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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Religious Studies Class


My experience in teaching ‘Religious Studies’ subject in one class of primary school (grade 4 now) is absolutely very different from the one of senior high school I have had since a year ago. (FYI, I did not teach the ‘religion’ or ‘humanities classes when the grade 4 students were still in grade 3.)

First, the teaching material.

Second, maturity. Maturity here can be in psychological/mental state. However it can also refer to maturity in the experience of practicing the religious teachings.


For the class in senior high school, I downloaded the material from The first topic is about ‘Knowledge, Faith, and Belief’. The discussion on “Why believe?” and “What is truth?” is expected to make the students (in Indonesia where the atmosphere in society is more to ‘religious’ than in other countries, let’s say in Britain) think critically. Why believe in something we never see? Truth in one aspect – for example ‘historical’ truth – can be something else when viewed using ‘scientific’ truth. Truth in ‘films’ (or aesthetic) can be only imaginary when seen from another point of view.

For the class in primary school, I got a book entitled ‘Society and Environment’ book D. The first topic is “Famous People”. We discussed Mother Teresa (a very devoted Christian from India), Ian Kiernan (an environmentalist from Australia) and Eddie Mabo (a hero for the aboriginal people’s rights ). The interesting thing from this first topic is that we related these three people with their beliefs. We compare a Christian, an environmentalist and a human right hero at the same ‘level’ of belief.

The following topic in senior high class is ‘Beliefs about God’ in five different religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism). As we all know the three religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have one root – from Abraham – so that they are called ‘Abrahamic Faiths’. Hinduism is non Abrahamic Faith, while Sikhism is the mixture of Islam and Hinduism. Therefore the understanding of ‘God’ in the three religions is similar to each other since they have one root: they believe in one God. They are also called monotheist religions. Hinduism is of course very different although in the website it is also stated that Hindus believe in one true God but their God has many different forms. Meanwhile, Sikhism is also monotheist.

The following topic in grade 4 class is the discussion on Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Aboriginal Beliefs Customs and Religion. There is no explanation why Judaism is not included. The topic of Aboriginal Beliefs must be chosen to introduce this ‘native’ of Australian beliefs to children. (FYI, the book is published in Australia for Australian schools’ market.) The main discussion on the three religions are background/history, beliefs, practices and laws, also important texts/symbols.

There are eleven students in grade 4 where most of them are raised in Christian families. Two students have Islamic upbringing. Two students have Indian blood and one of them has Australian blood.


It is much more challenging to handle the religious studies class in  primary school rather than in senior high in my opinion. Last week I got a new class (grade 11) to teach religious studies subject. The first time I entered the classroom, I directly asked the students, “Why do you need to study other religions you do not adhere?” I got a unison answer, “In order that we respect other people’s religions.” The second question, “Do you have any idea why religions exist? Try to use the perspective of a non-believer because it is also important that we respect his/her choice to be a non-believer just like a non-believer also must respect the believers.”

No one answered my question.

“Have you ever thought a possibility that religious teachings are in fact only for those who cannot control the negative drives inside themselves? People who already have a high control on themselves do not need any religious/moral teachings. They know what to do and they know what to leave. The most important thing is that they do not harm others. They do not do anything harmful toward themselves either.”

“Is that why people in other countries who are non-believers do not necessarily do crimes?” one student asked.

“There! You got the point!” I strengthened her remark.

Based on the students’ maturity, I find it easy to express my opinon. However, I could not easily comment when some weeks ago a student in grade 4 said, “I don’t want to be a Muslim, Miss. It is so hard. I don’t want to be punished after death.” (Background: he is a Muslim because he follows his mother’s religion. His dad – an expatriat – apparently is not a Muslim.) I was totally speechless. I felt not right if I ‘blatantly’ exposed my agnostic view. I would not be able to say anything if the students would tell their parents, “Miss Nana, my religion teacher, said that religious teachings are not important for people who bla bla bla ...” and perhaps it would ignite the parents’ anger because I was trying making their kids agnostic.

(Info: the background of the statement of one Muslim student of mine was the reading passage entitled “I need a lamp in front”.)

Meanwhile when discussing “Aboriginal Beliefs, Customs, and Traditions” I found it challenging to make the students understand the way Aboriginal people view the creation of this universe because these people do not believe in one God. It is somewhat ‘absurd’ for them to imagine that this universe existed without God working for six days. I also encouraged the students to view this belief as valuable to believe as their knowledge from religious teachings (the so-called God created the earth in six days, and on the sevent day God rested. Then God created Adam and Eve bla bla bla ...)

However, in short, I am of opinion that teaching Religious Studies subjects is always challenging and satisfying. If only I can help create a more peaceful Indonesia when my students grow up that no need to fight over religions.

GL7 14.24 200911

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