Lived religion takes religion from “the rarified realm of doctrine and text and places it instead within the give-and-take of a multicultural sphere.”
Henry Goldschmidt, Ph.D.Direction of Programs, The Interfaith Center of New York
For students to fully participate in civic life, they must understand and appreciate the diversity and complexity of religious traditions. To gain this understanding, educators should teach about lived religions. This approach, advocated by Henry Goldschmidt of the Interfaith Center of New York, takes religion out of “the rarified realm of doctrine and text and places it instead within the give-and-take of a multicultural sphere.” (1)
To put lived religion into practice, teachers need to use a constitutionally sound and accessible framework. Benjamin Marcus of the Religious Freedom Center Freedom Forum Institute provides this framework in Chapter 1 of Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom. Using this six-point framework, teachers can successfully integrate lived religion model that avoids the generalizations and oversimplifications of the out-of-date world religions model.
Broken down, points one through three of the six-point framework originate from the cultural studies approach to religion advocated by Diane Moore of the Harvard Divinity School Religion and Public Life. These elements can also be found in the text, Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the U.S., published by the American Academy of Religion. A Harvard Divinity School (HarvardX) video detailing this methodology is an excellent resource for communicating this approach. The points are as follows:
- Religions are dynamic and changing, not static and fixed.
- Religions are diverse and not internally homogenous.
- Religions are embedded in the culture, not isolated from them. (2)
The next items of the framework, points four through six, are based on the 3Bs developed by Ben Marcus of The Freedom Forum. For those unfamiliar with the 3Bs, they are behavior, belief, and belonging. If an educator can communicate the complexity of the spectrum and interchange of beliefs, behaviors, and belonging, students will gain a unique perspective in analyzing and understanding religious identities. The points from the 3Bs are as follows:
- Religious beliefs (theology to doctrine) affect people’s lives differently.
- Behaviors (rites, rituals, habits, and practices) affect belief and belonging to religious communities.
- Belonging (communities of co-religionists) affects a person’s behaviors and beliefs. (3)
Combining the cultural studies method for studying religion with the 3Bs creates the six-point framework, a powerful tool for understanding lived religion. The six-point framework allows teachers to develop lessons that uncover lived religion, relevant and connected to cultures, becoming invaluable in students developing religious literacy, understanding religious diversity, and reaching higher levels of global competence.
For a simple but powerful example, I created a graphic organizer for the classroom based on the six-point framework. Students can complete the organizer while reading the graphic novel Ms. Marvel: No Normal or watching portions of the new Disney TV series Ms. Marvel to help build a fuller understanding of Islam (see trailers below). The graphic organizer aligns with standards from the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework: Religious Studies Companion Document making it a fun, appropriate, and applicable classroom lesson.
Tim Hall, Ph.D., is a veteran social studies educator, Executive Director of Religion Matters, adjunct history instructor at Piedmont Community College, and President-Elect of the North Carolina Council for the Social Studies. He also serves as Vance County Coordinator for the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust and as a member of the Education Advisory Board of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.
(1) Henry Goldschmidt, “Chapter 7: Teaching Lived Religion Through Literature: Classroom Strategies for Community-Based Learning” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.
(2) American Academy of Religion, Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the U.S. published by the American Academy of Religion.
(3) Benjamin Marcus, “Chapter 1: Teaching About Religion in Public Schools,” in Haynes, Charles C., ed. Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom.
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