One Nation, Many Beliefs

This lesson introduces students to several different religions and asks them to examine data to determine how many people across the United States follow those religions as well as how many people do not have a religious affiliation.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • Define religion as a set of shared beliefs and practices.
  • Recognize that our country includes many different belief systems, and that many people do not follow any religion at all.
  • Examine the religious diversity in the United States.
Essential Questions
  • What is religion?
  • What does religion mean to people?
  • What can we learn from religious diversity in the United States?

This lesson is the first in a series called “The Rich Tapestry of Religion in the United States.”



The religious landscape in the United States is shifting rapidly. We used to be a nation where most people identified themselves as Christian; today there are not only more Christian sects, but also growing numbers of people who belong to other faith traditions, and growing numbers who are not affiliated with any religion or are not believers. According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, religious affiliation in the United States is both very diverse and extremely fluid. These religious shifts, by which every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing members, present an opportunity for students to learn about many belief systems and consider the benefits of religious freedom.



belief [ bih-leef ] (noun) Something that is believed, like an opinion.

denomination [ dih-nom-uh-ney-shuhn ] (noun) A religious group. 

diversity [ dih-vur-si-tee ] (noun) Being different.

religion [ ri-lij-uhn ] (noun) A set of beliefs that help us answer life’s questions.

sect  [ sekt ] (noun) A group of people who believe in a certain religion.

unaffiliated [ un-uh-fil-ee-ey-tid ] (adj) Not part of a formal group.



1. Before class, write the following sentences on the board or on a flip chart:

  • I believe it is important to tell the truth.
  • I believe winter is the best season.
  • I believe it doesn’t matter if you win or lose in a game.
  • I believe vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate.

2. Read each sentence out loud with students. As each sentence is read, ask students to give thumbs up if they believe it is true, thumbs down if they do not believe it is true, and a thumb to the side if they are not sure. Count the number of classmates who agree with each statement, and tally the number by each statement on the board.

3. Ask students to work with a partner to answer the following questions:

  • Were there any statements that everyone in the class believed to be true?
  • Did different friends have different beliefs?
  • Is it OK for us to believe differently than our friends?

Review answers. Then challenge students to come up with a class definition for the word “belief.” Explain that a “belief” is something we think is true. Sometimes the things we believe help us to understand the world a little better. Sometimes we believe the same way our friends do. Other times we believe differently, and we’re comfortable with that.

4. Introduce the word “religion.” Explain that religion is based on a set of beliefs about why we are here on Earth, our purpose in life, what happens after we die, what is moral, and what is sacred. Those beliefs can help people understand the world around them. For example, some religions believe there is one God. Some believe there are many gods. And some believe there are no gods at all.

5. Ask students to share any examples they know about how religion helps people understand things better. Read aloud the following excerpt from the book “What Do You Believe?”

“Have you ever wondered why we’re here? Or what happens after we die? Or whether there’s a God, and if there is what’s He (or She or It) for? Or maybe you’re just curious about why some people wear turbans, or eat fish on Friday, or what words like ‘kosher’ and ‘halal’ mean. All these things are connected with religion … As long as there have been people on Earth, religion has been around to help them figure out how life works.”

Some students may not be familiar with some of the practices, like “kosher” or “halal” for instance. Some time may be needed to allow students to gain more background knowledge.

6. Review the “One Nation, Many Beliefs” handout. Blank rows/columns are included on the chart so you can add religions or beliefs that students in your class represent or about which you would like them to learn. Ask students to research each belief. Then, direct student partners to answer the questions at the bottom of the handout. When they are finished, direct them to compare answers with another set of partners and identify what is the same and what is different about their answers.



“What Do You Believe? Religion and Faith in the World Today,” by Aled Jones, DK Publishing, 2001.
This book presents faith and religion in an unbiased way, allowing children to understand some of the challenging questions related to religion. Tracing the history of religion around the world and charting key events and theories, this book helps students understand why people believe and why some people do or don’t have faith. Tricky concepts are explained and broken down into manageable chunks, with clear, curriculum-based information. The book promotes understanding, tolerance and respect for people, whatever they believe.

Religions in My Neighborhood: Teaching Curiosity and Respect about Religious Differences”
A curricula guide for grades K-4 (published in September 2013). Its primary purpose is to help and inspire educators and their students to explore religious and cultural differences, and to develop respect for the diversity they encounter in their communities. The standards-based guide explores identity, beliefs, caring for one’s community, rituals, traditions, sacred spaces and learning about religious differences.

A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools
A series of questions and answers to help teachers easily and effectively integrate the study of religion into their classrooms.


Activities and embedded assessments address the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: CCSS: W.4, SL.1, SL.2, L.1, L.2, MP.4, MP.6

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