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AP Human Geography class explores new religions through class project

Isabella Potorti, Editor

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In an effort to explore new places of worship, the AP Human Geography class has a religion project to complete in their semester. Students have two project options, a research paper or visiting a place of worship different than their own.  Students must write three to four pages describing their religion of choice. It must include the religions diffusion, conflict, data, beliefs and cultural interaction.

The purpose is to help kids move briefly out of their comfort zones. Ignorance of other cultures paves the way for hostility, but when you interact with and learn from people of other cultures, it increases your understanding that we are all humans,” said Trena Kirby, the AP Human Geography teacher.

For the project, students are required to choose a worship center and visit it. They must write about the art seen, the building itself, music heard, social norms, and then do a reflection. Kirby does this project every semester and gets very different results each time.

“I was apprehensive at first, simply with the thought of going to a different place of worship for the first time,”said Heeba Shaikh, sophomore.

Students are told to keep an open mind throughout the project; however, if they are uncomfortable, can choose another option instead of visiting a place of worship. The students are allowed to choose whichever they are more comfortable with. Both options give the student a deeper understanding of alternative religions.

“I went to St. Paul’s Episcopal church. There wasn’t anything that made me uncomfortable. I was actually really pleased with the kind and welcoming atmosphere. One of my favorite parts was seeing the process of worship for Christians and just overall experiencing something new,” said Shaikh.

Students must really dig into different cultures and explain your experience as well as how the religion has been diffused or influenced by other cultures.

“Most interesting is when students take lessons from these visits and are able to apply them to their own lives. For instance, students who visit the Buddhist temple often come back and report that they learned how to meditate to relieve stress from ‘earthly’ problems,” said Kirby.

In light of the recent synagogue shooting it somewhat confirms the claim Kirby made that ignorance of other cultures paves the way to hostility; 11 people were murdered in this hate crime while the shooter yelled anti-semitic slurs.

“I felt really disappointed because of how little tolerance people demonstrate towards other religions. If people took the time to truly understand one another, everyone would be better off in my opinion,” said Shaikh.

This religion project has changed the lives of many and opened student’s minds to cultures and religions they might have never experienced. The takeaway is monumental, helping students relate to their religion, try new things, or learn more about the people and community around them.

St. Pauls Episcopal Church Photo taken by Heeba Shaikh

Mass Service occurring in St. Paul’s Photo taken by Heeba Shaikh

“I cannot count the number of times over the years that students have commented on how important this experience was for them and how much more it meant than just taking notes on a religion in a class,” said Kirby.

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