Religion is an important area of study in any history class.
By Daniella Garran
Although religion is a controversial topic (especially in public schools), it is an important part of history and should be taught as such. Educators can effectively teach this information without proselytizing or preaching so long as it is done from a historical perspective. For example, the rise of Judaism is integral to the study of ancient Mesopotamia while the life and teachings of Jesus are very relevant to a unit on ancient Rome. Knowing about the birth of Islam is part of understanding the development of the Middle East and of the modern world. In short, religion can be included in the curriculum as something that impacted the political, social and economic development of virtually every civilization since 5000 B.C.E.
As a way of relating the history of these monotheistic religions to the modern world, have students read the newspaper or watch the evening news for a week. Have students keep track of the number of stories that are somehow related to one or all of these monotheistic religions. Students quickly see that religion is still an issue that causes great conflict and that is very much a part of current events.
An interesting way to compare and contrast these three Abrahamitic religions is through their art. Art often chronicles the history and experiences of a certain group of people in addition to showing what is important to them. Studying the icons of the Byzantine era, the art of the Renaissance and Gothic architecture provides a fascinating look into Christianity. The art of Holocaust survivors and those who lived through pogroms in Eastern Europe documents an important time in the history of the Jewish people. Islamic art is equally interesting. It is mostly geometric or abstract rather than figurative. In short, a great deal can be learned about each of the religions by analyzing the art of their followers.
Another engaging way to learn about the role of religion in today’s world is to study recent court cases involving the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. Students may also be interested to learn about cases in other nations where people’s rights to religious freedom may not be as protected as those of the Americans people. Other current issues which might interest students are racial profiling and restrictions on religious dress (e.g.: burkas or headscarves).
Finally, it is also important to study religious persecution throughout history. Students should understand the widespread persecution of Christians during the Roman Empire, the genocide of Europe’s Jews in the Holocaust and the attempts to convert Muslims during the Crusades. Here are six lesson plans which can enhance your student's understanding about monotheistic religions.
Monotheistic Religions Lesson Plans:
This lesson is a great introduction to the similarities and differences among Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Students become familiar with the founders and prophets of each religion, their respective beliefs and their places of origin. Suggestions are made for ways to extend learning including inviting local religious leaders to the class to speak and creating a color-coded map of where each religion is practiced today.
Students understand the fundamental similarities and differences between the world’s oldest two monotheistic religions. They research Judaism and Christianity in small groups in preparation for a presentation to the rest of the class. Extensions are also suggested for how to incorporate a study of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Students also map the Middle East to develop an understanding of where historical events in Judaism and Christianity have taken place.
Students begin with a jigsaw activity which will allow small groups to become “experts” on one religion. Once they have gathered all necessary information, they present their findings to the rest of the class. The class as a whole compares and contrasts the rituals, holidays, beliefs and texts of the three religions.
This creative lesson requires students to write a journal from the perspective of a modern-day pilgrim journeying to Jerusalem. Students can write from the perspective of a Jew, Muslim or Christian, each of which will have a different reason for visiting the Holy Land. Students are then encouraged to create a PowerPoint presentation for the rest of the class.
This lesson provides some important background material on the religion of Islam. It is especially important to impart accurate information about Islam to students who live in a world in which there are a great many misconceptions about the religion. Working in small groups, students prepare and present a report on Islam for the rest of the class.
This is another comprehensive lesson which can help students develop an understanding of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by conducting independent research. Once the research is complete, students form “expert panels” on their assigned religions and teach the rest of the class. A link to WorldNet Virginia’s web site and travel log included which helps to make the information students have garnered come to life.