Religious Diversity and Pluralism in America Unit

Lesson Plan

Stephanie McAllister, Brookline High School, Boston, Massachusetts
Diane L. Moore, Harvard Divinity School


Diana L. Eck and the Pluralism Project: On Common Ground: World Religions in  America, 2nd Edition (NY: Columbia University Press, 2002)

José Casanova: Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)

Guiding Questions of the Unit

How is American identity shaped and influenced by religion? Is the ideology of America secular? What does it mean to talk of America as “one nation, under God”? What religious traditions are currently practiced in the United States? Are some religions considered more American than others? What are the religious dimensions of the American response to 9/11?

Day One: Religion in America

Is America a secular nation? How is American identity shaped and influenced by religion?

Assignment: Excerpt from Public Religions in the Modern World, José Casanova; Film: Voices of America; Essays: “We the People”; “A Three Religion Country”; and “A New Multi-Religious America”. Note: all film and essay assignments are found in the CD-ROM On Common Ground unless otherwise noted.

  1. What does “secular” mean? Brainstorm and define. Is America a secular nation? Offer examples to support assertions (e.g. our coins have “In God We Trust” on them, our Constitution requires a separation of church and state). Would this question be answered differently in different time periods we’ve investigated? What would Kennedy, or Reagan or the Black Panthers say? What were the religious dimensions of the response to 9/11?
  2. What religions are practiced in the U.S.? Which ones are most influential? Offer examples. Are some “more American” than others? What are the criteria for determination?

Day Two: Case Study on Islam

What are some of the basic beliefs and practices of Muslims in America?

Assignment: Divide into teams of four and investigate different aspects of Islam by exploring information found in On Common Ground. Everyone should read the four introductory essays found on the first page. Teams will be responsible for exploring and presenting information on other aspects of Islam in America. Team assignments will be determined by issues that the class would like to explore and learn more about. Research and presentation guidelines will be distributed.

Group presentations on Islam

Day Three: Religion in the Public Square

How is religious diversity represented and/or recognized in the public square?

Assignment: Essays: “World Religions in Boston”; “The Public Square”; “Encounter in the Public Schools”; Encounter Over the Curriculum”; “Encounter in the Courts”; “Encounter in the Public Square”.

  1. What religions are represented here at Brookline High School? Is this diversity reflected in school activities such as clubs or organizations? Is it reflected in the curriculum, school programs or policies? If so, how? If not, why not? Should religion be more explicitly included as a representation of multiculturalism?
  2. Offer other examples from the readings that demonstrate the intersection of religion in the public square. Articulate the possibilities and challenges that America’s commitment to religious freedom represents.

Day Four: Diversity, Pluralism and Multiculturalism

What is the difference between diversity and pluralism? Which best describes America?

Assignment: Film: Building Bridges; Essays “From Diversity to Pluralism”. Research conflicts and collaborations that have been inspired by the diversity of religions in America (e.g. Essays: “Stereotypes and Prejudice”; “Not in This Neighborhood”; “Violence and Vandalism”; “Parliament of Religions, 1993”; “Cooperation at the Grassroots”; “Common Cause in Social Action” and news links found on Pluralism Project website.)

  1. Brainstorm the difference between diversity and pluralism. Is pluralism  represented at Brookline High School? Is so, where? If not, why not?
  2. Present findings of conflicts/collaboration assignment.
  3. Discuss the implications of religious diversity and pluralism through the lens of 9/11.