Attempting to teach religion as political - any ideas?

As it happens I'm currently dealing with different religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam from classes VII to IX. This is not the first time that I'm dealing with religion as such. Every ancient civilizations that we deal with always has a section on religion i.e. Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses etc.
But then we have exclusive chapters on Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and even Hinduism. So how does one help children to distinguish the latter religions from the former?

It is with the above poser in mind that I seek to handle religions for kids. It is important for children, I think, to arrive at some distinction between the two. It is important for them in other words to figure out the difference between those religions which are more functional and less didactic, less normative than those religions which determine in a far greater degree aspects of one's existence which includes food, dress, occupations etc. It is in the latter category that religions like Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism will fall into. And then I also make another distinction between these religions in terms of political implications.

I first sought to put the above points to the kids in Class VII, VIII and IX through a discussion. I gave them this worksheet (CLICK HERE) to draw similarities between Greco-Roman religions and Hinduism. In this way I sought to highlight that though these two religions were divided in spatial terms but in functional terms they were similar in many aspects.

Then I sought to bring about the commonality in religions such as Christianity, Buddhism (and even Islam)as opposed to Hinduism and Greco-roman religions. These religions, I argue, brought about social change by questioning existing traditions, practices and customs. Christianity and Buddhism with its great emphasis on compassion, love and kindness brought new elements into the religious discourse of the times. Such elements in number of ways undermined the controlling ideas of the political class. I gave the students the example of how a political or ruling class controls the society based on the beliefs and customs of the people. Very often what people believe and do not believe in is determined by the religious idea. For example people in Europe for long believed in geocentric theory largely so because the church deemed it so. Likewise as per controlling idea of the times sacrificing cattle and paying tribute to landlords, priests, indulging and participating in some public ritual, public ceremonies, sports events ( like the barbaric events in the Roman Colosseum) festivals etc helped the ruling classes to legitimize their position and power. In such a scenario if some one starts questioning the futility of such ceremonies, rituals and festivals because thousands of people are affected in the process of such popular practices, for such rituals and practices lack meaning, for such festivals and customs are basically money making means for the kings and priests - what do you think will be the response of the ruling classes like kings and priests to such a person?

What I sought to express to my students was the simple fact that questioning prevailing traditions and practices of the people without even openly opposing the king and seeking to gain power, was in itself a political act. Thus Christ or Buddha never aspired for any political power and were concerned with creating new value system (new controlling idea) for the society. But since even these new value system undermined all those practices, customs and rituals of people by which the kings and priestly classes' power and status was reinforced, the teachings and ideas of people like Christ, Buddha and Muhammad was political for they questioned prevailing traditions and sought to make their religion more inclusive by opening it up to all irrespective of a person's wealth, social background, or status.

I went on to give even further examples - in Greco-Roman tradition and even in early Hinduism there was little in terms of compassion, kindness for the poor, dispossessed, weak. Social stratification i.e. caste system in early Indian society was seen as a given and people continued to carry on with their business and daily lives as if nothing was wrong in their society. Based on these controlling ideas then the kings ruled. Therefore anyone even when not questioning the king but questioning the prevalent practices of the people was also upsetting political equations.

Now I'm not too sure to what extent students in Class VII, VIII and IX where I discussed all these understood all the aspects of the nuanced argument (and I'm trying to develop further some activity to put across this view in a more concrete fashion) but I maintain it is important for children to understand the idea of "political" while dealing with religions.

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