Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Alternate Activity 3: Honoring Our Ancestors

Activity time: 15 minutes

Preparation for Activity

  • Review the activity description so you will be comfortable presenting information about Shinto. Note: The Faith in Action activity in Workshop 7, Eastern Religions, offers further exploration of Shinto.

Description of Activity

Participants become familiar with Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, and explore the importance of ancestors and forebears in their own lives.

Say, in your own words:

Shinto is the indigenous faith of Japan, with an estimated 4 million to 100 million current followers. Believers respect animals as messengers of the gods, recognize nature as sacred, revere geographic locations such as mountains and springs, and practice cleanliness as a religious rite. Followers of Shinto aspire to have makoto-or, sincerity-brightness, and purity of heart. Another feature of Shinto is the worship of ancestors.

Tell participants Shinto adherents greatly honor their elderly and revere their ancestors who have died. Explain that to a follower of Shinto, the thought of all their dead ancestors watching over them is profoundly comforting, giving their life meaning and depth. Ask participants what they think of that idea. Lead a discussion about attitudes toward elders and ancestors with questions such as these:

  • Who are the most elderly members of your extended family: grandparents, uncles or aunts, elderly cousins?
  • Are these family members given any special level of respect?
  • What about relatives who have died? Do family members talk about those who have passed with a different kind of respect than they give the living?
  • How is the family wisdom passed down? Do elders in the family have a special role?
  • Do your older family members, including your parents, refer to their parents, grandparents, or other relatives when they give you advice or talk about the choices they, themselves, made when they were younger?
  • Does it seem a strength for Shinto families to feel such attachment to all their family, living and dead? Why?

Ask participants to imagine a ritual that could express the way their family honors ancestors. Suggest they either think of ways to enrich an existing family practice or envision a totally new ritual.

Give them a moment to reflect. Then, ask them to pair up and share their ideas with their partners. Reconvene the large group and ask a few volunteers to share their ideas.

Tell participants Shintoism is not the only faith with a belief that our ancestors are looking out for us. Many indigenous faiths and other religions share this belief. Many also share the Shinto belief in other spirits, such as the animal spirits of Native American religions.