Posted On 20 May 2022 by Vicki Garlock

What Can We Learn About Equal Rights from Catholic Feminists?

Guest Blog: Serene Williams and Kristen Kelly

[Wikimedia Commons/Edward Kimmel (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

As a result of our professional experience as educators at a Catholic school founded by women religious, we have a shared interest in researching the history of feminist nuns, especially as it relates to the long political struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment. We have been particularly moved by our direct experience working on women’s issues with an incredibly inspiring nun, Sr. Fran Tobin, RSCJ.

An Important Topic

During our time working as educators, women religious have privately, and publicly, shared anecdotal stories of feminist activism by women religious throughout the 1970s. These stories were initially shocking, as it is rare to hear about feminist activism by Catholic nuns, especially given the entrenched conservatism of the Magisterium. Students rarely learn anything about the political history of Catholic women in their K-16 history courses. When they do, it is often in the context of conservative Catholicism, with an emphasis on activists, like Phyllis Schlafly, and anti-feminist groups, like the Eagle Forum. We believe it is especially important for students attending Catholic schools to learn about Catholic women pioneers, as it will contribute to their understanding of both gender justice and the women’s rights movement. Moreover, by not learning about Catholic feminist nuns, students miss hearing about all the interesting direct actions undertaken by feminist nuns in support of constitutional gender equality.

The Roots of Activism

Catholic feminists, and especially women religious, have been fighting institutional subordination based on sex, both inside and outside the Magisterium, in an organized way since Vatican II. According to the iconic Catholic feminist nun, Sr. Margaret Traxler, Catholic women fought both political and religious revolutions as they worked to obtain constitutional gender equality for all women. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was particularly important. In fact, according to historian Mary Henold, an expert on Catholic feminism, “ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment was a major focus of every American Catholic feminist group after 1972, when Congress sent the amendment to the states.” 

Luckily, the political activism of Catholic feminist nuns has been surprisingly well documented in both the Catholic and the mainstream press. It may seem as though most Catholics opposed the ERA, and conservative Catholics, like Phyllis Schlafly, are often cited as a major reason for its failure. But, that is simply not the case. As stated by Jane J. Mansbridge in her book, Why We Lost the ERA, Catholics were even more likely to support this amendment than Protestants. Unfortunately, this is not widely known.

One reason, perhaps, is that equal rights for women in the Church still have not been obtained. Back in 1980, the New York Daily News noted, “The Roman Catholic Church is not what you would call an Equal Opportunity  Employer.” Despite the entrenched inequality, Catholic women, and especially women religious, persevered. They continued making a public argument for gender equality and worked with innovative organizations like Catholics Act for ERA to effect change. Decades later, however, achieving women’s rights, both in and out of the Church, including women’s ordination, continues to be a struggle.

A Timely Topic

We aim to raise awareness of this important story and publicly analyze the political activities and contributions of Catholic feminist women religious in the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. This blog post will begin a series of public projects, to be completed by the end of 2023, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the ERA first being introduced in Congress. Many Catholic feminists, especially women religious, are humble and do not often brag about their political accomplishments. Famous feminists, like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, are often mentioned in the context of the women’s liberation movement. But, women religious such as Sister Maureen Fiedler, Sister Margaret Traxler, and Sister Marjorite Tuite are equally important to a comprehensive understanding of the political struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Our goal, then, is to advocate for a fuller understanding of how women religious were part of the broader, 20th-century feminist women’s movement. Understanding the political activism of Catholic feminist women religious also provides a more comprehensive understanding of the movement’s continuity. Radical feminist activities did not die down by the 1970’s. In fact, they persist to this day. 

This narrative is timely in other ways, as well. The state of Virginia ratified the Equal Rights Amendment in January, 2020, and many legal scholars believe it should now be added to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, many of the Catholic feminist women who advocated for the ERA, such as Sister Donna Quinn who was a leader of National Coalition of American Nuns, are passing away. Quinn’s recent death highlights the urgent need for greater attention to the political activism of Catholic nuns. They deserve better recognition.

Serene Williams earned her B.A. and M.A. degrees in Political Science. For nearly twenty years she has taught a wide variety of political science and history courses. She has written curriculum for many unique history courses including History Seminar Honors: Women in U.S. History and Advanced Topics in Women’s History & Women’s Religion. Serene frequently presents about teaching intersectional feminist political history at a wide variety of conferences with her interdisciplinary teaching partner, Kristen Kelly. Serene is also a prolific Wikipedian who frequently creates pages about feminist history and politics.

Kristen Kelly has a MA in Cultural Historical Religion from the Graduate Theological Union-Berkeley and teaches all high school levels at the Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, California. She created the “Gender & Sexuality in the Bible” course and co-taught the interdisciplinary Women’s Studies courses. Currently, she is co-teaching AP Comparative Government and Politics with Serene Williams. Kristen loves collaborating with scholars and teachers and has presented at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, the National Council for Social Studies, and the Berkshire Conference of Women’s Historians. Kristen loves teaching religion and history from an intersectional lens, focusing especially on gender and sexuality issues.

Posted On 21 Apr 2022 by religionmatters

Unbundling Faith: Why Religion Still Matters among Gen Z

Guest Blog

Sam Ludlow-Broback, MTS & Kevin Singer, MA

The question of why religion still matters today is pressing, but perhaps incomplete without also considering how religion matters. Understanding how and why religion matters to today’s young people, Gen Z, reveals a drastic difference in the understanding of religiosity and spirituality among previous generations. Looking at how and why religion matters to today’s young people will help inform the evolution of the impact religion has in the world today.

Many data points suggest young people are continuously dissociating from institutional religion. Our latest research at Springtide Research Institute confirms this, with only 14% of people ages 13-25 saying they trust organized religion completely. 

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This is not for nothing – there are good reasons for this.

Nearly four in ten members of Gen Z (39%) tell us they’ve been harmed by religion, and 45% tell us they don’t feel safe when it comes to religion. In addition, when it comes to their values, half of the young people don’t think religious institutions care about the things that matter to them. This often leads to discomfort and an inability to be one’s “full self” within particular religious organizations – 55% of young people reported feeling this way.

It is tempting to conclude, then, that those young people are incrementally becoming less religious.

But our data suggests this conclusion isn’t true.

Yes, there is a clear disconnect between young people and religious institutions; but even with this disconnect, our findings do not reveal a loss of interest in spiritual and religious questions among young people, or even a loss of faith.

Instead, we see 71% of young people identifying as religious and 78% identifying as spiritual. Despite over half (52%) of Gen Z saying they attended one or no religious services within the previous year, they are still claiming to be religious and spiritual. 

So, religion is still making an impact in their lives. But it is doing so in unique ways.

Our report coins the term “faith unbundled” to describe how religion matters to young people today. If traditional religious practices are to be thought of as a small menu of food for people to pick from, then Gen Z is saying they prefer a potluck of diverse perspectives and spiritual sources. 

Rather than being told what to think, Gen Z prefers to explore meaning and religion on their own terms. Gen Z is less interested in a complete and intact system driven by one religious institution and more interested in a complete and intact self, which may rely on and draw from many systems and traditions. They may pull a spiritual practice from Buddhism, a community practice from Islam, practice yoga, find meaning in music, or dive into spiritual questions in the classroom.

If we think being religious doesn’t necessarily mean believing certain things or identifying with a specific tradition, then it also doesn’t mean maintaining a prescribed set of practices. Young people turn to a variety of practices they deem religious (as shown below).

This data has shown us how religion matters in a unique way to young people today. Additionally, our research also has a unique answer to the question: why does religion matter?

The answer is pretty simple. Young people who identify as “religious” are more likely to report that they are flourishing in nearly every category we surveyed. This included work, at home, financially, physical health and mental health, social lives, and relationships.

In some of these categories, young people who identified as religious were more than twice as likely to be flourishing.

So whatever young people are doing in their unbundled approach to faith seems to be working. It is evident that religion matters even when young people are less likely to attend religious services. 

These findings point to the power religion continues to have even if young people feel the traditional sense of religiosity is outdated or not relevant to their lives. It shows that religion does in fact still matter and that the potential for religious impact needs to continue to be explored in unbundled ways.

Sam Ludlow-Broback is a Media Relations intern for Springtide Research Institute. He received his Master of Theological Studies with a focus in systematic theology from Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.

Kevin Singer (M.A., Wheaton College) is Head of Media and Public Relations for Springtide Research Institute, a professor of world religions at two community colleges, and a Ph.D. student in higher education at North Carolina State University.

Posted On 31 Mar 2022 by religionmatters

How Do You Teach about Ramadan in the K-5 Classroom?

Guest Blog: Rev. Dr. Vicki Garlock

Ramadan {RAH-muh-dahn} is the month-long Islamic fasting holiday that begins with the sighting of the new moon. When the month of Ramadan ends, and the new month begins, there is a celebration called Eid al-Fitr {EED ahl-FIT-er}.

This year (2022), Ramadan begins around April 2nd. The Islamic calendar follows the moon, so it has 12 months that are roughly 28 days each. That means two things:

  • The Islamic calendar year is about 12 days shorter than the calendar year used in the U.S.
  • Islamic holidays “move up” about 12 days each year relative to the U.S. calendar. Ramadan began in mid-April last year (2021) and will begin in mid-March next year (2023).

There are several aspects of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Islam that you can constitutionally and non-devotionally share with K-5 students. Below you will find some teacher prompts with images to help guide a classroom discovery of Islam and Ramadan. Click here for a PDF of this lesson. You can also click here for our free, age-appropriate PowerPoint presentation.

And, be sure to let me know if you have questions, concerns, or comments!

Introduction – Mosques and Muslims

Even very young students might already know something about Ramadan and/or Islam, so we recommend starting with some questions/prompts. We have included images, but if you have a mosque/Islamic center in your community, you might want to visit that website for images.

Teacher: Today we’re talking about a holiday that is special to many people around the world. It’s called Ramadan, and it’s celebrated by people who follow the religion called Islam. Have any of you ever heard of Ramadan or Islam?

Teacher: Most religions have places where people can gather. For example, if you are Christian, you might go to a church. Have any of you ever been to a church before? What kinds of things do you see on/in a church? [crosses, steeples, altars, Bibles, pictures/statues of Jesus, stained glass windows, pews, hymnals, candles, angels]

Teacher: In Islam, they don’t call their gathering spaces churches. Instead, they call them mosques. Here are some pictures of the outside of mosques. What kinds of things do you notice? [domes, small towers called minarets]

Teacher: And these are photos of the inside of mosques. What kinds of things do you notice now? [mostly empty space with carpet, plenty of room for everyone to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to pray]

Teacher: You might also notice that there are no pictures of people on the inside. Instead, mosques are usually decorated with colorful flowers, geometric designs, and calligraphy. Do you know what “calligraphy” is? [Fancy writing. In mosques, the fancy writing is usually in Arabic. In the left-hand image below, the brightly-lit, right-hand circle is an example of Arabic calligraphy.]

Teacher: Sometimes, religions have symbols. Do you recognize any of the symbols in this image?

Teacher: The symbol in the middle is a cross. Have any of you ever seen that symbol before? [Crosses are a symbol of Christianity and are seen both on the outside and inside of churches.]

Teacher: How about the one on the bottom? Do you know what that symbolizes? [The Star of David is a symbol of Judaism. It’s almost always seen on the inside of synagogues and sometimes on the outside.]

Teacher: How about the one on the top? What does that look like to you? [The crescent moon is an unofficial symbol of Islam. Sometimes, you see it on the tops of the domes and minarets.] Can you find the crescent moons on this mosque – the Crystal Mosque in Malaysia?

Teacher: The most famous mosque in the world is found in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. [You can show them the Arabian peninsula on a world map.]

Teacher: In the center of that mosque, there is a courtyard, and in the center of the courtyard, there is a large cube called the Kaaba {KAH-buh}. It’s a very special place for Muslims. The Kaaba has existed, in some form or other, since ancient times. Nowadays, it is covered with a black cloth decorated with gold. Each year, millions of Muslims visit the Kaaba. This picture shows you how big it is. See all those people below it? Don’t they look small?

Teacher: People who follow Islam are called Muslims. Have you ever known someone who was Muslim?

Teacher: You can’t always tell when someone is Muslim just by looking at them. But, sometimes, you will see a Muslim woman who covers her hair. This is called wearing hijab {hee-JOB}. Have you ever seen someone wearing hijab?


Sharing What You Know

Teacher: Right now, Muslims from around the world are observing Ramadan. Have any of you ever heard that word before?  [Make sure they can say it.]

Teacher: Ramadan is the name of the month AND the name of the holiday. Do you know what Muslims do during the month of Ramadan?

Teacher: This video will give you a great overview of Ramadan. Watch it carefully, and then we’ll see what you remember.

Review Questions

What do Muslims do during Ramadan?  [Fast – no food or water – from sunrise to sunset]

Do Muslims eat or drink anything during Ramadan?  [They can eat when it’s dark – either before sunrise or after sunset. After sunset, they often eat together with friends, relatives, or people from their mosque]

What is the point of fasting during Ramadan?  [To remember how people who are poor/hungry might feel, to learn more about their religion]

Does every single person fast?  [No – people who are pregnant, sick, or old do not have to fast. Kids in elementary school or middle school might try fasting a little bit, but it’s mostly for teenagers and adults.]

Story of Ramadan

Teacher: Does anyone know why Ramadan was chosen as the fasting month?

Click here to read a story about why Ramadan was chosen as the fasting month. 

Eid al-Fitr

Teacher: In the Islamic calendar, each month starts with the new moon. When Muslims see the crescent moon that begins the month of Ramadan, they know the month of fasting has begun. Over the next 28 days, the moon looks bigger and bigger in the night sky until it looks full. Then, it begins to look smaller and smaller again.

Image: Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Teacher: When Muslims finally see the crescent moon again, they know the next month is beginning and the month of fasting is over. That means it’s time for Eid {EED}! The Eid is a big celebration. Muslims usually go to the mosque and pray in the morning. Then, everyone eats a big breakfast with family and friends. Sometimes, there are fairs and games and presents, too. They also collect items, like money or clothes or toys, to share with those in need. Do you celebrate any holidays that include:

  • eating special foods?
  • getting together with family and friends?
  • playing games?
  • going to a religious place?
  • opening presents?
  • collecting items for people in need?


I have developed two crafts for K-5 kids. The first one is a simple color-by-number which will produce a crescent moon (an unofficial symbol of Islam) and star. Click here for the printable pattern.

Materials Needed: One color-by-number template and at least three different colored crayons/markers/colored pencils per student.

Process: Have the students use one color for the #1 spaces, another color for the #2 spaces, and a third color for the #3 spaces.

My second craft is a put-together Kaaba cube. Click here for the printable pattern.

Materials: One Kaaba cube template per student, scissors, tape. Gold markers or glue and gold glitter are optional.

Instructions: Cut around the outside of the template. Fold along the solid lines to form a cube. Tape the cube together using the tabs. Decorate the outside of the cube with gold-colored supplies. 

Additional Links

If you’re interested in learning more about Ramadan or Islam, check out some of these additional links.  


Vicki is the founder of Faith Seeker Kids, a company dedicated to interfaith education and religious literacy. She earned her Ph.D. with dual specialties in Neuroscience and Cognitive Development and worked as a full-time Psychology Professor for over a decade before becoming the Nurture Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist at a progressive-type Christian Church in Asheville, NC. She is the author of We All Have Sacred Spaces and Embracing Peace: Stories from the World’s Faith Traditions. Visit her website for archived blog posts and additional information on available resources. Or, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Posted On 18 Mar 2022 by religionmatters

Lived Religion, Six-Point Framework and Ms. Marvel

Dr. Tim Hall


For students to fully participate in civic life filled with religious diversity, they need to understand the diversity and complexity of religious beliefs and traditions. To gain this understanding, educators should use the lived religion model. This approach, advocated by Henry Goldschmidt of 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 public sphere.” (1)

To put lived religion into practice, teachers need to use the 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. Points one through three of the framework come from Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the U.S. published by the American Academy of Religion, while points four through six of the framework come from the Religious Freedom Center Freedom Forum Institute. Using this six-point framework, teachers can successfully integrate lived religion model that avoids the generalizations and oversimplifications of the old religious traditions-based model. 

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. A video produced by the Harvard Divinity School detailing this methodology is an excellent resource in conveying this approach.

  • Point One: Religions are diverse and not internally homogenous. 
  • Point Two: Religions are dynamic and changing, not static and fixed. 
  • Point Three: Religions are embedded in the culture, not isolated from them.  (2)

The Cultural Studies Approach to Religion

Points four through six are based on the 3Bs of The Religious Freedom Center Freedom Forum Institute. The 3Bs are behavior, belief, and belonging.

  • Point Four: Religious beliefs (theology and doctrine) affect the lives of people in a variety of ways in daily life. 
  • Point Five: Behaviors (rites, rituals, habits, and practices) affect belief and belonging to religious communities. 
  • Point Six: Belonging (communities of co-religionists) affect a person’s behaviors and beliefs. (3)

If an educator can convey the complexity of this interchange of beliefs, behaviors, and belonging that is both historically and culturally embedded, students will have insight into the uniqueness of religious identities.

The 3Bs of Religious Identity Formation (4)

Used as a whole, this six-point framework is inclusive of the lived religion model.  The framework allows teachers to develop constitutionally sound lessons that uncover a lived religions and their importance to local, national, and global cultures. This is extremely valuable in developing students with a deeper understanding of religious literacy and diversity and higher levels of global competence. 

For the classroom, Below, I have created a simple graphic organizer 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 trailer below). The graphic organizer aligns with standards from the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework: Religious Studies Companion Document  (D2.Rel.2.9-12, D2.Rel.3.9-12, D2.Rel.4.9-12, D2.Rel.5.9-12, D2.Rel.6.9-12, D2.Rel.7.9-12, D2.Rel.8.9-12, and D2.Rel.9.9-12) making it very fun, appropriate and applicable classroom lesson. 

Lived Religion Graphic Organizer

Ms. Marvel Trailer

(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.

(4) “Religious Identity Formation,” Religious Freedom Center, accessed March 17, 2022,   

Posted On 25 Feb 2022 by religionmatters

What are the challenges to teaching for religious literacy?

Dr. Tim Hall

There are four excellent reasons for the incorporation of religion in schools. These include civic and constitutional reasons for religious literacy. There is also an argument for religious literacy as part of a liberal studies education. And finally, I assert that religious literacy can be connected to global competence. 

  • With the reasons clear, why do teachers still hesitate to incorporate religion into the curriculum?
  • What keeps educators ignoring the place of religious literacy in the classroom?

According to Sarah B. Brooks of Millersville University in her article in Social Studies Research and Practice, teachers have some very specific concerns which I have condensed below (1)

Concern: Teachers are concerned about insufficient knowledge of the religious spectrum. Many educators struggle to identify basic religious facts, such as critical leaders, sacred texts, or events. This lack of content knowledge includes their religious affiliation.

Reality: A modest amount of professional development (PD) on teaching the content of religions can help with knowledge and skill base and increase confidence. Here is link to some very good online options.

Concern: Teachers are concerned about teaching without bias towards any religion or, in other words, remaining neutral.

Reality: Some teacher PD understanding and applying guidelines for teaching about religion can proactively address concerns of students and families.

So educator concerns can be alleviated with some pre-service education or in-service PD focused on the content of religions with PD on the guidelines to help bring that content into the classroom. 

The guidelines I am referencing have been agreed upon and published in several different national documents including:

Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in the Classroom

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In brief, the guidelines include the following:

  • Teachers should be academic, not devotional in their treatment of all religions. Objectivity is the key to this perspective.
  • Teachers should only teach for awareness of religions, not an acceptance of religion. There should be no proselytizing in the classroom regardless of personal religious perspective, which is private.
  • Teachers should only teach about religion, not practice religion. Students should not be participating in religious ceremonies.
  • Teachers should educate for student understanding of the diversity of religious views and not have an imposition of a particular viewpoint.
  • Teachers should not promote OR denigrate religions. Adverse events associated with a particular faith tradition do not characterize the entirety of the religious group. (e.g., the perpetrators of the horrors of 9/11 do not characterize the 1.8 billion other people who are Muslim.)
  • Teachers should only inform about beliefs, but they should not seek to make students believe. (2)

If an educator follows these guidelines, they are on the way to successfully incorporating religion into the classroom. 

(1) Sarah Brooks, “Secondary teacher candidates’ experiences teaching about religion within a history curriculum

(2) First Amendment Center, A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in Public Schools

About the Author

Tim Hall, Ph.D. is a 9-12 Social Studies Learning Guide with Vance Virtual Village Academy, a Senior Fellow of the Religious Freedom Institute, and founder of the website, Religion Matters. He is the author of several textbook supplements, curriculums, standards, and popular history texts, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World History and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Middle Ages. As an educator, Dr. Hall has taught AP World History, AP European History, AP Psychology, AP US History, and numerous other social studies courses. Dr. Hall has collaborated with the College of William and Mary in Virginia to develop curriculum materials for the teaching of the principle of separation of church and state in American history as an extension to a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar. Finally, he has recently participated in the Harvard Divinity School Religion and Public Life’s Religious Literacy Summer Institute for Educators.

Posted On 21 Jan 2022 by religionmatters

How do Educators Create a Positive Climate to Teach about Religion?

Guest Blog: Matt Gresick

I love teaching world religions. Over most of my 20 years teaching public school in Maryland, I’ve found myself engaged, challenged, and fulfilled by exploring religious literacy with my students. Our school has an elective class (world religions) that deep dives into humanity’s rich faith traditions. I often get questions about how I could teach such a divisive topic as religion in today’s hyper-conflict environment. How do you create a positive climate to teach about religion in the classroom? This question is often the first one I get. To answer this question, I want to relate a classroom experience of mine that is particularly poignant and illustrative.

With teaching world religions, students need to understand that we have a unique framework of experiences that have formed how we see the world. This framework of experiences has numerous windows helping us make sense of our human condition. For instance, one of the windows I see through is thinking of myself as “male.” This “male” window I see through helps me decide how to further interact with my world, and my view of the world is different from someone who does not identify as a “male.” The same is true of our religious identity. I was raised in the Christian religious tradition, and my father is a Methodist minister, so I see the world through a Christian lens. In my world religions course, I want students to not break their religious window but try ever so slightly to look at the world through the window of another faith. They might disagree with what they see, but that’s okay; at least they are taking a look.

 The other issue I address from the start is to let students know that their words carry weight and have power. As such, they need to be civil and respectful to one another. I remember a time during my first year teaching the class. We were just finishing the Christianity unit, and I asked if there were any more additional questions. A young man in the class raised his hand and asked, “Is it true that if a woman gets an abortion, she’s going straight to Hell?” After swallowing hard and replying, “Good question and let me think for a moment,” I know how to stall for a time like all good teachers given tough questions. Then I replied, “I can’t speak to if abortion is a sin, but the Christian scripture communicates on multiple occasions that nothing is beyond the grace of God.”

I felt good about my response since it was nonjudgmental and grounded in the Christian religious tradition from a nondevotional and academic perspective in which we were studying. This nondevotional and academic perspective is a foundational principle of teaching about religion in the classroom that is articulated by the American Academy of Religion, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the Harvard Divinity School’s Religion and Public Life. As quickly as I answered the question, the bell rang, and I turned my back to organize papers. A young female student tapped me on the shoulder. I saw that her eyes were shrink-wrapped in tears as I turned around. She said, “Mr. Gresick, I had an abortion two weeks ago.” So we headed to the school counselor together. As educators, we only have a snapshot of our students and never have the whole picture. So with religion in the classroom, we need to be sure to create a respectful classroom environment that allows for multiple perspectives and upholds the principles of teaching about religion. It is then that we can teach about religions to positively impact our students’ lives.

Matt Gresick is a public school teacher with 20 years of experience teaching social studies on the middle and high school levels. He has taught world religions for a majority of that time conducting field trips to six different places of worship. In 2020, Matt won Maryland History Teacher of the Year from the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

Posted On 14 Jan 2022 by religionmatters

How Can Teachers Explore Religions in the K-5 Classroom?

Guest Blog: Rev. Dr. Vicki Garlock

Teaching About the World’s Religions (K-5)
World Interfaith Harmony Week: Sacred Spaces

World Interfaith Harmony Week is a United Nations event that takes place during the first week of February (Feb. 1-7) every year. The goal is to promote peace, mutual understanding, and cooperation across faith traditions. One way to approach this with K-5 students is by exploring sacred spaces.

Sacred spaces are simply the places where members of a particular religious community gather together. Typical examples include Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques, and Buddhist temples. Kids can easily recognize some of the typical features of sacred spaces, and it’s a great way to share the religious diversity that probably exists in your very own neighborhood.

Here are a few tips to get you started, or simply click here for our free, age-appropriate PowerPoint presentation.

And be sure to let us know if you have questions, concerns, or comments!

Common Features

Sacred spaces vary widely both within and across religious traditions. Some spaces are large, while others are small. Some spaces have been around for thousands of years, while others are more modern. Some spaces are extremely ornate, while others are quite simple. And some spaces are used for religious purposes only part of the time. For example, some Christian congregations now meet in schools, Y’s, or theaters, and many religious communities share their space with other companies or organizations.

Despite all the variability, there are some common features – both outside and inside – that kids can easily recognize. Here are some you can mention.

Christian Churches

  • Cross – seen both outside and inside; the primary symbol of Christianity because Jesus, the primary figure, died on a cross
  • Steeple – a pointed structure on the roof that might also have a clock or a bell
  • Dome – a rounded structure on the roof
  • Pews – long benches where people sit during services
  • Altar – a table at the front of the church that almost always has a cross on it. Might also hold candles and a Christian Bible.

Jewish Synagogues

  • Star of David – a 6-pointed star that looks like two, overlapping triangles
  • Altar – a table at the front that holds the Jewish Bible, which is usually a set of scrolls, rather than a book
  • Menorah – a candle-holder that contains either 7 or 9 candles

Islamic Mosques 

  • Dome – mosques almost always have at least one dome; some mosques have many
  • Minaret – a small tower containing a speaker that plays the call to prayer five times a day
  • Carpeted empty space – which leaves plenty of room for Muslims to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, to pray
  • Décor – colorful flowers and geometric designs since it’s considered disrespectful to depict the faces of prophets or other important religious figures

Buddhist Temples

  • Stupas – dome-like structures on the outside of temples. They often contain sacred objects or relics
  • Buddha statues – Statues of the Buddha, the primary figure in Buddhism, are sometimes seen on the outside, and almost always seen on the inside
  • Altar – Buddhist altars often hold candles, incense, and small offerings of food, water, flowers, or money.

Keep It Local

If you are feeling motivated, consider visiting the websites of your local religious communities. Many sites contain images of their sacred spaces that you can copy/paste into your own presentation. Or, drive by and take your own photos!

Ask Questions

Students whose families have a regular religious practice will be familiar with their sacred spaces, and they might have interesting things to share about it. Similarly, students who live near sacred spaces might have noticed some of the features mentioned.

Invite Guest Speakers

Faith leaders in your community or family members of your students would almost certainly welcome the opportunity to visit your classroom. They could bring a few ritual objects and share how they are used in religious practice. Or, they could read a book about the sacred spaces of their tradition. Published titles can be found for all the major world’s religions, and many of them can probably be found at your local library. Click here for our list of suggestions.

Additional Links

Vicki is the founder of Faith Seeker Kids, a company dedicated to interfaith education and religious literacy. She earned her Ph.D. with dual specialties in Neuroscience and Cognitive Development and worked as a full-time Psychology Professor for over a decade before becoming the Nurture Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist at a progressive-type Christian Church in Asheville, NC. She is the author of We All Have Sacred Spaces and Embracing Peace: Stories from the World’s Faith Traditions. Visit her website for archived blog posts and additional information on available resources. Or, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Posted On 9 Jan 2022 by religionmatters

How Can Educators Teach about Buddhism?

Dr. Tim Hall

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art with its special exhibit, Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia. This temporary exhibit will be shown until February 6th, at which time it will be moved to a permanent location in the museum. So I am using this blog to share my experiences at the exhibit with additional resources for educators who need more content to teach about Buddhism in their classes. I will begin with resources associated with the exhibition and then provide more general classroom resources while noting particular pedagogical perspectives to consider. 

Buddhism has influenced and been influenced by the cultures of Asia, since its earliest beginnings in India with Siddhartha Guatama (563–483 B.C.E.) or the Buddha. This influence is evidenced in Buddhist art, a source of beauty and contemplation, displayed in Encountering the Buddha. This exhibit has over two hundred objects that date over two millennia. Educators can use the artworks to demonstrate the core principles of the cultural studies method to understanding religion as follows:

  1. religions are internally diverse
  2. religions change over time
  3. religions are embedded within cultures.

My Pictures of Paths to Perfection

Paths to Perfection: Buddhist Art at the Freer | Sackler

Published by Freer|Sackler, The Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art, (Washington, D.C., 2017), pp. 230.

This book accompanies the exhibition. It offers an excellent resource for educators and students who may want to learn more about the objects in the exhibit. Educators can sample a PDF of the first 24 pages of this wonderful resource here

Buddhism Readings for Educators

Buddhism Readings for the Classroom

Below are two short religious literacy text sets sorted by grades K-2 and 3-5 for Buddhism. Please note that teachers should read and review texts before using them in the classroom to ensure alignment with curricular goals. 

Grades K-2

Bullard, Lisa, and Holli Conger. My Religion, Your Religion. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2015. This book provides a multi-perspective story on four major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.

Coombs, Kate, and Anna Emilia Laitinen. Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2017. This book showcases mindfulness poems for young readers.

Ware, Marisa Aragon. Where’s Buddha? New York, NY: Bala Kids, 2019. This text demonstrates the perspective that Buddha can be found everywhere. 

Grades 3-5

Ajmera, Maya, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon. Faith. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2009. Photographs document how children around the world celebrate their faith traditions.

Bortzer, Etan, and Robbie Marantz. What Is God? Willowdale, ON: Firefly Juvenile, 2002. This text provides a comparative introduction in text and colorful pictures to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and their sacred texts.

Buller, Laura. A Faith Like Mine: A Celebration of the World’s Religions – Seen through the Eyes of Children. London, England: DK Publication, 2006. A comprehensive informational text provides plenty of pictures that detail the major and even some of the world’s more minor faith traditions.

George, Charles. What Makes Me a Buddhist? Farmington Mills, MI: Kidhaven Press, 2005. This text discusses the origins, beliefs, praxis, and celebrations of Buddhist faith tradition.

Glossop, Jennifer, and John Mantha. The Kids Book of World Religions. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2013. An informative text details the major faith traditions of the world.

Marsico, Katie. Buddhism. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2017. This text, which is part of the Global Citizens: World Religions series, describes Buddhism through text and pictures.

Osborne, Mary Pope. One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship. New York, NY: Knopf, 1996. A non-fiction story uses photographs to detail seven major faith traditions today.

Saiwai, Tetsu. The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography. New York, NY, 2008. This excellent manga biography of the Dalai Lama provides insight into Tibetan/Chinese politics. 

Wills, Anna, and Nora Tomm. Who Believes What? Exploring the World’s Major Religions. Toronto, ON: Owlkids Books, 2018. 

Videos on Buddhism for the Classroom

Harvard Divinity School: Religion and Public Life: Buddhism

Religion for Breakfast: Who is the Buddha?

Religion for Breakfast: What is Buddhism?

Harvard Divinity School: Religion and Public Life: Misunderstandings about Religion (Cultural Studies Approach to Religion)

Posted On 19 Nov 2021 by religionmatters

Dr. Tim Hall

I had a fantastic night hosting #sschat on November 15th on teaching the holidays. The Twitter chat session was titled: “The Difficulty of December: Teaching Holidays.” It was full of participation and energy from teachers across the nation. But if you didn’t have time to catch it on Twitter, I have compiled the Q&A from the hour-long Twitter chat in today’s blog. I hope you find the questions and answers practical and valuable for your classroom especially with the approaching holidays.

##SSCHAT Religion Matters in Every Classroom

Question #1

Answer #1

Question #2

Answer #2

Question #3

Answer #3A

Answer #3B

Question #4

Answer #4

Question #5

Answer #5

Question #6

Answer #6

Thank you!

Posted On 22 Oct 2021 by religionmatters

What are Some Reasons to Bring Religion into the Classroom?

Dr. Tim Hall

Religious literacy is important to our students since helps to build a religious pluralism that strengthens a pluralistic democracy. Research demonstrates that knowledge of other faith traditions helps to eliminate prejudice, hate, and intolerance. Therefore, teachers shouldn’t avoid the topic of religion. Instead, they should support and incorporate it into the classroom. 

Yet understandably, there is some hesitancy with teachers. So some deeper more sustained reasons for incorporating religious literacy into the classroom would be helpful. These arguments can be used separately or jointly to provide a solid case for teaching about religion in the schools with the first three being advanced by Warren Nord and Charles Haynes in the text Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum published at the end of the millennium.

  1. Civic Argument: Schools must have a common ground. We need to learn to listen to and respect each other on deeply held understandings. So curriculum should reflect inclusivity—teaching about religious and secular ways of thinking.
  2. Constitutional Argument: Schools should remain neutral, meaning religiously neutral, neutral among religions, and neutral between religion and nonreligion. Schools should not ignore religious perspectives of thinking and living and only teach secular views of thinking and living, which can be religiously contested.
  3. Liberal Education Argument: Schools based on a liberal arts model of education require that students should be liberally educated. So they must understand a good deal of the content and context of religions. Liberal education is a long educational dialogue in which students listen to, reflect on, and think critically about a variety of perspectives tackling the most critical questions of life. Students should be learning about and from religions to gain a deeper awareness, reflectivity, and understanding of themselves and others. (1)
  4. Global Competence: Knowledge of religions is essential as we globalize in the twenty-first century. Our world is only getting smaller, and students will have more contact with other faith traditions. An understanding of religions will allow students to interact with others successfully. In more concrete terms using the Four Domains of Global Competence developed by the Asia Society, an understanding of religions provides students an opportunity to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, recognize their own and others’ perspectives, and communicate their idea effectively with diverse audiences.
Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And what do we, as educators, want to change? Oppression, racism, prejudice, and discrimination so that ALL students can reach their highest potential as human beings. Religious literacy is critical to that goal.
(1) Warren A. Nord and Charles C. Haynes, Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 1998).