We’ve tentatively identified four big educational goals for the religious education programs in our church, and one of those goals is to make sure children have basic religious literacy compatible with the society they’re living in. More specifically, we want children who have gone through our program to know: (a) the main Bible stories they’re likely to encounter in Western culture (in literature, film, painting, etc.); (b) stories and facts about the main world religions they will encounter both in their immediate environment and in current events; (c) a basic knowledge of the history of Western religion (primarily Western Christianity), and in particular the history that led to the formation of Unitarianism and Universalism; and (d) the main characters and stories of Unitarianism and Universalism in North America.
Yesterday I had lunch with three of the lay leaders in the children’s religious education program to talk about assessment strategies for our religious education program. I suggested that part of our assessment strategy for this educational goal of religious literacy should be a list of the specific things we want to teach our kids; i.e., which Bible stories should kids know? which famous Unitarians and Universalists should they know? etc.
Below is my first attempt at generating such a list, with material to be covered from ages 3 to 18. I would love to have your comments on, suggestions for, corrections to, and additions to this list.
Religious Literacy for UU kids: A List
N.B.: In generating this list, I’ve made the following assumptions: (1) The list is aimed at people living in the United States; (2) The list assumes that in spite of increased diversity in the United States, Western culture remains by far the dominant culture; (3) The list does not assume that one religion (not even Unitarian Universalism) has sole access to “truth”; (4) The list assumes that “literacy” involves stories, facts, history, and written texts, rather than knowledge of how to participate in rituals, worship, etc.
Other things to remember before you comment: Please note that this list is meant to help define educational outcomes. Please note that tests will NOT be an assessment genre we plan to use. Please note that this list includes material to be covered from ages 3-18, at age-appropriate levels. Please note that I’m counting on no more than 30 contact hours per year over no more than eleven years, and that there are other goals besides religious literacy, so that this list is probably way too ambitious already.
Bible stories: Bible stories important in Western culture
Hebrew Bible — Torah
Genesis: Creation story, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Abraham and Isaac, Lot’s escape from Sodom and Gomorrah, the story of Joseph
Exodus (and Numbers and Deuteronomy): Moses’s birth, the ten plagues, escape from slavery, Moses and the burning bush, the ten commandments, the Golden Calf, manna from heaven, entering the promised land
Leviticus Chapter 25 on the sabbatical year (included because this has been used recently and frequently by Christian and Jewish ecological activists)
The rest of the Hebrew Bible
Joshua Joshua and the battle of Jericho
Judges Deborah, Samson, Samson and Delilah
1 and 2 Samuel Saul’s madness and David’s harp, David and Goliath, David becomes king, Absalom’s revolt against David
1 and 2 Kings Solomon’s kingdom, Solomon’s wisdom, Solomon and Queen Sheba, the later kings and the exile to Babylon
Psalms and Proverbs Psalm 23; Proverbs 3.13-18; and there must be some other Psalms that should be included
Other books of the Hebrew Bible The exile in Babylon; Job’s story; Ruth and Naomi; the later prophets, including Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah; Daniel in the lion’s den; the philosophy of Ecclesiastes.
The story of the Maccabbees
Christian scriptures, a.k.a. the New Testament — the Gospels
Two birth stories of Jesus; John the Baptist.
Parables attributed to Jesus: the good Samaritan; parable of the sower; parable of the mustard seed; parable of the unforgiving servant; the parable of salt; prodigal son; parable of the unjust steward; rich man and Lazarus; the wicked tenants; parable of the talents;
Miracles attributed to Jesus: water into wine; walking on water; feeding of the five thousand (loaves and fishes); healing of Lazarus; expelling demons into pigs (please, no “deviled ham” jokes); the woman caught in adultery;
Other deeds and words attributed to Jesus: Sermon on the Mount; light under a bushel; the widow’s mite; paying tribute to Caesar;
The story of Jesus’s trial and execution by the Romans on trumped-up political charges.
Christian scriptures, a.k.a. the New Testament — Acts and all the rest
The book of Acts: Pentecost; Paul’s conversion (road to Damascus); Paul and Silas in jail; early Christian communities.
The book of Revelation: the four horsemen of the Apocalypse; the New Jerusalem down on earth
Non-Western religious traditions
The life of Buddha: his birth; decision to be a monk; his enlightenment under the Bo tree
Earlier lives of Buddha: some Jataka tales
The four noble truths
The eightfold path
Hinduism (indigenous religions of India)
Basic stories of the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana
The story of the Bhagavad Gita
Key gods and goddesses: Brahma, Ganesh, Hanuman, Kali, Krishna, Lakshmi, Shiva, Rama, Vishnu
Ancient Greek religion
The stories of key gods and goddesses: Gaia, Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, Athena, Demeter (and Persephone), Hades, Hera, Hermes, Hephaestus, Dionysus, Poseidon, Zeus, Hestia.
Other myths and stories: Prometheus, Gorgon’s head, King Midas, Pandora’s box, the Golden Fleece, Daedelus, Heracles (Hercules), the Odyssey
Mohammed’s life, his revelation, the escape to Mecca
The Five Pillars of Islam
Stories and myths of Confucius
Living or exterminated indigenous religions in your area
Stories of Western religion(s), esp. stories leading towards Unitarianism and Universalism
Constantine’s conversion and the Nicene creed; the emergence of Roman Catholicism
Cranmer and Anglicanism
Luther’s 95 Theses
John Calvin; Calvinism comes to the New World (Puritanism)
John Wesley and Methodism
George Fox and the beginning of Quakerism
The Black church in the U.S.
Pentecostalism: Aimee Semple McPherson; the Aszusa St. Revival
Key Unitarian and Universalist characters and stories, emphasis on North America
Francis David and John Sigismund
18th-19th C. Universalism: John Murray and Thomas Potter; John and Judith Murray and the Gloucester church; Hosea Ballou; Olympia Brown
18th-19th C. Unitarianism: Joseph Priestley [added thanks to commenter Jeremiah], William Ellery Channing; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Theodore Parker; the Prophetic Sisterhood
20th C. Universalism: Clarence Skinner
20th C. Unitarianism: John Dietrich and humanism; James Luther Adams in Germany
UUism: Unitarians and Universalists merge; the Fellowship movement; Black Empowerment Controversy; the feminist revolution
Unitarians and Universalists around the world, with special attention to sister church connections
The story of your congregation