Teacher's Guide: God Fights Back

In the 1970s alienated Iranians flock to the promises of Islamic fundamentalism and Egyptians and Algerians soon follow. In the 1980s alienated Americans flock to the promises of Christian fundamentalism. Followers hope that their morals and beliefs will guide their country's entire population.

Unit Themes and Topics:
Christian fundamentalism
human rights
ideology and mass movements
Iranian Revolution
Islamic fundamentalism

Connections Across History
connection: when: where: program:
feminist movement 1917-1996 Iran, Mexico, United States "Half the People"
civil rights movement 1945-1994 South Africa, United States "Skin Deep"
youth movement 1950-1975 France, Great Britain, United States "Young Blood"
environmental movement 1959-1990 India, Japan, United States "Endangered Planet"

Carol Owen
(Christian fundamentalist, United States)

"You couldn't watch a television or pick up a newspaper without realizing we were constantly, daily, in violation of the word of God. And we felt like there was real judgment on the nation because of this."
photographic portrait of Carol Owen

Note to Teachers

This program addresses controversial issues such as abortion and religious fundamentalism. We recommend that you preview the program before using it in the classroom.


Before Watching

1. What appeals to people about religion? Why do you think people follow particular faiths?

2. Define the word crusade in terms of the history and philosophy of Christianity. Describe what you know about the word jihad ("holy war.") in terms of the history and philosophy of Islam.

3. As students watch the program, have them write down the goals of the Islamic and Christian fundamentalist movements for their followers.

After Watching

1. Based on Carol Owen's quotation, how do you think she perceives American society as violating the "word of God"? How did Islamic fundamentalists perceive Iranian, Egyptian, and Algerian societies as violating the precepts of Islam? What problems was each fundamentalist movement trying to solve? What solutions did they propose?

2. Sheila Kerley describes the views of preacher Jimmy Swaggert as "black and white, right or wrong, and there were no in-betweens." Why do you think these qualities appeal to her and others? Why has Christian undamentalism drawn so many supporters since the 1980s?

3. How did the fundamentalist movements effectively challenge secular authority? In what ways do the goals of theocracy conflict or coincide with the goals of democracy or monarchy?


Have students research religious movements that have influenced American politics, such as the Puritans, Quakers, transcendentalists, the Moral Majority, or anti-religious parties such as the Know-Nothings. Have students write an essay on why religion must influence politics from the point of view of one of the movements. Have students share their findings and discuss whether or not they agree with the point of view.

Khomeini's Revolution

The following lesson focuses on a program segment about the events leading up to the overthrow of the Shah -- a revolution that transformed Iran from a secular, Western-oriented monarchy into a state based on Islamic law. Islamic supporters recount their experiences.

Program Segment
approximately 16 minutes

The beginning of the program

Khomeini becomes leader of Iran.


Before Watching

1. Divide the class into two groups. As students watch the program, have one group write down information about Iranian society under the Shah, and the other group write down information about what people hoped for under Khomeini.

After Watching

1. Why did Iranians become disillusioned with the Shah and the society he had helped to create? Why were people inspired by Khomeini's vision?

2. What tools did Khomeini and his supporters use to organize opposition to the Shah? How did the Shah respond? What were the consequences of his actions?

3. How did Khomeini propose to change people's lifestyles? How do you think dramatically changing people's lifestyles enforced people's devotion to Islam? How do you think it enforced people's loyalty to Khomeini?


To help students understand the historical context of the Iranian Revolution, have them research twentieth-century Iranian history. Based on their reading, have them list key events and explain how each event influenced or fostered the Iranian Revolution. Key events might include the discovery of oil in the early 1900s, the nationalist revolution of 1906, the partition of Iran by Great Britain and Russia in 1907, the accession of Rezah Shah Pahlavi in 1925 and his son's succession in 1941, the nationalization of oil companies in 1951 and the failed coup of 1953, the Islamic revolution and the seizure of U.S. hostages in 1979, the Iran-Iraq War of 1980­1988, and the death of Khomeini in 1989.

Bring in several articles about Islamic fundamentalist movements in different countries (including the United States). Have students use the articles to list some of the movements' practices and beliefs. Then have students research the basic tenets and origin of Islam, expand their list, and relate each item to the religion. Discuss the beliefs that underlie the Islamic fundamentalist movement, the complexity of the religion, and the range of Muslim practices.

About the Series | Episodes | Timeline | Your Stories | Thematic Overview | Teacher's Guide

People's Century | WGBH | PBS Online | Search PBS | Feedback | Shop | ©

Jimmy Swaggart photograph © Steve Early - Waco Tribune/Corbis Sygma