As part of a Catholic school, it's a major challenge to take religion out of the 'it's compulsory, so I hate it category'. Any ideas on how to move effectively to life-related, mind-engaging, content-robust religious education? The most effective units we have are for senior students "Ethics and ethical controversies" where a range of ethical theories are explored against a background of an ethical issue of the student's choice, and 'Science and the Bible' where various controversies and developments are used to explore different possible ways of Science and Religion relating.
I'm especially pondering good ways to Web 2.0-ise some of the thinking and submitting process.
[I shouldn't need to include a caveat in this area, but just in case. I'm not interested in doctrinaire responses. (I can go to answersingenesis and read Dawkins and Dennett quite happily myself.) I want my students to be thinking, not subscribing to an ideology and least of all someone else's ideology!]

Tags: critical thinking, religion, science

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Great, Ed,
I had more to add, but then I over-wrote the page! Will chip in some extra links for the eavesdroppers!
Thanks for all that Ed,
I hadn't thought of the vatican observatory having a web-site (shame), even though I'm aware of Bill Stoeger's work through CTNS. I'll chase up the Irish it's an intriguing title and concept. I'll bail out of the history of American religion as such (being in Australia) but I'm certainly building in historical studies. While I'm here, anyone know of good sources on the geological revolution in which Smith and Lyell played major parts (which were of great importance to Darwin, who read Lyell on the Beagle)? I'm aware of Winchester's The map that Changed the World. Other great places I've found are what used to be called meta-net, or meta-library, now counterbalance, the edge which appears to echo in places TED (already mentioned in Classroom 2.0 somewhere - the only reason I know about it!)- or vice versa, and the Faraday Institute at Cambridge.
Ian, sorry, didn't mean to get confused there...'twas late, and "Christianity in America" may have been the wrong phasing. My point was that multiculturalism is the hot word, and Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans, and Mormons all make very different cultural groups, though you might not be able to tell one from the other when meeting them at the train station.

The American Religion looks at what our collective religion has become, the one that drives our public space. Your students might find it interesting to ask what ideas from which religion affect the Australian body politic. Here's an example: I didn't agree with Bloom's conclusions when he first wrote the book (haven't seen the update)_ Why? Take a look at the composition of the US Supreme court. It has 9 justices. Five are Catholic, 2 are Jewish, and one is Episcopalian. In a country where native Protestants outnumber Catholics 2-1. What does this say about the sources of philosophy and moral law guiding our constitutional law? BTW, have the students visited the actions of the communist/socialist countries to ban or drive out religion? Why do these governments place such an emphasis on that if religion something worthy of summary dismissal as the editors of Slashdot now regularly do? And what power do the monks in Malaysia have?

Geology: for your students' visual pleasure, you might try one of the interactive maps of Pre-Historical & Ancients Eras we've collected..
Thanks Ed (I'm actually happy to look at The American Religion myself, for obvious cultural reasons, but I will see how it may be stimulus, (rather than sociology) for in our culture.) Thanks for the maps link. I'm stuck in an airport at the moment, and can't get much sense out of quicktime, so I'll give it some serious time if I ever get to my destination!
Ian, I've taught Jewish studies at both synagogue and day schools for many years. I can empathize with your concerns. Early on I realized that I didn't want to indoctrinate my students into anything, instead I wanted them to learn to be independent thinkers. I wanted them to have the ability to see the world through a Jewish lens. Initially, everything in my class became up for discussion. Nothing remained sacrosanct. After discussion and deeper understanding much became sanctified. I've had my students make podcasts and vodcasts as they developed their own responses to traditional Jewish text. I'm always looking for new strategies that will engage my students in critically thinking about the subject matter at hand. Thanks for starting this discussion.
Beaut Andrew,
We seem to be warming up now, for a while I wondered if I'd just started a conversation with myself. (Which is not all bad - the exchange is interesting, but you never learn much that haven't thought of before!). Current reading (the book's from 1992, but I'm just reading it) is Cosmos, Bios, Theos reflections and interviews with major scientists. Some very useful excerpts relevant to this topic.
I did a project last year on stained glass windows. We took a walking tour of our downtown area with a local priest and the students photographed the stained glass windows. We visited 5 Catholic churches. Each students got to pick one or two favorite windows. They looked by bible readings and stories that they thought went along with each window. We talked about how the windows in the early days of the church taught our faith to so many who could not read. We incorporated these into a Photo Story and also uploaded the photos and readings to SNAPFISH where we published a hard cover book (Starting price 20 bucks). The windows invoked lots of discuss and they ended up with lots of questions they were able ti research and find answers for. This year in their art class they are creating their own stained glass window
Hi Ian,

I am on the opposite side of the planet (Canada) but I can completely identify with your "it's compulsory so I hate it category" comment! I also teach a senior level course on ethics and we also have a project for students to choose an ethical issue to investigate. Last year one of my classes joined with another R.E. class (in the UK) to use Web 2.0 to complete a project on a Catholic moral response to the environment. You can have a look at it here:
The fact that the project had a global audience really motivated my students as did the use of Web 2.0 tools to put their best effort forward. If you might be interested in doing something like this or some other type of collaboration I would love to hear from you.


Simon O'Carroll
Hey, Simon,
I have some questions about this. I'm just picking out one page: Catholic Perspective On Deforestation. Reading this, it seems more like J. Cassells' perspective, with two biblical quotes to justify some strong opinions. There's no counter-balancing reflection, say on Jesus' command to feed and clothe the poor. Bad grammar and punctuation complete the piece.

I guess my question is, where did this fall apart? How or why did this group come up with a final page which was not edited by anyone else on the team; not reviewed for even punctuation and grammar? Lets go further: in an assignment which seems a major project, a team effort and perhaps a transformative type of experience, why were they allowed to fail on the core religious analysis, when a few simple adjustments could have made their work a success?

Which leads me to the apparent winner, the Global Climate change group. While this product has much more text, media, and a deeper take on both the science and the religion, it still isn't showing the type of balance we'd normally like to see on an issue as debatable as this. Perhaps that is too much to ask this group of students; I don't know. But I also wonder, why are they allowed to issue a final product without sourcing annotation?

I guess I'm asking if you think that doing this online helped or hurt their mastery of the basics.
I teach at a Quaker boarding school in eastern PA. Besides our Old Testament/New Testament/Quakerism and World Religion Requirements, students have to take a one term religion elective not surprisingly the most popular elective is liberation theology, this is almost all project/ team based, though not beyond the classroom. I actually teach world history and am in the middle of my units on early Christianity and early islam. Once I get through the basic intros, I will be turning my 11/12th grade students loose on the following questions, when did Christianity in the west move to embrace the social implications (including democracy?) of its message of spiritual equality? And has Islam from its beginings been intolerant, fundamentalist and committed to jihad? (Mind you, students will have read selections from St. Ambrose on universal salvation and Averroes Faith and Reason so I am stacking the deck in both cases). I teach two classes and will use a Ning social network to help facilitate discussion between the two sections as well as build teams that cross section boundaries. This will be my first foray in this Classroom 2.0. I have a colleague at another private school in the area who is considering having her class join the discussion and collective research.

I would think your students might find a tie in with these questions in the their ethics and ethical controversies, we all tend "to forget" that Christianity has only in the past century more fully embraced democracy, social justice, social equality as the logical extensions of basic Christian beliefs.

Mind you my students will be finishing up their own large, independent research projects even as we begin this. But I think giving students real world questions helps lift religion out of the its boring because its required into the yes there are eternal truths but wow, humans are agents in the creation of their faiths! I am excited and nervous about this first use of a social network.

One other idea might be to debate an ethical issue. One of my best classes last year involved a prepared debate over stem cell research. My religion teacher collegues said the debate spilled over into their classes and provided great tie ins with where they were in their study of Budhhism of all things!
Thanks for that - And particularly at a Catholic school students can get the idea of a static theology - what is believed everywhere, by everyone at all times (I think it was Augustine who said it, but it may have been Cyprian). I'm hoping that ningifying our class conversations may be more encouragement to engage with the real texts instead of the fairy floss 'it seems to me.." material.

Our structure doesn't facilitate it (We can't cover enough topics), but I think there are great connections with Buddhism - it's analysis of the human condition is superb, and it's cure for the condition marvellously different to many Christian approaches.

I think debates are great - but I'm too deaf to chair and judge. I guess I should be brave and enrol a school panel.
Thanks for that.
I gather Sharepoint 2007 has much improved discussion facilities over 2003, and even a wiki. I'm certainly using Sharepoint as my base, since ou College has just got it up and running, but I think I'll ning for this year. I've got the empty shell for Science and Religion, will build one for Ethics and another for Portrait of Jesus once I get the ad-free nod.
There are a lot good materials - there's a 'featherless chicken' photo which will be a great discussion starter. (This animal looks wrong - is it custom, or something intrinsic, or some other value to animalness that makes us think so? The animal is also infertile, so is it unnatural and therefore abhorrent - if so, then what about mules....)



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