Lessons

World Religions, Science, and Beliefs

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Your limits are in your head. Image by Erin Wilson, courtesy of Outside.

Your limits are in your head. Image by Erin Wilson, courtesy of Outside.

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At the University of Florida, Parkinson’s disease patient Russell Price undergoes surgery to implant a deep brain stimulation (DBS) lead

At the University of Florida, Parkinson’s disease patient Russell Price undergoes surgery to implant a deep brain stimulation (DBS) lead that will deliver electrical impulses to motion-controlling parts of his brain, treatment which has been shown to provide substantial relief from symptoms in appropriately selected patients. Additional improvement in some patients may also derive from the mere expectation that the procedure will help—the so-called placebo effect. “It’s not a magical thing,” says neurologist Michael Okun. “It’s another part of the brain that is producing a beneficial effect not directly related to the action of our treatment.” Image by Erika Larson. Florida, 2016.

Part 1: World Religions

Investigate the world: Investigate the world beyond your immediate environment.

  1. Enduring understanding: Everyone has a culture. It shapes how we see ourselves, others, and the world. Learn about the concept of culture by completing these activities from the Peace Corps.
  2. Fill out the worksheet Everyone Has a Culture - Everyone is Different.
  3. Share worksheet results with 3-5 different partners. Tally how many similarities and how many differences you find.
  4. Think about these 10 elements of culture.
  5. Individually or in small groups, design a “perfect world” using paper or Google Draw. What would each element of culture look like? Make sure each of these 10 elements of culture are addressed. Be creative!
  6. Religion & religious practices are one of the 10 elements of culture.
    1. Open a notebook or Google document (this will be used only for your personal reflection and will be kept private).
    2. At the top of the paper or document write your own definition of religion.
    3. Use the internet to look up a couple definitions of religion and add new ideas to your definition on your document.
    4. Free write for ten minutes on the following questions:
      1. What do you think of religion in general?
      2. What religion (if any) do you practice?
      3. What are the benefits of being religious/non-religious for you personally?
      4. Are there challenges in your life because of your religious, spiritual, or non-spiritual beliefs?
      5. Do you have any question about religion?
    5. Discuss in partners and then as a whole class:
      1. Why is religion an important part of a culture?
      2. What is the difference between the two terms?
      3. How can religion/non-religion bring people together?
      4. How can religion/non-religion cause conflict and divide between cultures?
    6. Watch this animated map, which shows how religion spread around the world.

Recognize Perspectives: Recognize your own and other’s perspectives.

  1. In your notebook or Google document, add a header for each of the world’s five major religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.
  2. Answer the following questions for each religion (fill in as much as you can):
    1. What facts do you know about this religion?
    2. What is your perspective on this religion?
    3. What factors may have influenced your perspective on this religion?
    4. How might others view this religion?
  3. Carefully read the introduction for the Religion & Power Issue Gateway by clicking here.
  4. Choose an article to read from Global Citizen by clicking here. Then:
    1. Share a summary of the article you read with a partner.
    2. Discuss any changes in your perspectives that happened as a result or reading or discussing the article. Add to your notes.
  5. Choose a report to read from the Pulitzer Center by clicking here.
    1. Share a summary of the article you read with a partner.
    2. Discuss any changes in your perspectives that happened as a result or reading or discussing the article. Add to your notes.
  6. Divide evenly into each of five groups: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism.
    1. Look into the practices of the religion you chose.
    2. Come up with a plan: decide as a group how to teach the rest of the class an interesting practice.
    3. Teach the class the new practice and have them try it out. 
    4. Discuss the experience as a class.

Communicate Ideas: Communicate your ideas effectively with diverse audiences.

  1. Think about a religion that resonated with you during your reading. Which religion would you like to know more about?
  2. Create an Infographic using Google Draw about the religion you choose using these guidelines.
    1. Use the Internet to look up other Infographics for ideas.
    2. Use the Internet to find information about the religion you are researching.
  3. Take a snapshot of your Infographic. Send to your teacher so they can tweet the infographics using #globaled #worldreligions
  4. On a note card, write down (very neatly) three things you strongly believe in.
    1. Talk with a partner about your beliefs. Discuss how different people may view those beliefs and why. Consider what you learned about different religions.
    2. Put all class note cards together to take a photo or add them all to a blog.
    3. Discuss as a class any common threads in beliefs. Did any surprise you?
    4. What diverse audiences could you share these statements with? Who would benefit? Send the blog or photos to those audiences.

Part 2: Science and Belief

  1. People across the world find personal power and create positive results in their lives through religion. Is it possible to harness these same results through science and changing our minds? Can expectation change reality? Take a quick class vote.
  2. Watch Erik Vance's Suggestible You (resource 5). (Teachers, skip 0:43-0:53 and stop at 1:04).
  3. Look at the image below and think about the statement below the picture. Free write for five minutes on what Your Limits are in Your Head means to you. Consider information learned from the Suggestible You video clip. 
  4. Read The Science Behind Miracles by Erik Vance. Answer the questions on the right (Resource 3 The Science Behind Miraccles) in a notebook, either alone or with a partner. Look up any unfamiliar words or new concepts.
  5. As a class decide the most important things you learned and why they are important. Will this information change anything in your life? With your teacher, leave a class comment answering those questions here.
  6. Your teacher is going to read out loud and guide you through Mind Over Matter (print)/Unlocking the Healing Power of You by Erik Vance in National Geographic’s December 2016 edition. While you are listening:
    1. Read along with a copy or online (to your right under Resource 4).
    2. Sketch what you are hearing. Here are some ideas of how to sketchnote.
    3. Stop and ask questions and process information along the way. Discuss the fluid roles of religion and belief throughout this article. When and why are they separate? How and why do they intersect?
  7. Stand up and find a partner to discuss each of the following quotes from the article. Find a new partner for each quote. (Teachers cut each quote into strips ahead of time). Spend about two minutes on each quote. 
    1. What is each author trying to get across?
    2. What does it mean to you?
    3. What is your reaction? 

“The placebo effect’s conditioned response in reaction to pain is to release brain chemicals-endorphins, or opiate-like painkillers-synthesized in the body. ...This time, some of the patients felt better, even though they didn’t receive morphine.”

“Without the expectation of pain relief, you can’t have a placebo effect,” sys Howard Fields at University of California, San Francisco.

“An expectation of healing in the prefrontal cortex sends signals to parts of the brain stem, which creates opioids and releases them down to the spinal cord. We don’t imagine we’re not in pain. We self-medicate, literally, by expecting the relief we’ve been conditioned to receive.” - Erik Vance

“Information we take from our social relationships has really profound influences, [not only] on emotional experiences but also on health related outcomes such as pain and healing.” Leonie Koban, scientist.

“Humans have the capacity to change their experience. These are skills, and we can learn them”-Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist at Stanford University who has dedicated much of her professional life to understand people’s interactions with God.

“The group carries you, and you carry the group. Prayer seems to actually work.” Thomas Zauner, a psychotherapist and deacon.

“We don’t imagine we’re not in pain. We self-medicate, literally, by expecting the relief we’ve been conditioned to receive.” Erik Vance

 

Take Action: Translate your ideas into appropriate actions to improve conditions.

  1. Consider all of the information learned in this unit. Summarize as a class.
  2. Listen to some classical or zen music. Meditate, journal, draw, or reflect quietly on the following questions:

     

    1. What is one step you can take to improve the quality of your life?
    2. What method is best to get you to that goal (a religious practice from your faith or another, or a science based changing your beliefs practice)
    3. Create a plan to implement this personal growth experiment. The plan should be completed within a week. Fill out a row in this sheet (the blue sections). (use a number or fake name for privacy if you would like. Let your teacher know who you are). Teachers-this information is public.
      • For example, if I drink coffee as an adult I may use the placebo effect of switching to decaf (there is a still a small amount of caffeine-enough to satisfy my brain without the negative effects of regular coffee).
    4. Fill in the rest of the green sections on this sheet one week later after completing your plan.
    5. Discuss the results as a class. What factors contributed to successes?
    6. Who can you share this information with to help someone else improve their life (a person in your faith community, a family member, a friend, etc.)? Create a plan to share in a week’s time.
    7. Continue experimenting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Educator Notes: 

This unit asks middle school students to explore the varying roles beliefs play in people's lives. Beliefs will be explored through the lenses of world religions, science, and social relationships. Students will design a plan to use their beliefs to grow personally and share what they have learned to help others. Lessons based on the Pulitzer Center's Religion & Power Gateway and Erik Vance's articles and book Suggestible You

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