The comparative religions course offered at Randolph-Macon Academy’s summer school program compares and contrasts the values and beliefs of each religion within the curriculum. There are many current events and issues that are tied directly to the beliefs of certain religions, such as the misunderstandings between Israel and Palestine. For this reason, the comparative religions teacher, Michael Williams (who completed his theology work and ordination at The University of Wales at Lampeter), believes it to be a crucial subject to teach our students.
It is vital for students to study these religions in order to have a complete understanding of these current events and issues. “You cannot understand your present without knowing your history,” explained Mr. Williams. The purpose of this class is to study the history and practices of each religion while displaying its relevancy through current and world events.
The comparative religions class bases its structure off a “jig-saw” format. This jig-saw approach takes a religion and separates its individual components such as values/beliefs, funeral and birth practices, worship, weddings, etc. From there, each group is assigned a component of the religion to read and study for half the class period. Once each group completes their readings they will teach what they have learned to the class. The teacher will then fill in any details the kids may have missed. “It is a product of cooperative learning, which I have found very effective for teaching children,” said Mr. Williams.
The religion is brought to life for the kids every Wednesday by traveling to Washington D.C. to visit temples, mosques, synagogues, and other places of religious congregation. Mr. Williams also likes to provide his students with the food of the religion’s culture. “I believe one of the best ways to help a child understand something is to feed them,” he said. “It sounds funny, but it brings about a natural and relevant conversation with the people who frequent these establishments,” he explained. “It gives the kids something to take away from the religion that extends beyond the classroom and into the real world.” That is an important part of the subject for Mr. Williams. The history of a religion is important to understand, but it is equally important to recognize its impact on modern day people and their societies.
The natural conversations these students have over a meal help them understand the societal impact of the religion being studied. It provides a different perspective than one as a student who is fortunate enough to not experience religious and social conflict frequently. This new perspective helps explain why certain people simply cannot coexist due to their religious beliefs.
However, Mr. Williams does not confine his students to the current events that reinforce the negative stigma of religion. He makes sure to emphasize the positive side of religion as well. Although religion has been used to justify certain unethical means, it has also been used to bring people from different backgrounds together through love and faith. He wants the kids to see every angle, from that of the peaceful moderate to the militant radical. “The kids need to make their own decision and form their own opinions,” said Mr. Williams. “It is my job to give them all of the information so they are able to do just that.”
Current issues between different religions could be avoided if people made an effort to learn from each other’s cultures. This comparative religions course seeks to provide students with a knowledge of religions, how they compare, and the role religion plays in current issues and events.
Randolph-Macon Academy's summer school program offers high school students the opportunity to repeat two core courses to improve grades, take two enrichment courses for fun, or take one core course for the first time to get ahead in a subject area. Summer school runs July 3-29; applications are now being accepted.