Starting Points, Not Stereotypes

A Friendly Guide to Teaching World Religions


My vision is to create a premier “World Religions+” curriculum for teachers to use, borrow from, and adapt to their own courses.  I use the term “World Religions+” to indicate that this curriculum not only introduces students to the academic study of religions, but integrates components for their own spiritual development along the way.  The horizontal arm of the “+” symbolizes the capacity of this curriculum to build bridges to other people and cultures; the vertical arm indicates the curriculum’s capacity to open doorways “down” and/or “up” into one’s own self-knowledge and relationship to a higher power or ultimate concern.

World Religions+ is wonderfully diverse in its approaches to world religions and spirituality, reflecting the multidisciplinary nature of the academic study of religion, and indeed of religion itself.  The introductory unit introduces students to belief-, materialist-, and functionalist- approaches, including sociologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, and theologians.  It also introduces students to the nonreductive approach of phenomenology through the work of Ninian Smart.  The religions themselves are approached through sacred object encounters, sacred text readings, films and video clips, fieldwork, and experiential journal activities.  The latter are taken from my book Soul Explorations: A Journey/Journal for Two Through the World’s Religions. These prompts and activities are proven to promote spiritual development while imparting understanding of religious concepts and practices.  Most importantly, they foster meaningful relationships among students and teacher as they dialogue contemplatively about their journal writing.

This curriculum is divided into units for five of the world’s religions, plus an introduction to the academic study of religion.  These six units will be broken down into about ten different twenty- to thirty-minute modules, so that teachers can easily adapt the lessons to their schedules.  They can adopt the entire curriculum, or they can shop around in it for lessons to enhance their own tried-and-true lessons.  They may also use these modules to add to their own knowledge of each of these traditions, as none of us ever comes out of our schooling with expertise in all of these areas.

The online format of the World Religions+ lesson plans will make this material easily accessible to religious studies teachers across the world, and it will enable us to update and edit the material as we continually deepen our own understandings. References to the Soul Explorations journal activities will hyperlink to sample journal prompts on the website. However, our research has shown that the Soul Explorations method is most successful when when people engage in that work in hard-copy, either through the Soul Explorations: A Journey/Journal For Two Through the World’s Religions (when it gets published), or simply in a journal of your choosing for this purpose.