WHP Lesson 17: Portable Belief Systems

Humans have generally sought answers to big questions about life, the universe, and everything. They often do this through the use of different belief systems. In the past these tended to be regional, but more recently belief systems have included portable and universal elements that can spread widely.

Driving Question: What’s the big deal about portable belief systems? 

  • Belief systems are very old and much-used ways of explaining the world. About 3,000 years ago, belief systems developed that supported the idea of a god or gods that were universal—open to everyone and present everywhere. That meant the gods could be taken anywhere. Therefore, these religions could spread, and connect people in distant parts of the world.
  • These changes caused massive transformations. They made it possible to expand trade and spread ideas across vast distances. And they gave birth to some of the most widely-shared identities and types of community still in the world today—religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and ethical systems like Buddhism and Daoism. Can you “believe” it?

Word of the Day: Portable

  • Definition: able to be carried around.
  • Portable belief systems allow goods, ideas, and people to move more quickly and freely around different areas. Religion helped form new kinds of communities—ones that were distant from one another. While geographically separated, they function on the same set of beliefs.


  • Read: “Overview of Belief Systems” on Khan Academy
  • As you read, think about how the development of portable belief systems affected networks and communities.

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • What activities are you doing in response to COVID-19 that others might be doing across the world? 
  • Think about the now-common practices or routines you have adopted in the last few weeks. Some examples are washing your hands more frequently or appreciating grocery store workers more.