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Promote Cultural Literacy & Respect for Differences at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan!

Zanzibar exhibit Anomie Photography 03 At the exhibition – America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far
Photo: Aoommie Photography

Dear Educators,

If you teach in the New York metropolitan area, we hope you will check out the new exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan: America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far. Tanenbaum is pleased to recommend this immersive, interactive exhibit, which gives children of all ages the opportunity to explore the great diversity of Muslim cultural and artistic expression.

To help you get the most out of America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far, we’re proud to offer free, downloadable resources that can be used in conjunction with the exhibit to deepen elementary school students’ understanding of Islam and other religions:

Exploring Beliefs about Religious Differences
Rituals and Traditions about Light: Hopefulness and Waiting
Recommended Reading for Preschool & Elementary Students

Finally, we’re excited to extend an invitation from the Children’s Museum to a special event at the exhibit:


    Educators, join us for a free anti-bullying workshop on Monday, May 2nd!Print

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is pleased to invite you to a free educational, interfaith program facilitated by The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom on Monday, May 2nd from 4pm-6pm.
(Registration begins at 3:30pm.)

This special workshop will take place in our new exhibit, America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far. Facilitator Dr. Nadia S. Ansary will share the tools to help you identify, address, and prevent bias-based bullying or persistent peer victimization based on one’s appearance, perceived identity, culture, race, ethnicity and/or religion.

Click here to learn more and RSVPZanzibar exhibit Anomie Photography 02
Free entry to the Children’s Museum and light refreshments are included!

*Space is limited to 50 participants and participation will be on a first-come, first-served basis. RSVP is required by April 15.*

 

All photos: Aoommie Photography

Promoting Religious Literacy and Respect for Differences: A Teacher’s Recommendations

An Interview with Chris Murray by Tanenbaum’s Kim Keiserman, Education Program Associate

In today’s multicultural, interconnected world, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of teaching about religious and cultural diversity.  But many teachers express reluctance to address these topics in the classroom, fearing that they may stumble into controversy.

Chris Murray is an educator who is committed to expanding his students’ knowledge of religion and religious diversity.  As a social studies teacher at Walter Johnson High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, he has taught World History for 11 years and an elective course in World Religions for six years.  This year, Chris began planning a week-long, 45-hour course to train other teachers to address religion as part of their curriculum.  The course will be offered to 30 educators in June 2016.

I spoke with Chris in November to find out what motivates him to teach about religion, how he approaches this complex and important subject, and what advice he has for other educators.

KK: How did you become interested in teaching World Religions?   

Chris Murray

Chris Murray, Educator

CM: I first became interested in teaching the course because of my personal interest in religion and its role in history.  I was able touch upon religion in my World History class, but I wanted to spend more time on it–and learn more about it myself.  Once I started teaching the course, I was taken aback by my students’ lack of religious literacy—although they actually scored a bit higher than the national average on the Pew U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz.  I realized that most students had never had a conversation about religion with someone from a faith other than their own.  I wanted to change that.

KK: Briefly describe the content of the course.  What religions do you cover?

CM: When I first started the course, I took a geographical approach.  I started with South Asia and covered Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.  Then I moved on to East Asia and covered Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism.  I ended the course with religions that originated in the Middle East—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i.  Over time, though, I focused less on history and more on the role religion plays in the 21st century.  I try to increase students’ religious literacy by bringing in polls [about current-day religious attitudes] from the Pew Research Center and arranging Skype calls with experts like Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center.

KK: What are your major objectives?

CM: I want students to not only gain a basic understanding of the major world religions, but also to be able to identify misconceptions about them and understand why these misconceptions persist.

KK: What resources do you recommend for other educators?

CM: Tanenbaum’s Seven Principles for Inclusive Education provide a framework for my teaching.  I don’t try to portray myself as an expert; instead I reach out to well-respected scholars within the major world religions.  I try to tap into the great expertise that is available out there.  When I am teaching about Hinduism, for instance, I use resources from the Hindu American Foundation.  When teaching about Sikhism, I go to the Kaur Foundation and the Sikh Campaign.  For Islam I have found good resources at the ACMCU Workshops and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Regardless of the subject area, I think it’s important for teachers to be honest about what they don’t know and willing to seek out great resources.  Right now, I am focused on getting conversations going through Face to Faith [an international video conferencing program that allows students to engage in cross-cultural, interfaith dialogue.]

KK: How do you handle incidents of violence in the name of religion such as the recent attacks carried out by ISIS in Paris?

CM: I want my students to feel safe bringing up questions about religion and extremism.  I want them to be able to express their own misconceptions without being labeled.  With regard to terrorist attacks such as those committed by ISIS, my approach is to help students differentiate between Islam and violent extremism.  My goal is to help them dissect these events and break them down into understandable pieces.  In any discussion of religious extremism, I think it’s important to expose students to the work of religious scholars rather than the rhetoric of politicians.

KK:  How would you handle parental complaints if you ever encountered them? 

CM: I would feel comfortable knowing that I am teaching about religion from an academic perspective, which is not only constitutional, but encouraged by state standards.  I would be able to stand my ground because I have the support of my administration and district.

KK: What would you say to parents in Tennessee, Georgia and elsewhere who have expressed concerns about their children learning about Islam?

CM: I would try to show that I understand the basis of their fears.  I would respond by demonstrating the intention of the course: Building students’ knowledge and understanding of the people in their own communities.  I have taught World Religions to 1,000 or so students, and I have never had one come to me and say that he or she has changed his or her faith due to learning about other faiths.

KK: What is the most important thing for other educators to know about this work? 

CM: First, it’s constitutional [to teach about religion.]  Second, you don’t have to be an expert, as long as you take advantage of the great resources that are out there.  Third, it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you’re continually reflecting and open to change.  For example, as I have learned more about Hinduism, I realize that some of my early teaching on the subject was inaccurate.  My teaching of Hinduism has evolved over time.  Finally, I would emphasize the importance of the subject matter.  We live in a world in which people are affected by religion.  Being knowledgeable about religion is not about personal spiritual growth; it’s about being a good global citizen.


 

We hope this will be the first in a series of interviews with educators who are committed to promoting religious literacy and respect for differences.  Are you a teacher who is working to incorporate lessons about religion and religious diversity into your curriculum?  Contact us at education@tanenbaum.org to share your experiences, insights and favorite resources.  We will pass them along to other educators!

Take this Non-Expert Advice

Take this Non-Expert Advice
By: Mark E. Fowler

Overview: How to teach about religious diversity without being a world religions “expert.”

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written in response to a request from a participant in our spring webinar with Teaching Tolerance, Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Applications for High School Educators. Click here to watch the recording via a free registration process.

Have you ever had to teach a subject you weren’t very familiar with? Outside of class, you were reading the textbook just ahead of your students, asking other teachers and community members for help and looking for digestible summaries of topics when trying to prepare. During the trainings and webinars that Tanenbaum provides, it’s clear that many participant teachers feel this way about teaching the major world religions. They often ask for more information and have said that their lack of knowledge about different religions prevents them from broaching the subject at all.

Teaching about religion may sound difficult if you do not have a background in religious studies or a personal affiliation.  But Tanenbaum and Teaching Tolerance believe that educators are completely capable of addressing religious diversity in a respectful, informed way – expert or not!  What’s more, teaching about religious and nonreligious identities helps students develop religious literacy – a vital skill for the twenty-first century.

Developing religious literacy includes a basic understanding of the histories, central texts, beliefs, practices and contemporary manifestations of several of the world’s religious traditions, as they arose out of and continue to shape particular social, historical and cultural contexts. This literacy equips our students with the ability to get along and work with a diversity of identities.

According to Tanenbaum’s education consultant, Kim Keiserman, “As teachers, we have to become accustomed to learning new things along with our students. We may know some things in our subject area very well, and other areas are less familiar to us.” When teaching about diverse beliefs, which serve as important personal identity markers for billions of people, it is not possible to know the practices and traditions of every person. Tanenbaum’s World Religions Fact Sheet gives teachers a general overview of the world’s major religions, but when it comes to teaching about religious diversity, the method of presenting information may be equally as important as your personal mastery of the topic, maybe even more so. Fact sheets like this one show the vast diversity and scale of the major world religions, which may seem intimidating at first. As with all subjects, your knowledge and comfort with teaching about religion can grow over time.

We emphasize that teachers don’t have to be “experts” as long as they follow good practices:

  • Ensure a safe, inclusive classroom environment when discussing religious differences by following Tanenbaum’s Seven Principles for Inclusive Education.
  • Communicate with parents about the learning objectives, explaining that their children will be learning about religious differences, not being indoctrinated into different religions.
  • Allow students to explore their own identities, recognizing that the more they understand themselves, the more they can understand others.
  • Learn alongside your students with up-close exposure to diverse traditions. Expose them to the “lived religion” of real people by allowing them to read primary sources and personal stories, interact with guest speakers, interview community members and take field trips to houses of worship.
  • Explore the commonalities among different belief systems, as well as the differences. Tanenbaum’s Shared Visions project reminds us that the world’s religions share many core values. Read shared visions on the value of education here.
  • Examine your assumptions about religion. The American Academy of Religions suggests that teachers “examine what assumptions they harbor about religion generally and religious traditions in particular.” Teachers who are aware of their own biases will be better able to overcome them and present facts and ideas in an objective manner.

In a previous blog post, we encouraged teachers to coach students to “be honest about the limits of our understanding. … While we can learn a lot about them, we cannot completely understand the lived experiences of people or how their belief system influences their identity and daily lives.” This advice is relevant for teachers as well. As you discuss religious traditions in the classroom, be wary of the burden of being a spokesperson—the assumption that any one person’s perspective represents the experiences or beliefs of an entire group. Just as we may not know all of the answers to questions about a particular faith, no one person can be expected to speak as the authority on his or her faith tradition.

Navigating the teaching of world religions can be hard for teachers who are used to having all the right answers about a particular topic. However, the study of religious diversity provides an excellent opportunity to model attitudes of respectful curiosity to students. If you don’t assume you already know everything about a group of people, then you will be less likely to form stereotypes or hurtful generalizations. With this attitude in mind, students can follow suit.

Fowler is the managing director of programs at the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. He would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of Rachel Sumption to this blog post.

Agree to (Respectfully) Disagree

Agree to (Respectfully) Disagree
by Marisa Fasciano

Overview: How to teach students to respectfully engage with peers of differing religious belief systems.

Most educators would agree that it’s important for students to respect classmates with different religious or nonreligious beliefs. But what if the doctrine or practices of the belief system in question contradict students’ values or marginalize or limit their identity group? Or what if a student has experienced microaggressions or harassment from peers of a different religious tradition? How do you respond when a student asks, “They don’t respect me, so why should I respect them?”

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals make up one identity group that has experienced unequal treatment within certain religious traditions. According to a 2013 survey of LGBT Americans by the Pew Research Center, a vast majority describe Islam (84 percent), the Mormon Church (83 percent), the Catholic Church (79 percent) and evangelical churches (73 percent) as unfriendly toward them. This perception is corroborated by another Pew survey of the general American public. Although support for gay marriage continues to increase (just over half of Americans favor it), “opposition to gay marriage—and to societal acceptance of homosexuality more generally—is rooted in religious attitudes, such as the belief that engaging in homosexual behavior is a sin.”

If your students feel excluded or offended by faith-based rules and opinions, you can still encourage respectful conversations on religious diversity. Here’s how.

Distinguish People From Doctrines and Practices

Rather than asking your students to respect all belief systems, ask them to practice respecting all people, regardless of their belief system. Students don’t need to agree with their classmates’ religious or nonreligious beliefs, but they should be expected to interact with them in ways that are constructive and civil. In a previous blog post, we highlighted the multiple facets of a person’s identity. Pointing out similarities in some facets amidst differences in others can help students engage in these positive interactions.

Avoid Assumptions Based on Religious Identity

Just because an individual belongs to a particular belief system doesn’t necessarily mean he or she agrees with all of its tenets and practices. In fact, in some cases, a majority of adherents disagree with decisions of the leadership. For instance, a survey by Univision found that 59 percent of Catholics in the United States think the church should let women become priests, a belief that contradicts the current decision of church leadership.

Within Islam, vocal and active feminist movements aim to counteract misogynistic interpretations of Islamic texts by male imams. Rather than abandoning their faith in the quest for gender equality, many Muslim women combat oppression by appealing to Islamic texts and laws. For example, one of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action, Jamila Afghani, created the first holistic gender-sensitive imam training program in Kabul, Afghanistan.

By exposing your students to diverse perspectives within a particular faith, you help diminish the likelihood that they’ll incorrectly attribute specific attitudes and opinions to all individual members of a religion.

Keep in Mind That Emotional Reactions Have a History

Prior to walking into your classroom, students may have experienced bullying or negative comments about themselves and the belief systems to which they belong. In extreme cases, teachers have even made questionable or inappropriate comments to students about their religious traditions. An awareness of this potential history will put students’ emotional reactions into context and underscore the importance of creating inclusive, respectful learning environments where students are encouraged to abide by established rules of engagement.

Provide Tools for Respectful Disagreement

Educators can give students tools to respectfully disagree with people of different faiths, even if those in marginalized groups are the ones being disrespectful. By sharing these tools ahead of time, before conflicts based on religious identity arise, you will be better prepared to address and resolve such conflicts in the moment. You can refer back to what was already discussed, rather than having to come up with a response on the fly.

One tool that establishes a firm foundation for respectful disagreement is Tanenbaum’s Respecting Each Other lesson plan, which asks students to define what respect looks, feels and sounds like, and then to create their own rules of respect. If you spot any behavior that breaks these rules, you can correct it with greater credibility than if you had made up the rules yourself. Students can—and often do—take on the role of enforcer, holding each other accountable for honoring the agreements they’ve made together.

Krister Stendahl, an accomplished theologian, created another helpful tool that’s specific to religious differences. Here are his Three Rules of Religious Understanding:

  1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
  1. Don’t compare your best to their worst.
  1. Leave room for “holy envy.” (By this, Stendahl means that you should be willing to recognize elements that you admire in the other religious tradition or faith and that you wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

If everyone obeyed these rules, what a more peaceful world it would be! The unfortunate reality is that, in spite of an individual’s best efforts to follow guidelines for respect, the reactions of others may be angry and intolerant. When a student asks, “They don’t respect me, so why should I respect them?” remind him to distinguish people from tenets and practices, avoid assumptions, consider the emotional history and remember the tools of respectful disagreement.

Fasciano is an education program associate at Tanenbaum.

Teaching Diverse Beliefs in Homogenous Classrooms by Sara Wicht

Here are some suggestions for teaching about diverse beliefs—religious and nonreligious—in classrooms where that type of diversity might not be present.

After our recent webinar, Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Applications for Elementary Educators, participants expressed concern about how to teach about a diversity of religious and nonreligious beliefs in a homogenous classroom. We feel this may be a worry shared by other members of the Teaching Tolerance and Tanenbaum communities and would like to make some recommendations.

Step One: Ask yourself, “What does diversity mean?” 

Our individual biases may include looking at diversity through a single lens. At Teaching Tolerance, we sometimes hear from teachers that it can be difficult to include multicultural representation in all-white classrooms. However, just because a classroom has only white students does not mean it is not diverse. Diversity goes beyond a single identifier.

Diversity includes multiple categories—race, ethnicity, language, gender, sexual orientation, ability/disability, religion/belief system—and consists of the characteristics we use to define ourselves as well those constructed by others. Educators can effectively teach about the diversity of religious and nonreligious belief by teaching this content with an eye toward the multiple facets of students’ identities, visible and invisible.

Pointing out these multiple facets establishes intersectionality* as a valuable lens for educators and students alike. Even in homogenous classrooms, a focus on intersectionality helps build awareness of the many categories of identity that make each person and his or her experiences unique. Doing so fosters a culture of respect and prepares students to be respectfully curious about beliefs similar to and different from their own.

Step Two: Point out the diversity within diversity.

Being aware of the diversity within religions and belief systems is critical to continued learning about one another and the world. For example, as illustrated by a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Foundation, there’s tremendous diversity within Christianity. Christian traditions in the United States include mainline Protestant churches, evangelical Protestant churches, Catholic churches, Mormon churches, Greek Orthodox churches and historically black churches, among many others.

The diversity within Christianity extends even further. For example, the Pew study reveals 16 unique affiliations within evangelical Protestant churches and six within historically black churches. What we may have thought to be a homogenous belief system is, in fact, quite diverse.

Step Three: Point to the diversity of belief systems—nationally.

In addition to highlighting the diversity found within individual belief systems, it’s important to expose students to national trends and to the diversity that exists beyond their classroom. The students in our classrooms at large represent a variety of unique identities that are different from and more diverse than those of students even 10 years ago.

A 2014 Pew report indicates that, not only is the Millennial generation (the youngest adult generation, 18 to 33-year-olds) the most racially and ethnically diverse ever, but they are also less religiously affiliated than their older counterparts. Among religiously unaffiliated Millennials, three in 10 describe themselves as atheists or agnostics; the remainder say they practice no particular religion.

Step Four: Use texts as windows.

Another way to expose students in more homogenous classrooms to religious and nonreligious diversity is through texts. Texts can function as windows—opportunities to look into the lives of others, including the religious and nonreligious beliefs and practices of people outside their experience. As demonstrated in the webinar Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Applications for Elementary Educators, conversations spurred by the voices in texts allow students to engage with new and multiple perspectives and identities.

One example of a text that can offer a window for students unfamiliar with the Hutterite faith is A War on the Peaceful. This story describes a religious group emigrating from Germany to the United States in order to seek religious asylum and practice their way of life in peace, only to be met by continued persecution. Another window text option for students unfamiliar with Islam is Zahrah’s Hijab. This story illustrates how preconceptions about religion can lead us to behave cruelly but can also help us understand each other better.

Additional titles can be found in the after-session pack for the Applications for Elementary Educators webinar as well as in Perspectives for a Diverse America, Teaching Tolerance’s K-12 curriculum.

* the social, economic and political reality that identity categories and systems of oppression connect, overlap and influence one another

Wicht is the senior manager of teaching and learning for Teaching Tolerance.

How Do I Ask That?

How Do I Ask That?
Sara Wicht

Overview: Encourage students to respectfully ask questions and make statements about other belief systems.

Editor’s note: This post is part two of a three-part series that answers questions posed by participants in Fostering a Culture of Respect, a joint webinar with the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding that addresses how educators can help their students feel safe, supported and respected when discussing belief systems. The first blog responded to the question: “How can I coach students to respond to others with empathy and respect?”

In the webinar Fostering a Culture of Respect, one participant asked, “How can I encourage students to respectfully ask questions about identities different from their own?”

It’s important to remind students that identities consist of various characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, race, language, sexual orientation, family composition, relationship status, religion/belief system and socioeconomic status. We use these characteristics to define ourselves, and others often use them to construct an impression of our identities. Yet, these impressions are also informed by what we don’t know and by our implicit biases.

Take, for example, a recent survey from the Pew Research Center measuring familiarity and warmness toward various religious and nonreligious groups in the United States. Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians received the “warmest” ratings. We know, however, that our classrooms also include children of Mormon, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu faith, among others, as well as atheist children—children whose belief systems received “colder, more negative” ratings.

The Pew survey also reports that personally knowing someone from a religious group is linked to having more positive views of that group. The inverse is true, too. Not knowing someone can lead to more negative impressions and opinions.

These types of biases seep into classrooms, and it’s important to address them with students—through formal instruction and in moments when you observe students uncomfortably questioning or critiquing their peers’ belief systems. Consider the following three scenarios.

Scenario 1: Before class starts, you overhear a group of students talking about their weekend activities. One student enthusiastically shares that she had a great weekend at a church shut-in with her younger brother. Another student responds critically, “Weird! What would you do for a whole weekend at church?”

Scenario 2: In a unit on Mayan religion, you explain that native Mesoamerican people worshiped deities found in nature —the sun, rain and moon. A student in class shares that his family doesn’t go to church but are devoted to the Earth. The class laughs.

Scenario 3: Most of your students are Catholics or evangelical Christians. You have one Muslim student who wears a hijab. In class one day, a student asks her, “Wouldn’t you love it if you didn’t have to wear that?”

Asking questions about belief systems different from their own can be difficult for students. Insensitive questions or statements and defensive responses are neither entirely uncommon nor always intentional. But how might a teacher respond to the above scenarios?

Scenario 1: Tell students that, instead of leading with a judgmental word or statement, they can begin with, “That’s different from what I’ve ever done.” This type of reaction will help build sensitivity and respect and can prevent the questioned students from being on the defensive. Encourage students to follow up with, “Tell me more.”

Scenario 2: Deal with the laughter right away by stating that put-downs will not be tolerated in the classroom. Follow up with, “I think we can find many differences in our belief systems, but these differences add to the richness and diversity of our class.” Tell students that, instead of laughing, they could have asked, “What are some of your family’s traditions?” and “How do you celebrate the Earth?”

Scenario 3: Remind students that they can express their curiosity in a thoughtful and respectful manner. For example, they might say, “What’s it like to wear a hijab every day?” Or, “What is the meaning behind the hijab?” You can also encourage students to connect with their classmates by sharing similar experiences. For example a student might say, “I wear a St. Christopher medal around my neck because my family believes he protects us.”

Having in-class conversations about what constitutes respectful statements and questions can be a turning point for students. Not only do they offer students an opportunity to weigh in with any concerns or questions, but they also help build a respectful school climate—even when students find themselves in discussions about belief systems on their own.

Stay tuned for our third blog answering participants’ questions. It will address how to include nonreligious students in classroom discussions about religion.

Wicht is the senior manager of teaching and learning for Teaching Tolerance.

Responding With Empathy and Respect to Belief Systems

Responding With Empathy and Respect to Belief Systems
By: Sara Wicht
Senior Manager for Teaching and Learning at Teaching Tolerance

Overview: Tanenbaum and Teaching Tolerance share tips for coaching students during class discussions on religious and nonreligious beliefs.

This year, Teaching Tolerance teamed up with the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding to bring educators a webinar series called Religious Diversity in the Classroom.

The second webinar in the series, Fostering a Culture of Respect, offered ways for educators to help students feel safe, supported and respected when discussing religious and nonreligious belief systems. The webinar and after-session pack are available online if you have not had a chance to look at these resources yet.

Participants asked some great questions during and after Fostering a Culture of Respect, and we’d like to respond to a few we think are relevant to many educators. In this blog, we’ll address this question:
How can I coach students to respond to others with empathy and respect?

Hearing these prompts from you can help students engage more empathetically and respectfully during conversations about religious and nonreligious beliefs.

1. “Find out more.” Cultivate an inquisitive attitude in students by encouraging them to seek out information from a variety of voices within a given belief system. Ask students to formulate and pose open-ended questions. Here are some examples of questions that can guide research and in-class discussions:

  • What is the origin of the religious or nonreligious belief system?
  • In what parts of the world is the belief system practiced?
  • What are some texts that describe or include the belief system?
  • What are the foundations of the belief system?
  • How is the belief system perceived around the world?
  • Do you know anyone who practices this belief system? What do they say about what they believe?

2. “Be aware of the pitfalls of easy comparisons.” When dealing with academic content related to religion, students will encounter ideas about deities, time, the purpose of life, who we are as individuals and who we are as members of our communities, among others. These ideas may be hard to grasp or may feel foreign to students because they have developed out of many traditions, which are sometimes very different from students’ individual traditions.

Students may attempt to contextualize these new ideas by comparing them to concepts from their own traditions or cultural practices. Although this is a helpful practice in gaining a better understanding of ourselves through the exploration of the world around us, it is important they understand and discuss religious and nonreligious views without distorting or oversimplifying them. Comparisons not given thoughtful inquiry can lead to stereotypes and stereotyping. That means not making hasty comparisons between belief systems or using comparisons as the go-to way to discuss another belief system.

3. “Avoid generalized or simplified statements.” These types of statements imply easy answers such as “Islam is …” or “Hinduism means … ” or “Atheists think … ” Instead, when discussing religious and nonreligious beliefs with students, remind them that religions are internally diverse, dynamic and embedded in culture. Use sources that reflect and provide examples of these qualities.

Students can practice being more nuanced in their thinking by articulating the subtleties they see. For example, they might say, “This text presents Islam as …” or “The author here indicates that … ” Many religious traditions use storytelling to illustrate central concepts, such as parables in Christianity or Native American oral histories. These can also be great sources for literacy instruction on imagery, symbolism and allusion—and help students to point to nuances in meaning, interpretation and practice.

4. “See religious and nonreligious traditions as diverse and dynamic.” If students are critical of all or part of a particular belief system because it contradicts their values, ask them to find out more about how different adherents of that belief system criticize or propose changing the religion or practices in question. Emphasize, too, that religious and nonreligious belief systems are internally diverse. In Hinduism, for example, some have a personal god and others deny the presence of a deity. Find diverse voices from within the belief system being explored.

5. “Be honest about the limits of our understanding.” Acknowledge and help students to accept that there are limits to our understanding about belief systems. While we can learn a lot about them, we cannot completely understand the lived experiences of people or how their belief system influences their identity and daily lives. It’s also important not to turn individual students into spokespersons of particular religious or nonreligious beliefs.

Stay tuned for additional follow-up blogs that address participants’ questions. The next one will answer this question: How can I respectfully ask questions about identities different from my own?

Wicht is the senior manager for teaching and learning at Teaching Tolerance.