In This Episode << SLIDE LEFT TO SEE ADDITIONAL SEGMENTS

Procedures For Teachers

PrepPreparing for the lesson
StepsConducting the lesson
ExtensionAdditional Activities

Prep

Media Components

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM.Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0 or higher. Download the free Adobe Acrobat reader here:
    http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html.

Bookmarked sites:

TIP: Prior to teaching, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson and create a word processing document listing all of the links. Preview all sites and videos before presenting them to the class.

Other Sites :

Some Published Resources :

  • Death and Afterlife: Perspectives of World Religions
    edited by Hiroshi Obayashi (Praeger, 1992)
  • Death: The Trip of a Lifetime
    by Greg Palmer (Harper Collins, 1993) Based on a PBS series and also available on VHS.
  • If I Should Die
    edited by Leroy Rouner (University of Notre Dame Press, 2002)
  • Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion
    by Alan F. Segal (Random House, 2004)
  • The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade
    by Thomas Lynch (Penguin, 1998)

Materials:

Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • Board and/or chart paper
  • Ideally a screen on which to project the Web-based video clips
  • Handouts of Web resources if computers are not available in the classroom

Students will need the following supplies:

  • Computers with the capacities indicated above
  • Notebook or journal
  • Pens/pencils
  • Dictionaries

Other Prep: Prepare a list of contact information for Muslim and Hindu leaders, community members, or representatives from cultural, social, or political organizations. Good sources for this information include the phone book (particularly the “community” directory in the beginning, a directory of mosques or temples in the area, and Internet search engines. You might want to contact these places yourself, describe the project your students are working on, and ask if there are individuals who might be willing to make themselves available for interviews (on the phone, in person, or even via e-mail).

Steps

Introductory Activity:

  • A Religious PerspectiveIn this activity, students engage in a collaborative discussion of their religious beliefs about death, dying, and the afterlife. 1. Begin this lesson by explaining to students that religious beliefs often play a critical role in the thoughts we form about death and our perceptions of the afterlife. Just as the rituals and belief systems of religions vary, so will their views of death, mourning, and spiritual existence after death.2. If you align yourself with a particular religion, share your religious beliefs regarding death and the existence of an afterlife with your students. If you do not align yourself with a religion, share your personal beliefs about death and a spirit world. For example, do you believe that fate, God, or a similar higher power orchestrates our life and death? What rituals do you perform when a loved one passes away? Do you believe that our spirits continue to live after death?3. After you have shared your thoughts, ask volunteers to do the same. Form a discussion with your class based on the following questions:
    • Do you believe that we die when it is “our time” to die? In other words, do you think that God or a similar higher power takes us from our earthly life when we have accomplished what we were meant to accomplish in our lifetime?
    • What are some of the burial and mourning rituals that are followed in your religion following the death of a loved one?
    • According to your religious teachings, what, if anything, becomes of the spirit after we die?
    • Do you agree with your religion’s perceptions of death, dying, and the afterlife? If not, how do your personal feelings differ?

    4. When you have finished your discussion with your class, ask students to identify any similarities or differences they noted between religious beliefs toward death and dying. Ask students the following questions, and any others you feel are appropriate:

    • Were you surprised to learn some of the similarities and differences between religious beliefs toward death? Why or why not?
    • Do you think that any of the burial or mourning rituals you learned about today help bring comfort to the dying and their loved ones? If so, how?

    • How do you feel about some of the rituals surrounding and religious beliefs toward death you learned about today? Can you envision yourself accepting any of these beliefs or rituals? Did they inspire you to rethink your current beliefs?
    • Why do you think people adhere to these rituals and beliefs?5. Record key points on a flip chart, chalkboard, or dry-erase board, and ask questions and encourage further discussion as necessary.

    Activity 1: Comfort in Believing

    In this activity, students consider the ways religious beliefs and notions of the afterlife might bring comfort to those who are dying.

    1. Explain to students that, in this activity, they will interview a trusted adult such as a parent, family member, teacher, religious leader or clergy member to determine how or if religious beliefs help them to accept their mortality and comfort them in times of loss.

    2. Distribute Student Organizer 1 and review the questions that students will ask while conducting their interview. Encourage students to add or modify questions as they see fit.

    3. When students have completed their interviews, ask volunteers to share the information they gathered. Record key points on a flip chart, chalkboard, or dry-erase board. Note similarities and differences among the responses students received, and ask questions and encourage further discussion whenever necessary.

    4. When students have finished sharing their findings, form a discussion with your class based on the following questions and any other questions you feel are appropriate:

    • Overall, do you think religious beliefs help us to accept our mortality? Do beliefs in a higher power and an afterlife help conquer the fears many of us have about death? Why or why not?
    • Do you think those who align themselves with a particular religion are more likely to find comfort in times of illness and loss than those who do not subscribe to an organized religion? Why or why not?
    • Why do you think beliefs in an afterlife help comfort those who are dying? Why do you think these beliefs help comfort those who have lost a loved one?
    • Do you think religious beliefs help us understand the value of being alive and well? Do you think they help us appreciate our friends and family while they are still with us? Why or why not?
    • Do you think that death ever causes people to question or doubt their religious beliefs? Explain.5. Record key points as students share their thoughts. Encourage further discussion and ask additional questions as necessary.Student Organizer 1 Directions: Use the questions below as you complete your interview for Activity 1. Feel free to add or modify questions as you wish.1. Can you describe some of your religious beliefs regarding death and dying? (For example, what becomes of our bodies and spirits when we die?)2. Do you ever question your religious beliefs? If so, what causes you to wonder about your religious beliefs toward death and dying?

      3. Do your religious beliefs help you accept your mortality? Why or why not?

      4. Do your religious beliefs bring you comfort when a loved one is ill?

      5. Have your religious beliefs helped you cope with the loss of a loved one? How so?

      6. Do your religious beliefs influence the way you behave throughout life? In other words, do you think there is a direct connection between the life we live on earth and what we face after death?

      7. Are there religious rituals that bring you comfort when a loved one dies? What are they?

      8. Are there religious rituals that make you uncomfortable when a loved one dies? What are they? Do you follow these rituals even though you don’t care for them? Why or why not?

      9. Do you think that people who don’t affiliate themselves with a particular religion might not find the same comfort during illness and loss as those who do?

      10. If you were faced with a terminal illness, what are some religious teachings or rituals that might bring you comfort?

    Activity 2: End-of-Life Care

    In this activity, students consider the ways end-of-life care can be improved in the United States.

    1. Ask students to visit http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week442/feature.html and read the transcript titled, Compassion Sabbath. (If students do not have access to the Internet, printed copies of the transcript will do.)

    2. When students have finished reading the transcript, review the intentions of the Compassion Sabbath movement, and reiterate that two of the most important issues for the terminally ill are pain management and spiritual care. Ask students if they have any questions about the movement and its goals before continuing.

    3. Divide students into groups of four. Then, ask them to discuss with their group members the importance of meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of the dying as well as their medical needs. Students should focus on the following questions, and any other questions you feel are appropriate, as they complete their discussion:

    • Do you think Compassion Sabbath is an admirable movement? Why or why not?
    • Overall, do you think it is important that the spiritual and emotional needs of the dying be considered? Do you think these needs are just as important as their medical needs? Why or why not?
    • How might the quality of a terminally ill person’s life be improved if his or her spiritual and emotional needs are met? Do you think that, by having these needs met, the dying will experience a more peaceful death? Why or why not?
    • What might be done to assure the emotional and spiritual needs of the dying are met?

    4. Distribute Student Organizer 2 and explain that students may use the organizer to record their thoughts as they complete their discussion.

    5. Allow up to 15 minutes for the discussion. Then, ask volunteers from each group to share their thoughts about whether the emotional and spiritual needs of the dying are just as important as their medical needs, and how these needs might be met. Record key points on a flip chart, chalkboard, or dry-erase board, and encourage further discussion of ideas as necessary.


    Culminating Activity/Assessment

    In this activity, students research burial rituals among various religious groups, and identify any similarities or differences among them.

    1. Divide your class into groups of four.

    2. Explain to students that in this activity, they will research burial rituals that four different groups follow when a loved one dies. The four groups they will research are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims.

    3. Tell students that each group member will be responsible for researching the rituals that belong to one of the four previously mentioned religious groups. Allow students time to select one group member for each religious group.

    4. Tell students that their research should answer the following questions:

      What rituals are performed before burial ceremonies? (For example, are bodies washed, dressed, or prepared in a particular way?)

    • What type of burial ceremony is preformed? (For example, are bodies waked? Are funeral masses held? Are bodies generally cremated or buried? Are there special traditions that occur during the burial or cremation? Are special prayers said?)
    • What, if any, mourning rituals exist among the religious groups? What philosophies of mourning does the religious group follow?
    • Does this religious group believe in an afterlife? If so, describe.

    5. When students have completed their research, ask them to return to their groups and create a presentation that identifies their findings. Their presentations should detail the mourning and burial rituals that exist in each religious group. They should also identify the similarities and differences that exist among them.

    6. Allow each group 10-15 minutes to deliver their presentations. Answer questions and encourage further discussion as necessary.

    Note: If students have a difficult time finding resources with adequate information, the following excerpts and PBS transcripts may provide them with information needed to complete their research and presentation:


    Extension Activities

    • Ask students to visit http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week402/perspectives.html and read the transcript titled Perspectives: Bill Moyers – On Our Own Terms. Then, divide your students into groups of four and ask them to engage in a discussion on why terminally ill patients might prefer to live their final days in their own home instead of in a hospital. Students should focus on the following as they complete their discussion:
    • How might terminally ill patients benefit from spending their final days at home? How might they benefit from spending them in a hospital?
    • If a doctor or other health professional strongly recommends the patient stay in the hospital, should the patient be allowed to return home nonetheless?
    • Do you think that family members should be involved in the decision to keep a terminally ill patient hospitalized or to allow him or her to return home?
    • Ultimately, who should have the final word on whether a terminally ill patient should be allowed to return home?When students have finished their discussion, ask volunteers from each group to share their thoughts. Ask them to share whether they think they would prefer hospice care over hospital care, and how they would feel if doctors or family members tried to interfere with that decision. Encourage further discussion of key points and ask additional questions as necessary.

    Ask students to visit the following three sites and read the appropriate transcripts:

    When students have finished reading, form a debate with your class to determine whether physicians should be allowed to assist the suicides of terminally ill patients. The debate should focus on the following points:

    • If patients request that a doctor help them die on their own terms, should the doctor be allowed to do so?
    • Can assisted suicide be considered murder if the patient has given the doctor consent?
    • Should it be legal or illegal for doctors to perform assisted suicides?
    • If you disagree with assisted suicide, what should the penalty be for doctors who perform them?

    Record key points on a flip chart, chalkboard, or dry-erase board, and encourage further discussion as necessary. When the debate has ended, determine what the consensus is regarding assisted suicide. Should it be legal, and should doctors who perform them be penalized?

    Ask students to complete a journal entry that discusses their thoughts on the afterlife. Students should begin by describing what they have learned from religion about the afterlife, and they should identify whether they agree with this philosophy or not. (Students who do not identify themselves with a specific religion can concentrate solely on their personal beliefs about death and the afterlife as they complete this activity.) Students should also include their thoughts on whether the life one lives on Earth affects the afterlife. For example, do students believe that leading a good life will result in a peaceful afterlife? Lastly, students should identify how their beliefs or disbeliefs in an afterlife affect their thoughts on their own mortality and the mortality of their loved ones.

    • In this activity, students interview a guidance counselor, school psychologist, sociology teacher, or history or political science teacher to determine why religious extremists take their own lives and the lives of others in the name of God. The following questions should be answered during the interview:
    • What causes religious extremists to believe that, by killing themselves and others, they will be rewarded in death?
    • Why do members of otherwise peaceful religions embrace such extreme philosophies?
    • Why do extremists feel such a deep obligation to die for their religion?
    • Does religion alone cause extremists to kill themselves and others? What other reasons might one have for committing such acts?

    When students have completed their interviews, ask them to compile their findings in a brief report (3-5 paragraphs). You might also choose to engage your class in a discussion, allowing volunteers to share what they learned in their interviews. Identify similarities or differences encountered in the information that was gathered during this exercise, and encourage further discussion of key points as necessary. Encourage students to share their own ideas about what might drive members of religious groups to become extremists.

  • Divide students into groups of four and ask them to discuss whether they feel it is important to show respect for the dead. Students should address the following questions during their discussion:
  • Is it important to speak respectfully of the dead? Why or why not?
  • Is it important to respect the final resting places of the dead? Why or why not? How can we do this?
  • Do your religious beliefs influence your decision to be respectful of the dead? If so, how?
  • Does the way someone lived influence your decision to be respectful toward them in death? Explain.When students have finished their discussions, ask volunteers from each group to share their thoughts on this topic. Ask additional questions as necessary and encourage further discussion of key points.
    • Ask students to visit http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week436/profile.html and read the profile on Thomas Lynch. When students have finished reading, ask them to think about Thomas Lynch’s philosophy regarding the ties between each of his vocations: mortician and writer. He says, “It is the same enterprise: to organize some response to what is unspeakable. We need a way to say unspeakable things, and funerals do. So do poems.” Then, ask students to work independently to complete a brief essay (3-5 paragraphs) on whether they agree or disagree with this statement and why. When students have completed their essays, ask volunteers to share some of their thoughts and ideas with the rest of the class, and form a discussion based on the following points:
    • Why do you think Thomas Lynch feels funerals are an opportunity to say unspeakable things?
    • What, in your opinion, are the “unspeakable things” that he refers to?
    • Why do you think it is easier to say these things in the event of a death than while our loved ones are still alive?
    • By saying the “unspeakable” upon someone’s death, do you think these words carry the same impact as they would if they were said while he or she was still alive? Why or why not?
    • How does writing provide an opportunity to say the unthinkable?
    • Do you think there are other creative outlets that might help us say the unthinkable? (i.e. music and art) What are they and why do you think they are effective means of communicating words that are often difficult to say?
    • Can you think of a poem, story, song, or piece of artwork that effectively communicates your own feelings toward death, or that helps you express your feelings regarding the loss of a loved one? What is this poem, story, song, or piece of artwork, and why does it speak to you so deeply?Record key points on a flip chart, chalkboard, or dry-erase board, and ask questions and encourage further discussion as necessary.