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Religion and the Atlantic Slave Trade Lesson Plan
Overview
Used in conjunction with The Transatlantic Slave Trade, this lesson informs students about the historical role of religion in the slave trade. The Catholic expulsion of the Muslim Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, the Protestant Reformation, and the strife between indigenous African religions and Islam all had an impact on the history of slavery in Africa. Students will research fifteenth-nineteenth century religious thought (Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim) about moral questions regarding enslavement, trade in slaves, inherited slavery, and the rights of slaves. The lesson is targeted for high school students, grades nine-12.
Grade Levels:High school, grades 9-12
For use with:The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Concentration Area:History
Concentration Area:World Religion
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • Political and religious factors that influenced English, Spanish, French, and Dutch colonization of the Americas.
  • Economic characteristics of the early Spanish and Portuguese empires in the Americas (e.g. the encomienda system and the evolution of labor systems, the origin and expansion of the African slave trade in the Americas)
Time required
One 50-minute class period, depending on the amount of outside reading and media center research assigned
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Talk with students about the following: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, states in Article Four, "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms." Yet, recent estimates suggest that worldwide there are 27 million people held in slavery and, in 2003, the U.S. Department of State reported 116 countries in which more than 100 persons were known to have been trafficked as slaves.
  2. Poll students on the question of whether modern slavery is shaped more by political and economic considerations or religion. Then, poll students to determine if they know what the U.S. government's position is on slavery. Finally, poll students to determine if they know what the world's major religions have to say on the issue of slavery. Explain that if they do not know the stand of a religion on the issue of slavery, then they cannot evaluate its impact.
Procedures

  1. Direct students to read The Transatlantic Slave Trade, focusing on the sections "The Development of the Trade," and "Capture and Enslavement." Discuss with students the role religion appeared to have played in the slave trade including judicial punishments of witches, the Jihad movement, Quranic restrictions on enslavement, and Catholic pacifist protest.
  2. Explain that religious thought about the ethics of enslavement, the slave trade, emancipation, and treatment of slaves was well developed in the over the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Ask students to conduct research to determine what religious institutions or leaders said about slavery and whether there was a distinction in the treatment of slaves on the basis of race or religion. Students should share their findings either in an oral presentation or in a summary outline.
  3. In conducting their research, students' investigations should include the stand of the religion towards enslavement of co-religionists, enslavement of those outside the religion, the treatment of slaves, rights of slaves, emancipation of slaves, slave traders, and whether slavery was an inheritable station. Areas for investigation include:

    1. Papal bulls (pronouncements) regarding slavery issued by the Roman Catholic Church;
    2. Royal pronouncements (cedulas) about slavery by the Catholic monarchs of Spain or Portugal such as the thirteenth century Siete Partidas of King Alfonso X;
    3. Statements about slavery by one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation such as Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin, Huldreich Zwingli, Philipp Melanchthon, Erasmus, Menno Simon, or King Henry VIII of England;
    4. Quranic or Biblical injunctions regarding slavery and the treatment of slaves;
    5. Beatrice of Kongo's revelations regarding slavery;
    6. Indigenous religious sanctions against witches; and
    7. Jihadist philosophy regarding slavery.
  4. As students present their findings, have them organize their notes by religion and also by these issues: the stand of the religion towards enslavement of co-religionists, enslavement of those outside the religion, the treatment of slaves, rights of slaves, emancipation of slaves, slave traders, and whether slavery was an inheritable station.
Assessment

1. Ask students to write a formal five-paragraph essay comparing and contrasting religious attitudes towards slavery of the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders of the fifteenth-nineteenth centuries.

2. Evaluate student essays on a 20-point scale (which may be multiplied by five to convert to 100-point scale or for conversion to letter grades) using the following rubric:

Excellent Good Fair Not Satisfactory No Work
Historical Comprehension 10 points (10) Assignment demonstrates excellent historical:

  • analysis of information
  • command of facts
  • synthesis of information
  • interpretation
  • (9-8) Assignment demonstrates good historical:

  • analysis of information
  • command of facts
  • synthesis of information
  • interpretation
  • (7-6) Assignment shows fair historical:

  • analysis of information
  • command of facts
  • synthesis of information
  • interpretation
  • (5-1) Assignment shows little historical:

  • analysis of information
  • command of facts
  • synthesis of information
  • interpretation
  • 0
    Technical Writing Skills 10 points (10) Assignment shows excellent:

  • compositional structure
  • sentence structure and variety
  • vocabulary use
  • grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • (9-8) Assignment shows good:

  • compositional structure
  • sentence structure and variety
  • vocabulary use
  • grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • (7-6) Assignment shows adequate:

  • compositional structure
  • sentence structure and variety
  • vocabulary use
  • grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • (5-1) Assignment shows inadequate:

  • compositional structure
  • sentence structure and variety
  • vocabulary use
  • grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • 0

    Related Works

    • The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture's digital exhibition, The African Presence in America: 1492-1992, includes images of religion in its section on culture at: http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/Schomburg/text/culture.html.
    • The nineteenth century depicted classical slavery and contemporary slavery very differently. The New York Public Library's other research libraries, including the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, include online images from the Mid-Manhattan Library Picture Collection Online, whose artists' compositions of slavery in the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome (http://digital.nypl.org/mmpco/) contrast with Schomburg's Images of nineteenth Century African Americans (http://digital.nypl.org/schomburg/images_aa19/main.html.).
    Interdisciplinary Links

    • Social Sciences (Government): Ask students to review the list of countries involved in the contemporary slave trade, select one, and then determine what is being done by governmental and non-governmental institutions in the country to combat slavery. Alternately, students may wish to look at efforts by the United Nations to enforce the Universal Declaration of Right's prohibition against slavery. List available at the U.S. State Department at: (http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2003/21262.htm#tiers)
    • Comparative Religions: Ask students to select one of the major world religions or religious sects to determine what their leaders and theologians have to say about the continued worldwide problem of slavery.
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