Cultural Relativism Activities

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Cultural relativism can be a complex topic to teach. The activities in this lesson will help your students explore concepts related to this topic and examine beliefs, values, and practices from the perspective of multiple cultures.

Cultural Relativism

What is considered morally acceptable in one culture may be considered reprehensible in another culture. That's because concepts like right and wrong vary from culture to culture. Encouraging your students to examine the diversity of other cultures and explore the beliefs, values, and practices from the perspective of someone else can help them understand the complex concept of cultural relativism. This lesson presents two activities that require your students to research and think deeply about cultural expressions.

Debate Activity

In this activity, students will debate each other about topics related to cultural relativism.

Instructions

  • Randomly split students into two groups: Group A and Group B
  • Tell Group A students that they will be arguing the pro (yes) side of the prompts in following scenarios.
  • Tell Group B students that they will be arguing the con (no) side of the prompts in following scenarios.

Debate Prompts and Scenarios

  • Universalists believe that human rights are universal and applicable to every member of the human race. Should universal human rights be applied to cultures that reject them?
  • If each culture is entitled to its own beliefs and culturally accepted practices, is it ever acceptable to be intolerant of another person or belief?
  • Does the idea that all cultures and customs should be respected decrease instances of discrimination based on race and/or culture?

Tips and Variations

  • Give students time to research cultural relativity and formulate their ideas and opinions on the scenarios provided in the prompts prior to the actual debate.
  • Instead of randomly assigning students a side, you could allow them to choose which side they want to debate.

Mock Trial Activity

In this activity, students will participate in a mock trial of a real case that took place in Southern Florida during the late 1980s.

Mock Trial Scenario

  • Plantiff: Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye
  • Defendant: City of Hialeah
  • Trial Setting: Hialeah, Florida circa late 1980s

The Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye (CLBA) is a Santeria church founded in Hialeah, Florida. The congregants of the church practice their faith and aspects of the Yoruba heritage and culture, which, among other things, utilizes animal sacrifice as a form of devotion.

Upon learning of the church's practices and plans to host public services, the city council holds an emergency public session and passes several ordinances criminalizing animal sacrifice for any type of ritual. One of the councilmen states that the church's religion is 'in violation of everything this country stands for,' and the city's attorney said that the community 'will not tolerate religious practices abhorrent to its citizens.'

Feeling like their rights are being violated by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which protects the right of people to exercise their religious beliefs, the Church sues the city in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

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