As a class,
define the words “religion” and
“philosophy.” Analyze the difference
between the two. Tell the class that this
unit will focus on the history of some of
the oldest and major religions and
philosophies of the world.
that even the earliest civilizations had
complex religious practices (e.g.
ziggurat in Mesopotamia, the after-life
beliefs of Egyptians, the mythology of the
Greeks and Romans). Most of those early
religions were “polytheistic”, which means
belief in many gods. The very first
“monotheistic” religion (belief in one God)
was Zoroastrianism in the Persian Empire.
In fact, one of the lasting legacies of the
Persian Empire was its conception of
monotheism. Tell them that they will be
studying the origin and spread of the major
religions in the world today. Their roots
go back to empires that no longer exist, but
they have continued their distinct beliefs
and traditions as outlined by their sacred
texts or writings and through their
long-standing worship rituals.
Explain to the
students that, perhaps, religion is the most
significant element that binds a cultural
group together. Religions have shaped
cultures, especially in their defining of
moral standards, religious holidays, and the
literature, art, and architecture which
pervade those societies. From how people
dress to how people greet one another, from
what people eat to how people get married,
from how people decide on a career to how
people spend their money, religion is a
formative player in cultures around the
At the same
time, religion can be the most divisive
element within and among groups. The
ever-present struggle for power does not
just plague governments, but religions,
too. One group of leaders or set of beliefs
seeks to establish itself above all others.
This has led to divisions within the same
basic religions. Give students examples.
Furthermore, religions have fought among one
another for power and influence. In
seemingly unending wars, religions continue
to this day to fight in an effort to
dominate in different regions of the world.
Religious differences have also led to some
of the most egregious moments of human
degradation and annihilation.
students to learn about the history and
basic beliefs of the major religions in the
world today. Challenge them to be able to
describe how those religions have influenced
world history. Challenge them to analyze
religion in their own society and the role
that the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution has played in guaranteeing
freedom of religion in American society.
Challenge them to be able to identify
conflicts in the world today that reflect
religious power struggles and to analyze
possible solutions to those problems.