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    Default Teaching Religion from a Secular Perspective: Storytelling

    Teaching Religion from a Secular Perspective: Storytelling 2015-05-25 09-03-47.jpgWe’ve had plenty of discussions here at SHS about teaching religion - - and a few of them have gotten quite er...intense. (come know you had fun, though!) But I’m going to come at it from a slightly different angle in this featured From Soup to Nuts post this week. I’d like to talk about teaching religion to our kids in the context of STORYTELLING.
    Truth is, the history of religion is a history of stories. Not just the teachings of the religions themselves - - which truly are rife with fables, parables, allegories, and myths - - but even the very timeline of events tied to religion over the course of human existence includes narratives that are more than just a little interesting to study in detail. And is there any more engaging way to get kids excited about learning than storytelling?!

    This whole topic came front and center for me a couple weeks ago when I was listening to a video interview with Laura Gibbs about Teaching Humanities Online. Laura, who teaches online courses at University of Oklahoma, and has a unique non-lecture approach. Her approach is to have students create semester-long storytelling projects called “Storybooks” along with their reading assignments. And as if this weren’t cool enough, the reading content that students use in Laura’s courses that she calls “UN-TEXTBOOKS” is completely Open Source, free, and available to anyone. Yes, I said, ANYONE.

    So, let me introduce you to my favorite new resource for teaching religion via storytelling, care of Laura Gibbs…”The Myth-Folklore Un-Textbook.”

    Now, I could go on and on telling you how amazing I think this resource that Laura has created is, but let me share a little bit of what one of Laura’s former students, Beth Hobson, had to say about it…

    "I was driven to take Laura's Mythology and Folklore class because I have always thought that mythology and folklore was an interesting topic. I guess you could say that I naturally gravitated towards learning stories about other cultures and the stories that existed in them.Laura's class styling is unique and in a very good way. It was creative, more in depth, allowed me to use my creative skills as a student/artist, it fit into my major, and most importantly it kept challenging me to learn/grow as an individual/student. As most people know, this is difficult to find on a college campus. Most classes are tailor made, and the course syllabus rarely changes. It's not the professor's fault by any means, it's just that every student learns/grows differently. In terms of Laura's class her style fits a visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and renaissance, which is what makes it such a unique learning style. The ability to create a style that delivers to each learner, is wonderful!"
    As you begin to explore the resource, you’ll see that the readings are divided up into 100 individual units - - everything from Egyptian Mythology to Celtic Fairy Tales to Sioux Legends. In Laura’s course students are completely free to choose which units they want to focus on, and as you utilize the resource in your homeschool, that’s exactly the way I would suggest you approach it as well. As Laura says in her Anatomy of an Online Course blog, “Given the magic of mathematical combinations, there are literally trillions of possible paths to follow through the UnTextbook.”

    But possibly even more exciting is the potential this resource has to spur writing projects! Can you just imagine the possibilities? Well, if you can’t, you might want to browse Laura’s Pinterest boards which display samples of her former students’ storybooks!

    My hope is that this resource will spur a discussion about not only this resource, but other creative ideas you might have about using storytelling to teach religion in your homeschool. Laura Gibbs, author of this resource, and her former student Beth Hobson have signed up to be part of this week’s discussion as well, so if you have questions about the Un-Textbook or this Storybook approach to teaching mythology and folklore, I’m sure they’d be delighted to answer them.


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  3. #2

    Default Glad to bring some of University of Oklahoma here to your network! :-)

    Thanks so much for the chance to share the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook here, Kerry! I will be glad to answer questions, and I'm glad for suggestions and ideas about how to develop it further. This summer I am building an UnTextbook for the other class I teach (Epics of Ancient India: The Ramayana and the Mahabharata), and then NEXT summer I'll cycle back around to Myth-Folklore in order to add new resources, make fixes, etc. etc. My school is providing great support for the development of open textbook materials, and if people are interested in learning more about other faculty from University of Oklahoma who are developing open resources, you can find out more at the University of Oklahoma Library's Open Education blog.
    Find out more at

  4. #3


    Thanks for the great, organized compilation of world myths! Our family will be referencing it a lot!

    I think my biggest difficulty, living as a minority against the hugely Christian country, is that I want my kids to know about that religion so that they will have cultural context for the allusions and references that constantly come up. Every couple of months, it seems, the question arises here *What Bible do I use to teach my kids about Xtianity, or what stories do I share with them, so they will know what these people are believing.*
    Indiana Jones was the impetus for the latest thread - but it happens all the time, where movies, books, news - all have components where being familiar with christianity would be useful. The bible itself is too tedious to get through (if you dont believe it, cant speak for those who do), its too violent and gruesome to let kids read, but the *Bible Stories for Kids* is often overly sugarified, and leaves out those gruesome bits. *But thats not really what the Bible says* is my hesitation in using those stories.
    Thats my biggest trouble with teaching religion, where I get stuck.
    I suspect that a lot of the myths presented for other cultures have been somewhat sanitized and modernized for our sensibilities - it doesnt bother me so much, as the number of modern believers is relatively nil. It doesnt seem logical to do that with a mythology thats currently shaping government policy, though.
    Homeschooling DS13, DS6.


    My spelling was fine, then my brain left me.

  5. #4

    Default student choice: a great problem-solver :-)

    Thanks for your comment! I am really glad if the stories there can be useful to you, and the resources I used to create that — the full text books at Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, Sacred Texts Archive, Hathi Trust, LibriVox Audobooks — are full of amazing material. It's definitely worth the time to poke around in there and see what you can find.

    The issues you raised here are all very much on my mind also. The students in my classes often got the Bible-for-children approach, so I make sure to include stories that don't do so well for children, like the story of Bathsheba, for example, or Susannah. For students who do know the Bible well, I try to go beyond that with apocryphal and extra-Biblical stories. A big goal for me is to emphasize the connections between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, which is often a complete revelation to my students who may have learned nothing about Islam in all their years of schooling. And, of course, for my students who are rebelling against religion, whatever their reasons for that might be, they can choose to create an UnTextbook which is filled with other types of legends and folktales; that's fine: all the stories are important, and whatever combination the students choose is fine with me! It was also really fun to see which units were the most chosen, the most highly rated by the students, etc. At the same time I can convey to them the importance I personally put on the religious storytelling tradition by having included lots of different types of religious stories there as options to choose.

    Meanwhile, I have to say that I love your avatar! Douglas Adams is a personal hero of mine. My courses focus on public domain books... but if I could include any books at all, copyrighted or public domain, I would include Douglas Adams in my class for sure. Genius. And good advice too!
    Find out more at

  6. #5


    Is there a section on Vikings/Norse?
    ~*~*Marta, mom to 5 boys.
    DS 1 ( 19, has his associates' degree and is off to college)
    DS 2 (17 and dual enrollment in college)
    Keegan (15 and enrolled in a PPP but still has home classes)
    Sully (10 years, 4th grade)
    Finn, (9 years, 3rd grade)

  7. #6


    Hi Darkelf, I wasn't able to find an online book on Norse legends that I could adapt into the format of the reading units (separate stories, about 15,000 words total for each unit... I tried a few books but none of them worked out), although there are some great Norse resources available at the Sacred Texts website. And some of my students came to the class with an interest in Norse legends, so they filled the gap with their own projects too, like this absolutely fabulous project about Sigurd for example: The Voyages of Sigurd the Volsung. That's a wonderful thing about making the students' projects just as important a part of the class as the readings: they fill in the gaps in the reading and go off in their own directions, too!
    Find out more at

  8. #7


    This is a fantastic resource! We live in the armpit of the Bible Belt, so the mythology of Christianity and Judaism are part of daily life whether we like it or not. It comes up on casual conversation, on the news, etc. I relate to what a PP wrote about wanting my kids to catch those nuances (even though many people here are not nuanced at all!).

    Laura, I know your work is primarily with college students, but what suggestions do you have for the language we use in talking to young children about mythology? I'm hoping he absorbs the idea that myths may have kernels of truth, but I'm not sure how to go about it. I had him write his own family myth this week - we started with a factual account and then he embellished to make it more entertaining. He's six so "true" and "not true" are purely in terms of facts right now - not abstractions.

  9. #8


    Thank you for sharing these excellent resources with us, Laura.

    What age(s) would you consider to be your target audience?

  10. #9


    This does sound like an amazing resource!
    My oldest is totally into the Greek myths, always has been… I'd love to hear more about how the storytelling would translate to writing projects… My kids love to read but loathe writing.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Join me at my Podcast site: <a href="">We Turned Out Okay: The Modern Parent's Guide to Old-School Parenting</a>

  11. #10


    Well, I teach college students, mostly seniors in fact, but my goal was to have a whole wide range of reading materials, so you will find materials in there suited for even quite young readers. My students really enjoy re-connecting with stories they might have known as children, and some of them also have children of their own, so I love the idea that they can share stories from the class with their children. Some of them are intrigued by the idea of writing stories in a way that would work for young children. So if you poke around in there, you will find some really lovely units that come from books intended for a young audience. Here are a few that come to mind:
    Babbitt's Jataka Tales (while the Shedlock unit is a collection of jatakas not written for a young audience)
    Fable of La Fontaine (the first half of the unit is a children's version)
    American Indian Fairy Tales (this is a very nice book)
    Tejas Legends (this is a FABULOUS book I think, one of my favorites!)
    Find out more at

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Teaching Religion from a Secular Perspective: Storytelling