded in Culture

These principles are important for students to understand because they show/remind them that:

  1. If you’ve met one adherent of a religion you haven’t met them all.
  2. What you’ve heard in the media about a religious group should be taken with a grain of salt since not all members are alike.
  3. While it may be a ‘necessary lie’ to say things like ‘Christians believe…’ or ‘Muslims practice…’ (because you can’t spend all your time unpacking the caveats), it’s still an overgeneralization.
  4. No religion is static and unchanging, so it shouldn’t be surprising if you hear that some members of a religion are rethinking what others hold dear.
  5. While we may separate religion from ‘philosophy’ or ‘culture’ or ‘politics’ these are practical distinctions that don’t actually reflect how religious people live their lives.
  6. Buddhism in China may not look like Buddhism in California; Christianity in Brazil might not look like Christianity in Japan. Just as religion impacts culture; culture impacts religion.

I could go on but you get the point. What students need to know is that there’s no single, eternal definition of religion (speaking from the perspective of Religious Studies and not theology). It gives permission to students to learn about different religious groups and their claims without being preoccupied with whether or not they should be accepting or rejecting that religion’s truth-claims (they can do that later once they understand various religions in all their diversity).

Anyway, for those who are interested, here’s lesson


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