The following ideas are adaptable classroom activities that encourage students to be active citizens. They are inspired by the 1/3/03 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast on religion. (Note: A free transcript of this broadcast is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS (http://shop.pbs.org).)
1. Determine the Meaning of Reverence
The 1/3/03 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast features an interview with teacher and writer Paul Woodruff, who defines reverence. He says that people can claim to be religious but are not necessarily reverent, and may actually distort the essence faith. Have students convene a panel of or interview diverse local religious leaders to discuss and come to consensus on the meaning of reverence, offering suggestions on how people can be reverent, even if they do not observe a particular religion. An extended activity might be to compare and contrast the thoughts of Woodruff and Albert Schweitzer, who wrote "Reverence of Life," his principle for human ethics. Refer to the International Albert Schweitzer Association and The Ethics of Reverence for Life for additional information.
2. Combat Religious Intolerance
Why are people intolerant of other religions? What fosters division among different faiths? What can be done to bring people of different religions together in ways that support tolerance, unity and understanding? Invite students to brainstorm what they believe is at the heart of religious intolerance in America, citing examples, where possible. Have them conduct additional research on the topic, noting, for example, key issues associated with religious intolerance, events resulting from or causing such dissonance, and actions individuals or organizations have undertaken to promote religious understanding and unity. Instruct students to create a pamphlet or brochure that highlights ways to enhance religious tolerance in their community or the nation. Then, have students distribute their work in appropriate places in the community. Sites that provide "food for thought" include:
Religion and Ethics: Exploring Religious America
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week534/gladerman.html and Comments on the survey by John Green
First Things Journal of Religion and Public Life: Why We Can't Just All Get Along
Harvard University: The Pluralism Project
The Episcopal Cathedral Teleconferencing Network: Interviews and Essays
The Southern Poverty Law Center
3. Compare Your Community's Spirituality to the Nation's
For many Americans, organized religion is a guidepost and sanctuary. For others, some other type of spiritual belief or practice may serve as their faith. Still others choose not to adhere to any type of spiritual observance. Have students review NOW's Religion in the United States statistics and Religious Tolerance.org polls. Instruct students to then create a local survey to administer to their peers, parents/caregivers, teachers, and/or community members regarding their interaction with religion or spirituality. Compare local results to national trends and statistics and draw conclusions.
4. Organize a Religion Forum
How many religions are there around the world? How are they practiced? How are they different and similar? Invite students to construct a list of as many religions as possible. Instruct each student to select a religion to research and describe in a brief written overview. Have students use their research results to create a Wall of Religion to hang in a well-traveled school location. Encourage the student body at large to review the display and indicate conclusions about the posted religions' similarities and differences. Then, have students invite representatives from the featured religions to participate in a festival or assembly at which they talk and engage all students in discussion about their faiths. Research sites include Religions and Religion Around the World.
About the Author
Michele Israel has been an educator in varied capacities for over 20 years. As founder and director of Educational Consulting Group, Israel currently serves non-profit and educational institutions, providing services including strategic planning, curriculum development, and project management, produces learning materials and writes articles for companies such as the Public Broadcasting Service, Education World, and CNN/Turner Learning.