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Houston – America at Our Best

Children rescued in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Harris County Sheriff’s Office/Twitter

Dear Friends,

As I watched the flooding in Houston and saw elderly nursing home patients sitting waist-deep in water, I felt the same, overwhelming sadness that people across the nation were feeling. But amid that sadness, I was also lifted up by the example of volunteers and rescue teams who readily risked their lives to save others.
This is what America should be. It is who we are at our best.
And it is what our different faiths call on us to do. That’s why I wanted to share some wisdom from across the world’s faiths and beliefsIt reminds us of our shared and highest ideals.

And it reminds us that, when we help one another, we create the nation for which we are searching.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum


SHARED VISIONS | GOOD DEEDS

Baha’i
By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 383
Buddhism
Whoever, by a good deed, covers the evil done, such a one illumines this world like the moon freed from clouds.  Dhammapada 173
Christianity
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  Galatians 6:9
Hinduism
The wise see knowledge and action as one; they see truly.  Bhagavad Gita 5.4, 5
Islam
(And) lo! those who believe and do good works are the best of created beings.  Qur’an, 98.7 (Pickthall)
Judaism
I call heaven and earth to witness: whether Jew or Gentile, whether man or woman, whether servant or freeman, they are all equal in this: that the Holy Spirit rests upon them in accordance with their deeds!  Midrash, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah 10
Native American Wisdom
It is no longer good enough to cry peace, we must act peace, live peace and live in peace.  Shenandoah
Sikhism
Without good deeds heaven is not attained.  Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Taoism
Anything evil refrain ye from doing; all good deeds do!  Yin Chih Wên, The Tract of the Quiet Way

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!

Combat Extremism – New Resources from Tanenbaum!

Dear Friends,

Today is a day for remembrance, condemnation and action.
  • We remember the nearly 3,000 innocent women, men and children from more than 370 countries and a vast array of religions and beliefs, who were lost on September 11, 2001.
  • We condemn the expansion of terrorism and the horror it inflicts on its victims. We see the face of those victims in the Syrian refugees willing to risk a child’s death rather than remain in a land beset by a brutal government and the savagery of extremists. And in so many others fleeing violent extremism in Iraq, Myanmar, Libya and too many other countries.
  • We take action. Through the work of our Peacemakers in Action we counter terrorists worldwide. And through Tanenbaum’s Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees project we raise emergency funds for humanitarian disaster relief agencies working with Syrian refugees while planting the seeds for future stability in the region.

Violent religious extremism can feel insurmountable. But there are simple actions you can take to thwart the local growth of radicalism and prevent individuals (including youth) from feeling marginalized. We ask you to join us – in memory of 9/11 and because of today’s refugees – to help defy extremism:

Sign the Peacemaker’s Change.org petition against extremism.
Tanenbaum’s religiously motivated Peacemakers in Action work to stop violence and brutal extremism in the world’s worst conflicts. And now, they have joined forces to create a Campaign Against Extremism on Change.org – making a beautiful pledge toward building a safer future. Sign the petition today – and commit to taking action!
Visit Tanenbaum each month for new resources for combating extremism.
Starting today, we’re offering free, practical resources that can be used at home or at work, in schools, places of worship and in your community. Read, download and share our September 11 Fact Sheet and World Religions Fact Sheet today. Use them to begin a discussion at your house of worship, community center or over a workplace lunch and learn. Challenge your children and students to read them and ask questions – and then research answers. Learn the facts! Speak up! And please share your ideas for ways to use these resources to counter hate and terror.

We’ll be sharing new resources every month this year. So visit us on the 15th of each month and check out your new resources!

Each of us has a unique and powerful role in stopping extremism but we must take action!

With great hope for peace,
Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

Digging Deeper: Religious Diversity and the 10 Bias Danger Signs

This year at the Multicultural Forum, Mark Fowler will be “digging deeper” into religious diversity, with a 3.5 hour Professional Development Institute (PDI) session.

Participants will work in small groups, and will work through tough scenarios around requests for religious employee resource groups, competing interests between Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender employees and religious employees, and the mismanagement of an interfaith prayer space.

For each case, the groups will be given a complete case file and will examine materials from policy statements to email correspondence to understand and analyze the issue at hand. In collaboration with their peers, participants will use Tanenbaum’s better practices and strategies to fine-tune policies, develop recommendations for better practices, and brainstorm ways to support inclusive behaviors from employees in these situations and in their own workplaces.

This PDI session will provide participants with an invaluable experience in problem-solving and diversity & inclusion innovation. Space is limited, so don’t forget to register for the Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity, which takes place next week in Minneapolis, MN. And don’t miss our PDI session “Digging Deeper: Religious Diversity and the 10 Bias Danger Signs” on March 20th at 1:30 PM.