Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: A Chorus of Faiths: A Program That Builds Interfaith Youth Leaders

Activity 3: Whose Story Is It?

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Optional: See the Find Out More section for resources on Augusto Boal's work.

Description of Activity

Participants explore and reflect on issues of cultural misappropriation, using a method similar to Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed.

Say, in your own words:

Unitarian Universalism includes traditions drawn from many Sources, including "wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life." We also understand that religious expression is grounded in a cultural context-that is, we do not expect everyone's religious expression to be alike. This understanding gives us an attitude of openness to different religious expressions and practices.

But there is a shadow side to our attitude of openness. We may be tempted to borrow freely from other religious traditions without being respectful of that tradition. In situations where a tradition has been repressed or oppressed, such as Native American religious traditions, reckless borrowing only adds to the oppression.

Distribute Handout 2, Considerations for Cultural Borrowing - Questions to Ask (and Answer). Have volunteers take turns reading the handout aloud.

Say, in your own words:

We will now play a game that will help us engage with some of the issues associated with cultural appropriation.

Ask for volunteers for these roles:

  • A storyteller - someone willing to share about a special, perhaps unusual, family holiday or other tradition
  • An anthropologist - someone willing to listen to the story and then recount it for the group while interpreting its meaning for the group
  • Actors (the number needed will be determined by the story told).

Have the anthropologist leave the room. Then invite the storyteller to tell a story from their family tradition. After the storytelling, have the anthropologist return. Ask a group of participants to act out the tradition as they understood it from the storyteller. Tell the storyteller they may not comment while the actors are retelling the story.

Once the actors complete their presentation, invite the anthropologist to interpret the meaning of the tradition.

Finally, invite the storyteller to critique both the acting of the story and the interpretation. Ask the storyteller to share any feelings that came up during the process. You might ask:

  • Did the actors or the anthropologist misunderstand anything? If so, how did that feel? How would you want to correct their representation of your story?
  • Did you learn anything new about your own story, having seen the actors perform it and heard the anthropologist explain it? If so, what? How does that feel?

Invite the whole group to reflect on these questions:

  • Did the actors have permission to act out the story? Who gave them permission? Was the permission theirs to give? What kind of permission should the actors have gotten?
  • Did the actors fully understand the nuances of the storyteller's tradition? How could you tell?
  • How well did the anthropologist interpret the meaning of the tradition in the story? How could they have done a better job of interpreting it?
  • How do power dynamics play into retelling each other's stories? How do we decide whose version is "right?"
  • From what kinds of religious stories or traditions do we borrow as Unitarian Universalists? Think of examples from our worship services, the activities we do, the stories we tell here in our congregation. Do we have permission? What does it take to get permission?
  • In our interfaith work on the upcoming service project, how might we be sensitive to issues of cultural misappropriation?