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Sister Aimee
Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Sister Aimee provides insights into social studies topics including race and religion, evolution versus creationism, the role of religion in American history, the separation of church and state, and more. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: history, religion, culture, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

History | Religion | Culture | Civics

  1. Understanding Pentecostalism.
    As a class, research the origins, beliefs, and size of the Pentecostal movement. You may want to divide the class into groups and assign each group specific questions to explore, such as: What is the Pentecost? Where and when did Pentecostalism arise? In which countries do large numbers of Pentecostals currently live? How do Pentecostals' beliefs and practices differ from those of other Protestant Christians? What is the difference between Pentecostals and Evangelicals?

    Have each group report its findings to the others. When they are finished, ask students to name the facts they learned from this activity that were most interesting or surprising to them.

  2. A time of social transformation.
    In the film, historian Randall Balmer explains that in McPherson's day, evangelicals lived mostly in small towns and rural areas and were not very comfortable with three major trends of the previous decades: urbanization, industrialization, and the arrival of large numbers of non-Protestant immigrants.

    To find out more about these trends, divide the class into three groups and assign one of the trends to each group. Then have each group construct three graphs (line graphs, bar graphs, and pie charts) illustrating its assigned trend in the decades leading up to McPherson's public career, or roughly 1880 to 1920. Groups should use data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Historical Statistics of the United States in constructing their graphs.

    When the groups are done, display the completed graphs around the room and discuss them as a class to make sure everyone understands the three trends. Then have the class consider how these trends may have contributed to McPherson's great popularity. Why would a message that focused on traditional values be important at a time of rapid social change?

History | Religion | Culture | Civics

  1. Confronting unbelief.
    This reading about McPherson and the controversy over Darwinism contains the following excerpt from her autobiography: "I . . . was soon in the town library reading Voltaire, Ingersoll, Paine, and others. If they were true, then religion was a travesty and a farce. Church bells were a hollow mockery. Fox's martyrs had died in a vain cause." Working in small groups, find out more about the four authors she named: the French philosopher Voltaire, the American orator Robert Ingersoll, the British-born revolutionary Thomas Paine, and the English writer John Foxe.

    Each group should prepare an oral report for the class that briefly reviews the life of its chosen author and his views on religion. (Groups should include several quotations from him on this subject.) After the class has heard the reports, discuss the excerpt from McPherson's autobiography as a class. How do you think the religious views of people like Voltaire, Ingersoll, and Paine would have sounded to someone like McPherson, a teenager who had been raised on the Bible and works like Foxe's widely popular Book of Martyrs? How do you think her exposure to those religious critics -- as well as to Darwinism -- influenced her decision to become a preacher?

History | Religion | Culture | Civics

  1. Christian pop.
    As these photographs show, McPherson marketed her message in a variety of ways, using the most modern technologies available. Similarly, many Christians in the United States today express and promote their faith in various forms of popular culture, from books to pop songs to blogs to cable TV. As a class, see how many different examples of Christian-oriented pop culture you can find. What elements, if any, do they appear to have in common? What similarities and differences do you see between them and their non-Christian counterparts? (For example, do Christian pop songs tend to differ from non-Christian ones in terms of their lyrics, their music, or both?)

  2. Religion and entertainment.
    McPherson's Angelus Temple provided worshippers with an exciting blend of religion and theater. As the film notes, some critics charged that McPherson's services focused too much on theatrical effects (such as special lighting, sound effects, and costumes) and not enough on religion, but those services attracted thousands of people each week.

    Many of today's "megachurches" are much larger than the Angelus Temple, the theatrical effects they can present are much more sophisticated, and their audiences are often much larger as well. Sample a few of these services via television broadcast or webcast, making note of the theatrical effects they use. Do you think these effects enhance the church's religious message, or distract from it? Write a paragraph summarizing your conclusions (be sure to give specific examples). Then write a second paragraph from McPherson's point of view: if she were alive today, what do you think she would think of these services? Share your paragraphs with the class.

History | Religion | Culture | Civics

  1. Breaking down racial barriers.
    One of the hallmarks of McPherson's ministry was her inclusion of both blacks and whites in the same meetings. This was highly unusual in an era when laws and customs separated the races -- and when African Americans were frequent victims of discrimination and violence.

    How serious were the racial problems the nation faced during the years of McPherson's ministry? To find out, review the timeline and map from the PBS series "The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow", as well as other information available on that site, and note three items (events, laws, etc.) that you found especially striking. Next, list each student's selections on the board, and have the class vote to determine which ten of these items best illustrate the nation's racial problems during that era.

    Finally, review this list as a class. How does this information about the racial environment in which McPherson preached affect your view of her and her accomplishments?

  2. Forerunner of feminism?
    As historians note, in McPherson's day it was highly unusual for a woman to have a successful public career like hers, but women's roles were changing in important ways.

    To find out more about some of those changes, work together as a class to create a timeline of notable events of the late 1800s and early 1900s that affected women. Entries could include events related to women's rights (such as the right to vote), "famous firsts" such as the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress, statistics on the share of women who were working outside the home, and developments on issues of special concern to women, such as contraception. Also, try to include some entries related to changing images of femininity, such as the contrast between the "Gibson girl" of around 1900 and the "flapper" of the 1920s.

    When the timeline is complete, review it as a class and discuss how McPherson's career fits into the trends shown. Would you call her a forerunner of modern feminism? Why or why not?

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