Religion as a Window on Culture


Allow time to view the video and review this section of the leader’s guide before meeting with your class. Determine what you will cover in the available class time.  Plan for any of the Optional Activities you would like to use and how you will integrate the work with the class.  Acquaint yourself with any terms that are unfamiliar (see glassary). Consult with members of your clergy when appropriate.  Finally, duplicate any materials you plan to distribute to the group.

Prepare your group to watch the video. (Read or paraphrase)

In this episode, you will focus on the way in which important aspects of a faith tradition are preserved and passed down through stories and texts.   Certainly there are examples from your own lives or your family histories that have been preserved in story.

All religions have sacred memories that bring the importance of the great events of the past into perspective.  Frequently these memories are incorporated into sacred texts that become guides for living.

Most religions have stories that help explain the mysteries of life.  How did the universe begin?  What happens to you when you die?  These stories provide the context in which religious people understand the world as it is now.  Balance and perspective are derived from sacred memory.

The stories and sacred texts of a religious community perpetuate the faith.  In the stories resides the historical soul of a people.  They are the sacred event’s first voice.

During this session you will have an opportunity to take a glimpse into the stories of other faiths as well as your own.  This will enable you to think comparatively about their meanings.

SHOW EPISODE V (21 minutes)

Allow time for members of the group to discuss what they have seen before proceeding with the rest of the discussion.


After viewing the video, ask participants to reflect on their induction into their faith.

Group members will have their own stories of the faith tradition that formed them, and of the sacred texts or scriptures that have affected their lives.  Some of them will be willing to tell their stories to the group.  Ask the following questions and allow a few minutes for people to write their thoughts out or to share them with a partner.  Then two or three members may be willing to share their responses with the group.

  • Do you remember when you first realized the nature of your faith and what it meant to be a part of your religious community of faith?
  • When and how did you realize you belonged to or had accepted a faith tradition?
  • What were some of the questions of faith that you had at this time?

Perhaps you were born into the tradition but can still recognize a particular time when you became fully aware of the tradition’s meaning for you.  Can you think of a time when the religious tradition and faith you inherited became your own?


  • In your religion, who decides what writing is sacred?
  • How are writings determined to be sacred?
  • Must everyone belonging to the faith agree about the meaning and significance of its scriptures?

Describe the roles that sacred texts play in your faith tradition.

  • What is the role of scripture in the daily lives of members of your congregation?
  • What is the role of scripture during worship?


  • If you were asked by a member of another faith to tell about the origin of your own religious tradition, what would you tell them?
  • What stories are most important to understanding the origin and meaning of your faith?
  • How can you tell your stories of faith in a way that respects the stories and faith of other traditions?  Why is this important?


How do you, your family and friends use story in daily life?  Think about purposefully beginning or revising a storytelling tradition in your home.  Incorporate old and new stories alike.   Consider the ways in which sacred stories apply to everyday situations.

Note:   In the video, Martin Marty refers to the 637 laws and practices of Judaism.  The correct number is 613.




Distribute the pages you have duplicated from Appendix D—Comparative Creation Stories. Consider your own faith tradition’s story of the world’s creation. Select parallel sacred stories from two or more religions, review them, and compare them with your own.

  • What are some similarities and differences contained in these stories?
  • What might be reasons for these similarities and differences?
  • What were they meant to tell us about our world or ourselves?


Have the group look into the history of your congregation.  Work with members of your clergy or congregation’s staff either to begin compiling a history or to update or otherwise supplement that history.  Encourage members to use a variety of resources including congregation archives, newspapers, newsletters, and oral histories.  The personal stories of members of your faith organization would be valuable to collect and add to the history.  Consider collecting and recording multi-generational histories.



Share your Personal Stories

  • Do you have any stories of memorable characters in your family? How did you hear about these persons?  How did your children hear about them?
  • What are some of your most memorable family stories?  Who tells the stories and who is the audience?  When are these stories told?

Examples of stories might include how a family came to America, how one’s parents or grandparents met one another, or events surrounding an individual’s birth.

  • What is your responsibility for story telling in your family?  What is your responsibility for story telling in your faith?  What will be your responsibility ten years from now?


  • How does your congregation teach religious principles to children and young people?  Does this differ from the way adults are taught?  If so, how?
  • Have your stories changed or adapted in response to changes in society?  Should they?  Why or why not?
  • Can we recognize ourselves in ancient stories?  How does scripture still speak to us?
  • Are there ways to use your sacred texts that you are not currently doing?  Give some examples.
  • Do we have a right to interpret and reinterpret sacred texts?

Reenactments of Scripture’s Important Religious Stories

  • What is the primary purpose of reenactments?
  • How effective is the reenactment in communicating the stories of your faith tradition?