New world religions class promotes tolerance

Seniors Angeles Valdez and Wyatt Peterson and juniors Samatar Ali abd Taylor Givens participate in a small group discussion.

Seniors Angeles Valdez and Wyatt Peterson and juniors Samatar Ali abd Taylor Givens participate in a small group discussion.

Ellen Gantenbein, Sports Editor

“If you’re going through life and you can’t even empathize with another person on their most base beliefs, the things that drive them in their life, you won’t really be able to see eye to eye,” stated senior Nigel Wolfe when reflecting on the importance of World Religions, a class that has made a return to South this year.

The class will give students an opportunity to learn about religions outside of their own. Yulduza Turdalieva, a senior, noted, “People focus on their own religion, but when you have a class you focus on the other different religions.”

When asked how knowledgable South students seem on the topic of religion, senior Johan Cavert said, “I’d say there’s probably a lot of misconceptions, but you know people understand various things about different religions on varying degrees. But I think that having a more general knowledge of most major religions is really useful.” This statement rings true when it comes to most Americans as well. In a study conducted by Pew Research, Americans on average answered 16 out of 32 religious knowledge survey questions correctly.

In a school with the religious diversity of South religious knowledge becomes even more important. Social Studies teacher Elliot Hanson, who will teach a section of World Religions, commented “I think if people had a better handle on where people are coming from, and why they do what they do, then you have less miscommunication, less kind of misunderstanding of one another. You even look at this school, we have several different religions throughout this school, and so if people understood that more I think that just leads to better understanding of one another.”

An article on the USA Today website comments on the issues that arise in the absence of religious literacy. ¨…we continue to raise children who are innocent of the good and evil that religion does, and in the process ensure that yet another generation of members of Congress and superintendents of schools will know little or nothing about the world’s religions.¨

Social Studies teacher Richard Nohel, who also teaches a section of World Religions, hopes his class will not only help inform students, but influence their world views as well. “I guess I think probably the main thing that students would get out of this is that really at the heart of all of these religions the message is how you treat people and that is something that is sorely lacking in our world today that I think we’ve gotten away from.”

Students reflected the same hopes. Wolfe said “I guess if I was going to gain anything it would be a deeper understanding of these cultures because one thing that we learned the first day in there was that a lot of people in western society, in America,  are really ignorant of other people’s religions and it leads to common misconception about other cultures and I think that’d be a good thing in general to avoid.” Senior Anika Monroe echoed this sentiment “It makes you more open.”

The class takes a new spin on traditional religious studies.It will focus on the “Big 5” religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. It will also cover some ancient religions and less widely held modern religious practices. Not only will the class cover basic religious beliefs and practices, but it will also look at how personal bias can affect religious studies. “We kind of get into the whole idea that given the fact that we’ve grown up in a western capitalist society, implicit in our upbringing is a particular viewpoint through which everything is filtered,” noted Nohel. The class will work through each religion based on a framework called the “7 Dimensions” developed by Ninian Smart, a Scottish writer and educator. The framework breaks down the basic components that are present in every religion.

The course description adds, “This course develops appreciation and respect for the religious diversity found in our world. The relationship between religion and culture, and understanding the role of religion in people’s lives will be points of emphasis, in addition to the study of specific religious traditions.”

After not being offered for several years the class will become a rotating option. Nohel projected that it will be offered every other year, with Philosophy being an option during the opposite years. There are currently about 35 students enrolled in the class this semester, but more are predicted to enroll next semester.