Group 3 – specific subject – tool for moral and civic education teachers
pupils from 14 to 18
- To learn about different belief systems and religions
- To develop critical thinking
- To cultivate acceptance of diversity of beliefs and religions
- Copies of the statement cards (one set per small group): cut them out
- Comfortable places for the small groups to sit and discuss
- A facilitator for each small group
STEP-BY-STEP DESCRIPTION OF THE ACTIVITY
- Explain that in this activity they will be discussing their beliefs; some people may be deeply religious, others less so and some may have no religion. The aim is to come to a deeper understanding of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see below) through sharing personal views and thinking critically about the different ways in which we give meaning to life.
- Make it very clear to participants that they need to be aware of what they say and how they express themselves. The protection of religious beliefs, as well as religious symbols from insult and denigration, falls within the scope of freedom of religion. However, protection must be balanced against freedom of thought and expression and does not mean blanket immunity from criticism of beliefs. Thus honest, open enquiry is acceptable whereas speech motivated by prejudice and discrimination is not.
- Divide participants into small groups of between 4-6 people and ask them to reflect individually for 3 or 4 minutes on their personal beliefs. For example, if they have a religion, how closely do they observe the creeds and rituals?
- Then, by way of an icebreaker, ask participants to talk about the first time they took part in a religious ceremony.
- Now place the cards face down in the middle of the group. Tell the participants that they have one hour and should keep their discussions short so that they can get through as many cards as possible. That way they will get a broad perspective on the issues; they can follow up topics that are of particular interest later.
- Explain that in each round a participant takes a card, reads it out aloud and then comments on the statement. Then the others have the opportunity to contribute with an example from their own religion or experience.
- Then go on to another round, with another player taking a card.
- When all the cards have been discussed or the time is up, move on to debrief (in the same groups).
Debriefing and evaluation
Did participants feel any of the statements were difficult to deal with? Why?
Were there any facts, beliefs or attitudes towards your own life stance that surprised you?
What did people have in common despite their different life stances?
What fundamental differences were there between people’s life stances? Are they irreconcilable?
Why is it important to know about other people’s life stances? How ignorant are you? Should you know more about them?
Bearing in mind that freedom of religion and belief is a human right, how easy is it to respect people when you fundamentally disagree with their life stance?
To what extent do ignorance and prejudice about different life stances play a role in peoples’ perceptions of each other?
Does everyone have freedom of belief and religion in your country? Why, why not?
What form do violations of freedom of belief and religion take in your country?
To what extent should freedom of thought, conscience and religion allow for distinctive practices within the community of believers that may diverge from wider society? Examples of this could include positions on women in religious leadership positions, traditional ceremonies involving children, laws surrounding baptism, divorce or burial, prohibitions on the depiction of the founder, and so on.
What should you bear in mind when planning an event for the whole group, for instance a picnic, a sporting event or a weekend residential, so that everyone can be included, regardless of their religion or belief?
Sometimes when arranging an event, it can be hard to accommodate everyone’s needs according to their religion or beliefs. How do you try to find solutions? If you have to make compromises, how do you prioritise different people’s needs?
What was the most interesting thing you learnt from this activity?
RECOMMENDATIONS / TIPS
This activity deals with a sensitive topic so it is important that everyone feels comfortable. Run the activity in an easy-going manner; relaxing surroundings help. Be sure everyone knows that they are not under pressure to say or explain more than they want to, or feel they can.
Respect participants’ contributions and limitations; not everyone is able to explain why this or that is practised in their religion, especially if they were raised and educated within a certain religion from an early age. In this respect, religion is very much like culture: you tend to assume your values and cultural patterns as “natural”.
Beware of peer pressure. Don’t let participants get into a defensive position about their religion or beliefs, for instance by someone saying, “how can you be of that religion and accept …?”
Avoid getting bogged down in too many details. Keep an eye on the pile of cards and make sure that you’ll have enough time for most of them. Let the discussion flow naturally and intervene only when you feel that the question has been exhausted or that there is a risk of going too far or when “dominance” attitudes surface.
Be prepared to contribute with extra information, especially about religions not represented in the group or by playing the “devil’s advocate”.
If you can, run the activity with a co-facilitator for each group, for leading the discussion and debriefing in the small groups; if you have no co-facilitator check if you can prepare some volunteers among the participants to help you with this. This may be important, depending on the group, in order to respect everyone’s input and experience and to make sure that the debriefing is constructive. If you cannot rely on co-facilitators, then make sure to run the evaluation in a plenary with all the participants together.
Faith, by definition, cannot be explained by rational arguments and you should limit attempts to challenge religious beliefs by rational arguments. You may need to stress that it is important to respect that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this does not mean that you have to respect what others believe, but you do have to respect their right to believe what they want to. Remember that to develop critical thinking is an important aim of Human Right Education and that comparing different life stances will help people be aware that their choice of thought does not invalidate others’ choices. Through this discussion activity participants will hopefully come to understand that their choice is not absolute, but relative. It will also make them aware of the strengths and weaknesses in every school or tradition. Religious fanaticism and bigotry commonly stem from a strict selectivity of thought and a rejection of pluralism. No religion is monolithic, and therefore no single narrative in a religion is authoritative and representative of, let alone superior to, all other narrations or interpretations of other religious traditions.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
For the purpose of this activity, in order to include the greatest number of belief systems, we use the definition of religion from www.religioustolerance.org: “Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, and a philosophy of life.” The term “religion” refers to both the personal practices relating to communal faith and to group rituals, and communication stemming from shared conviction. Alternatives to religion include atheism, scepticism, free-thought and humanism.
In this activity we focus on “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, that is, the right to follow a religion or not, according to personal choice. We have thus used the term “life stance” as a shared label encompassing both religions and alternatives to religion, without discrimination in favour of either. By “life stance” we mean a framework of ideas that helps us understand the world and find meaning and value in life. Many life stances are clearly religious, for example, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. Some life stances are non-religious, such as the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx and his followers, Ayn Rand’s objectivism, and humanism. Other life stances, such as Buddhism and Confucianism, have traditionally been classed as religions, but many followers do not agree with this categorisation and argue that because their beliefs do not include a deity, Buddhism and Confucianism are philosophies. The concept of “life stance” encompasses them all.
Basic, easy-to-use information about the main faiths practised throughout the world can be found on the Internet sites of the United Religions Initiative (www.uri.org) and the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (www.religioustolerance.org).
Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People, Council of Europe: http://www.coe.int/en/web/compass