comment on the inherent need in humans to question and explain the mysteries expressed in religion
outline the main religious concepts and questions which were addressed in one or more ancient religions
pose questions, research and communicate information on key aspects of an ancient religion
determine what links there are between nature and religion in indigenous religions
describe the spirituality and belief systems of some of the world’s indigenous peoples
become familiar with appropriate religious terminology as it relates to indigenous religions
discuss the importance of ideas about the natural environment and kinship as intrinsic to Aboriginal spirituality
describe elements of Aboriginal Spirituality and its connection to the natural environment
use primary and secondary sources to learn about Aboriginal spirituality
This unit is a unique opportunity for students to explore the innate spiritual dimension of humanity. It is also an important time to reflect on attitudes to people of different races and cultures. Students are often surprised to know that even pre-history records evidence of this spiritual thirst. People have always looked for answers to universal questions:
What is the meaning and purpose of life?
What is good, and what is evil?
What happens after death?
What is the hidden power which lies behind the unfolding of nature, and the events of our own lives?
‘Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear. Do not think that your gifts are worth so little that you should no longer bother to maintain them. Share them with each other and teach them to your children. Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages must never be lost.’
John Paul II, 1986, To the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, Alice Springs
Part of the unit calls us to reflect on the spiritual expression of Aboriginal peoples.
We belong to the one human family, with diverse gifts, traditions and religious expressions.
What gifts and learning can we receive from our Indigenous sisters and brothers?
Many students, particularly in Stage 5, are in the process of exploring the belief systems they may previously have taken for granted. They are developing their religious concepts into an adult rather than a child’s understanding.
This process can be easier if they explore religious concepts in a detached, objective manner, as can be done in a study of a religion other than their own. In such a context, they are able to make observations and analyse ideas in a non-threatening, general way.
Australians Aborigines have one of the oldest cultures in the world, and an ancient spirituality that is still living and evolving. Australian students are thus in a unique position to study a spirituality which is both ancient and vital.
Today's Church teaches that we should be aware of the wisdom which lies in religions other than Christianity.
The Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, suggests that truth is always holy, and that we should reject nothing which is true in these religions. People everywhere look to their particular religions for answers to the universal questions; what is the meaning and purpose of life? What is good, and what is evil? What happens after death? What is the hidden power which lies behind the unfolding of nature, and the events of our own lives?
The Church suggests that, while adhering to their own faith and identity, Catholics should be aware of the answers given to these universal questions by major world religions.
In preparation for the teaching of this module the following references are recommended:
Part One, Section One: ‘I Believe’ – ‘We Believe’
27 – 30 The Desire for God
How can we speak about God?
Part One, Section Two: The Profession of the Christian Faith
198 – 221 I Believe in God the Father
295 – 301 The Mystery of Creation
Part Two, Section One: The Sacramental Economy
1204 – 1206 Liturgy and Culture
In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behaviour: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that we may well call man a religious being.
46 When he listens to the message of creation and to the voice of conscience, man can arrive at certainty about the existence of God, the cause and the end of everything.
The Hebrew Scriptures are the most completely preserved sacred writings of any of the ancient religions.
They can be used as source material for study of the various aspects of ancient religion, such as:
monotheism and polytheism (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Shema)
hierarchical structures such as kingship/priesthood (Book of Kings)
sacred space eg the Ark of the Tabernacle, a comparison of the Temple structure and lay out with other ancient temples (1 Kings 6)
the spirit world eg angels, the force of evil (Genesis 18,19)
the integration of religion into all aspects of daily life (Leviticus)
the notion of ‘Sacrifice’ as a gift and a form of communication between the human community and the deity (Leviticus 10:7, Genesis 8:20-22)
Genesis 28:10-19 Jacob’s Dream
Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, has the same promise of land given to him as was earlier granted to Abraham (Genesis 15:18). The promise comes in a dream as he sleeps on the land with a stone for his pillow. In his dream Jacob sees a ladder and stairs reaching up into the sky, linking heaven and earth. The angels on the ladder are messengers from God – the Hebrew word for angel, ‘malak’, means messenger. When Jacob wakes up he uses his stone pillow as a makeshift altar, pouring an offering to God over it. He names the place Bethel – meaning house (beth) and God (el).
Jacob’s dream highlights the intense link that Jewish people have with the land. This is not unlike our own Aboriginal people in Australia. They, too, have strong ancestral links with the land. Like Jacob at Bethel, they have significant stories about places in Australia that are sacred to them.
Jacob’s wonderful insight, when he “truly knew” (28:16), is also significant for us today. Often we do not recognise, or are slow to recognise, God in the ordinary events of our lives, in the daily miracles that occur.
Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob wrestles with God
This text provides another ancestral story, connected with the name of a person, a place and a dietary law. Jacob is renamed “Israel” because he struggled with God and prevailed. The place-name Peniel – ‘parnan’ in Hebrew means ‘face’ – tells us that Jacob saw God face to face, and lived. This idea astounded the Israelites, who believed that to see God face to face meant death.
The idea that ‘no one can see God and live’ reflects the Hebrew people’s respect for the majesty of God. The point of this saying is not that God is frightening or violent, but that we should approach God with humility and reverence, and that we should realise that whenever people do truly encounter God their lives will be changed.
Like Jacob we sometimes struggle with God in our own way. This text reassures us that just as God blessed Jacob, so shall we be blessed as we struggle and respond in faith to the difficult times of our lives.
Exodus 32:1-6 The Golden Calf
This story of rebellion against the worship of Yahweh unwittingly shows the strength of the ‘old’ religion. There are hints in the Old Testament that behind the emerging ideology that Yahweh was the only God of Israel, the common people clung to their ancient gods. For example, there are suggestions of cultic practices in Judges 11:37-40, and outright statements about it in 1 Kings 12.
The choice of a ‘calf’ is not random. It was a common representation of divinity in the ancient Near East. A cow was associated with agricultural and human fertility, particularly as it related to females; a bull symbolised male strength and virility. Like the ark of the covenant, it was a tangible object in which the power of a god was focused. Gold, as the most precious and beautiful metal, was used to decorate this ‘house’ of the god. Most of this gold came from melted-down jewellery of the women.
The passage refers to ‘a’ (single) calf but ‘your’ (plural) gods, suggesting the danger in swerving even momentarily away from the worship of the God of all creation.
be open to the contribution of all peoples and cultures to the development of an understanding of religion and life
describe the religious responses of ancient and indigenous peoples and cultures, including Australian Aboriginal spirituality
investigate a range of religious concepts in ancient and indigenous religions
Essential Reading for Teachers
It is intended that students will be able to:
V discuss the function of religion in various societies and cultures
K list and distinguish between the various components of religion
S develop a methodology for the study of religion
For the purposes of this study, ancient religions are those from ancient civilisations which no longer persist. Indigenous religions are the religious expressions of the original inhabitants of an area, and these expressions generally persist.
It should be noted however that some ancient religions, such as the religion of the Hebrews, do form the foundation of present-day religions such as Judaism and Christianity.
The components of religion
A religion involves an integration of various components which together form a unified whole. One method of studying a religion is to break it into these separate components, and study it in an objective manner. This type of study does not give the full experience of a particular religion: students do not take part in the faith element of the believer. Rather, they examine the beliefs and practices which together form the overall structure of the religion.
In learning about the religious responses of ancient or indigenous peoples, the following components might be studied: belief in deities and spirits; sacred stories/writings; ritual, worship and festivals; sacred symbols; sacred space; sacred time.
It is intended that students will be able to:
V comment on the inherent need in humans to question and explain the mysteries expressed in religion
K outline the main religious concepts and questions which were addressed in one or more ancient religions
S pose questions, research and communicate information on key aspects of an ancient religion
In studying the religious beliefs of ancient religions, teachers will to some extent be governed by the resources available in the school. Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations are probably the most easily resourced, but teachers should feel free to choose from any of the other ancient cultures, including Near Eastern, North American, Central/South American, Asian, Pacific and African.
Some of the areas which might be studied in one or more religions include:
religious beliefs and practices relating to birth, initiation, death (rites of passage in ancient cultures)
beliefs and practices relating to life after death and the concept of the soul
different concepts of divinity, eg polytheism, monotheism, female and male deities, forces of nature/creation and ancestral spirit forces
different types of rituals, eg Egyptian burial rites, the function of sacrifice, the structure of Greek or Roman sacrificial ceremonies
different social structures surrounding the organisation of religious practices, eg hereditary priesthood, hierarchical priesthood, citizens’ duty to sacrifice, the shaman and elders
theology expressed in religious art and architecture, eg the importance of sacred space, the function of temples, ziggurats, temple/ tombs and story and theology in sacred art.
Alert other KLAs to the time when Yr 10 will be studying this unit. Encourage them to make connections with the Aboriginal perspective that is mandated in their programs. For example, the exploration of myth in English and its visual representation in Art; the history of Indigenous Peoples and their exploitation is expressed across HSIE; Science investigates the impact of development on traditional lifestyles of Indigenous Peoples.
Suggested Teaching/ Learning Strategies
Observation of group task and ensuing discussion – defining religion and its purpose.
Students exchange visual summaries of the components of religion and comment on clarity of information and style of presentation.
How open am I to exploring the religious experience of other people?
Students require texts and butcher’s paper. In small groups answer the two questions below on separate sheets of paper – writing needs to be visible for the whole class:
- How do you define religion?
- What is the purpose of religion?
Post sheets on board and compare responses to each question. Students write individual summary of main points.
KWL p128 explains ‘Ancient Religion’ and the components of religion.
Students complete a visual summary of the components of religion highlighting their inter-relatedness (eg mindmap, web, flowchart)
Students describe a religious ritual they are familiar with. They explain the purpose of the ritual and outline its structure. Keep this structure in mind as rituals are discussed throughout the unit.
Visit a sacred space. Note the visual characteristics that give the space its religious meaning. Use this experience as a reference when discussing the sacred venues of ancient and indigenous religions.
Students commence a glossary of terms to be developed during the unit.
Observation of student understanding of Scripture activities.
Marking of research task on p9 of this unit.
Analysis of image from an ancient religion and/or floor-plan of a place of worship in ancient religions.
A means of self-reflection on the process and learnings from the research task should be built into the marking criteria.
KWL p131 provides material on Egypt, Greece and Rome
Read and examine the meaning of Genesis 28:10-19 and Genesis 32:22-33 (see p3 of this unit) prior to completing the task on KWL p131.
Sacrifice was an integral part of ancient religion. Read Exodus 32:1-6 (p3 of this unit) in conjunction with KWL p136.
Choose one ancient religion and research the role of a priest or priestess, an oracle or a god-king. What were their duties and responsibilities? What did the people expect of them? What rules did they have to keep?
Choose an image/painting from an ancient religion. Analyse the image to explain the components of religion it shows.
Make a list of the components of religion with two columns beside the list. Choose two ancient religions, eg Egyptian and Roman. Find one example of each component for both religions. Compare the two items. What do they tell us about each group of people and their beliefs?
Students research and draw a floor-plan of a place of worship from one ancient religion, labelling different areas and explaining how they were used.
See p9 of this unit for guided research task.
Essential Reading for Teachers
It is intended that students will be able to:
V determine what links there are between nature and religion in indigenous religions
K describe the spirituality and belief systems of some of the world’s indigenous peoples
S become familiar with appropriate religious terminology as it relates to indigenous religions
In general, indigenous cultures do not make a distinction between a religious and an everyday experience, because religion is completely integrated with daily life; in many cultures there was no word for ‘religion’.
In primal religions there is usually a belief in spirit forces, which are invisible or intangible but which control different aspects of the visible world.
The beliefs of primal religions are expressed in their myths, and acted out in their rituals.
Ancient and indigenous religions, like all religions, attempt to answer questions which are universal: what is the purpose of life? what is death, and do we survive it? where did the universe come from?
Primal religions have stories (creation myths) which explain how the world came to be as it is, with its geography, landforms and weather patterns.
Primal religions have rituals (actions which have special meaning and are repeated at special times) which remain unchanged over an indefinite period of time.
Beliefs are not necessarily uniform throughout a large area, eg in Aboriginal Australia they could relate to a particular people or area.
The Aboriginal groups in pre-European settlement Australia were nomadic, obtaining their food through hunting and gathering; they therefore depended on an intimate knowledge and understanding of the land for their survival.
This knowledge is transferred through a rich oral tradition, passed on through a complex pattern of story and ritual.
Each Aboriginal group has particular stories and rituals relating to the environment it inhabits; there are a great variety of stories and rituals.
All dance, stories and art are permeated with sacred symbolic meaning.
It is intended that students will be able to:
V discuss the importance of ideas about the natural environment and kinship as intrinsic to Aboriginal spirituality
K describe elements of Aboriginal Spirituality and its connection to the natural environment
S use primary and secondary sources to learn about Aboriginal spirituality
While each group has its own special forms of spirituality, there are three elements of spiritual expression which are held in common: the Dreaming, the importance of kinship laws, and the link between the Aboriginal people and the land.
The Dreaming occurs in a time outside time: it belongs to the past, the present and the future. It describes the formation of the world and everything in it, both past and present.
Each man and woman is connected to a land-being (an animal, creature or plant) with which he/she has a lifelong affinity.
The kinship system is an intrinsic part of Aboriginal spirituality. Kinship laws govern the relationships which exist in the Aboriginal community:
- at a personal level: an Aborigine's identity depends on kinship laws, as do those of the family/clan; there are individual dreamings defining people's ancestors and identity; and
- at a community level, where kinship laws govern social/cultural relationships, eg where relationships which are not necessarily blood relationships are defined.
Thus the Dreamings surrounding kinship laws give rules on how each member of the group relates to any other member, and how they should be treated.
In general, women are held responsible for the maintenance of the family; men assume responsibility for the general spirituality of the tribe; the whole community, not just the mother and father, has responsibility for the rearing of the children, with older members of the community having special expertise in this area.
Suggested Teaching/Learning Strategies
Observation of group research and marking of displays.
Marking of individual response task.
Groups assess the displays using simple criteria, for example:
Explanation of Areas
of the Task:
Beliefs of life after death
Sacred site or object
Creativity and care
With display presentation
Completion of response task.
KWL p136, explanation of terms relating to Indigenous groups
KWL p137ff, Case Studies of the Inuit and Plains Indians.
In groups students conduct internet and library research on various Indigenous cultures other than those in KWL and Australia. For example: Groups in Brazil can be found at http://www.sil.org/americas/brasil/EnglGrps.htm.
For the Indigenous religion studied, students prepare material in a display format to explain each of the following points:
a myth explaining the origins of the world or an important aspect of life
a significant religious ceremony and its meaning
beliefs about life after death
evidence of a sacred site or sacred object and its importance to the spiritual expression of the group
Students examine the displays and make notes on the various groups represented. They complete an individual response to the question: What does a study of Indigenous beliefs teach us about the spiritual dimension of humanity?
Observation of student contributions and response to activities, especially to the guest speaker.
Students analyse and comment on work completed in relation to Indigenous art and the stories that it presents about the life and beliefs of particular Aboriginal groups.
Teams mark each other’s ‘trivial pursuit’ glossary quiz.
At the conclusion of the unit:
1. What have been the most significant learnings for me in this unit?
2. What difference will these make to my attitudes and actions as a member of Australian society?
KWL p140 provides essential background for studying the Indigenous Peoples of Australia.
It is recommended that an Aboriginal person be invited to speak to the class or year group. Contact your Regional Aboriginal Adviser for assistance with organising such a visit and its associated activities.
The guest speaker should be asked to speak about totem, clan, moiety and kinship systems. What is a totem and how does it grow out of Aboriginal religious beliefs? What is the structure of the moiety system? What obligations and benefits does the kinship group have for Aboriginal people?
In any study of art students should be encouraged to examine the story that the image tells about the life and beliefs of the Aboriginal people it is connected to. The ‘Draw Your Own Dreaming’ task on KWL p152 should be completed in a manner that exhibits empathy for Aboriginal peoples.
The prayer on p8 of this unit emphasises the need for healing within all people. Students should be encouraged to see this need in their own lives and in the broader context of Australian society. The prayer on KWL p154 is integral to this celebration.
Students complete a review of terminology developed in the glossary throughout the unit. Use an interesting format such as a trivial pursuit quiz.
Much can be learnt by studying the way that indigenous people expressed their spirituality. Their celebrations embraced a range of activities: communal preparation of the celebration, costuming and decoration, dancing, miming, singing, watching and encouraging, feasting, etc. All members of the group took an active part in the celebration; nobody simply attended the ceremony. A class celebration could copy this model, with all class members taking some part in the celebration.
At the same time, we may wish our students to experience another way of praying, such as personal meditation on a theme or idea. The Pope’s address in Alice Springs to the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in 1986 could provide focus ideas for such a meditation.
Establish a circular prayer space with objects that reflect the content of this unit, for example local Indigenous artefacts and artwork/symbols developed by students. An Aboriginal flag is placed in the centre of the circle. Bowls of oil scented with native fragrances are placed beside the flag.
If possible invite a local Aboriginal person to join you for the liturgy.
In preparing students for the liturgy, remind them of the study of Genesis 28:10-19, Jacob’s Dream, and that they are praying as Catholic Christians.
Gathering:Play appropriate music, for example, Sacred Didj, track 3 ‘Spirit Talk’.
Today we gather to renew our lives in simplicity and healing (welcome visitor if one ispresent). We take time to enter into the spirit of prayer knowing that God is with us in this place. Play ‘Healer of My Soul’ – John Michael Talbot.
Reader One:Pain enters our lives without invitation, causing brokenness. We stretch out our hands to offer comfort, healing and peace to those around us. All extend hands.
All: Give us your healing power, O Lord.
Reader Two:Each of us is on a journey of faith. Like Jacob in the Old Testament we say, ‘Truly the Lord is in this place and I never knew it’.
All: Be with us Lord as we travel this path of dreaming our future with you.
Reader Three: All journeys have in them an element of confusion and doubt. May we find clarity of purpose, hope and friendship as we travel this road together.
All: Be our light in the darkness, Lord.
Ceremony of anointing: Play suitable music throughout the anointing, eg Trish Watts, Deep Waters CD.
Leader:Iwill now anoint your foreheads and hands as a sign of healing and growth in life. This action reminds us that as Catholic Christians we are called to live in harmony with the earth and all God’s people. The anointing now takes place followed by quiet time.
Reader Four:In this new beginning there is the support of community. In this new beginning there is courage. In this new beginning there is compassion and friendship.
Leader:We conclude this time of reflection by praying together words from the ‘Prayer for the Journey of Healing’ (for full text refer to KWL p154). May we remember the lessons we have learnt in this study of Ancient and Indigenous Religions. May we always be people of compassion and healing. We pray together: Touch the hearts of the broken, homeless
and afflicted and heal their spirits.
In your mercy and compassion
walk with us as we continue our journey of healing
to create a future that is just and equitable.
Lord, you are our hope.
We go with God’s grace, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If possible, follow the prayer by gathering for a shared meal or morning/afternoon tea.
Incorporating To Know, Worship and Love, Year 9, Chapter 7
Outcome 2: Guided Research Project
Outcome 2: Guided Research Project
Students are given the following project outline. The teacher can either work through it with the class, or use it as a set assignment. Alternatively, student groups can be given a point to research and display, reporting the information for this point to the whole class.