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Religion Why journalism needs to get religion Any high school essay would be challenged by an examiner if the writer claimed that people Josh Lowe is an unusual and encouraging phenomenon: a young British mainstream journalist who understands and describes theology well. Expect humorous, irreverent and challenging comments on religion, identity, race and culture wars from Sunny Hundal.

Hussein Kesvani writes about some of the biggest issues facing multicultural communities, with self-deprecating British humour and compelling insight. Our site uses cookies. By continuing to use our site you are agreeing to our cookies policy. Find out more. She appreciates ReIReS as an opportunity to reconsider the role of religion in the public space and to reflect on a new approach, not only from a historical or political point of view, but also considering cultural elements.

At a later stage, the papers given at the workshop will be made available via the ReIReS website.

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The argument is that you need religious literacy in order to be an effective citizen. When the Seneca Falls convention of put female suffrage on the national agenda, most citizens knew that suffragettes would have to contend with the injunctions in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians two New Testament letters attributed to the apostle Paul that women should keep silent in the churches and submit to male authority. Today it is a rare American who can follow with any degree of confidence biblically inflected debates about abortion or gay marriage.

Or, for that matter, about the economy, since the most widely quoted Bible verse in the United States— God helps those who help themselves —is not actually in the Bible. Religious illiteracy makes it difficult for Americans to make sense of a world in which people kill and make peace in the name of Christ or Allah. How are we to understand protests against the Vietnam War, which compelled Catholic priests to burn draft records in Maryland and Buddhist monks to set fire to themselves in Vietnam, without knowing something about Catholic just war theory and the Buddhist principles of no-self and compassion?

How are we to understand international conflicts in the Middle East and Sri Lanka without reckoning with the role of Jerusalem in the sacred geography of the Abrahamic faiths and with the differences between Hinduism and Buddhism in Southeast Asia?

Stephen Prothero calls “pretend pluralism” a danger

Closer to home, how are we to understand faith-based electioneering if the reds on the Religious Right and the blues on the Secular Left continue to stereotype one another as distinct species? Is it possible to weigh the merits of Supreme Court rulings on religious liberty if we are unaware of the legacies of anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, anti-Mormonism, and anti-fundamentalism in American life? If suffrage was to be extended first to white males with property and eventually to men and women of all races, then it would be essential for all Americans to understand the issues on which they were voting.

How could we act responsibly as citizens if we did not know how to read, if we did not know something about politics and history and science and economics? Today, when religion is implicated in virtually every issue of national and international import not least the nomination of Supreme Court justices , US citizens need to know something about religion too.

Without basic religious literacy? How to decide whether intelligent design is religious or scientific without some knowledge of both science and religion? How to determine whether the effort to yoke Christianity and family values makes sense without knowing what sort of family man Jesus was? Unfortunately, US citizens today lack this religious literacy. As a result, they are too easily swayed by demagogues on the left or the right.

This ignorance imperils our public life, putting citizens in the thrall of talking heads and effectively transferring power from the third estate the people to the fourth the press. In order to answer these questions, we need to understand how one of the most religious countries in the world slipped into religious amnesia. How was the chain of memory that once transmitted religious knowledge from parents to children, priests to parishioners, and schoolteachers to students severed?

This book answers these questions by going back, first, to an Eden of sorts in which basic literacy and religious literacy at least of the Protestant sort went hand in hand—when young people learned to read by learning to read the Bible, and Christian doctrines and stories were part of the mental furniture of virtually all adults.


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It then locates a moment in US history—call it the Fall—when religious faith and religious knowledge went their separate ways. After all, the justices behind Engel v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp have long been the whipping boys of the Religious Right, which itself emerged out of the rancor these rulings unleashed. The historical portion of this book focuses instead on two religious revivals: the Second Great Awakening of the first third of the nineteenth century and the postwar revival of the s and s. In each case the villains were not activist judges or ACLU-style secularists hell-bent on hounding religion out of the public square but well-meaning religious folks intent on doing just the opposite.

After making a historical diagnosis of religious illiteracy, this book goes on to prescribe a remedy. Given a problem like ignorance, the solution is obviously going to be knowledge. But what kind of knowledge do we need? And what sort of education will deliver it? Before answering these questions, we must define more precisely what religious literacy is and what it is not. Like the term cultural literacy, religious literacy is obviously a metaphor of sorts. On its home ground in linguistics, literacy refers to the ability to use a language—to read and perhaps to write it, to manipulate its vocabulary, grammar, and syntax.

Like languages, however, religions are particular creatures.

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Religious literacy: When atheists know more than Christians

Just as it is not possible to speak language in general one must choose to speak one particular language , religious literacy in the abstract is an impossibility. One cannot be literate in every religion; neither is there one generic religion to speak. It would probably be most precise, therefore, to refer to specific religious literacies: Protestant literacy, Buddhist literacy, Islamic literacy or, even more accurately, Methodist literacy, Zen literacy, Sunni literacy, and so on.

In this context Protestant literacy might refer to knowing the basic history of the Protestant Reformation, the core beliefs of the Christian creeds, and the basic symbols, heroes, and stories of the King James Bible, while Islamic literacy might refer to knowing basic Islamic history, the key practices of the Five Pillars of Islam, and the basic symbols, heroes, and stories of the Quran. It might even be useful to refer, as has Professor Francis Clooney of the Harvard Divinity School, to interreligious literacy. In the United States today the most important of these particular literacies is Christian literacy.

Inside the academic study of religion it is decidedly out of fashion to emphasize Christianity over other religions. In fact, many a college course in American religion devotes more time to Vodou than it does to Methodism. The point of this multicultural approach to American religion is to underscore the fact that the United States is one of the most religiously diverse nations on earth.

With a Christian population of about million, there are more Christians in the United States today than there have been in any other country in the history of the world. Of all the members of the th Congress, 92 percent were Christians, as were percent of fifty state governors in Among this elite group of state and national politicians, there were zero Muslims, zero Buddhists, and zero Hindus. A quick search of the Congressional Record the official source for Senate and House debates reveals in excess of a thousand usages of the Golden Rule and more than five hundred invocations of the Good Samaritan over the last two decades.

This same search yields hundreds of references to the Promised Land, Armageddon, and the Apocalypse. In a nationally televised address on September 11, , President George W. Bush quoted from the Twenty-third Psalm. Christian literacy is not enough, however. To understand foreign policy on Tibet, for example, one needs to know something about Buddhist monasticism and the Dalai Lama. To follow the ramifications of the under God language in the Pledge of Allegiance, one needs to know something about the nuances of both atheism and polytheism.

And to fully engage in debates about the war in Iraq, one needs to be informed about jihad and the Islamic tradition of martyrdom a tradition, it might be noted, that Muslims adapted from Christians and Jews. The war on terrorism is to a great extent—a far greater extent than most American politicians recognize—a war of ideas. In this book religious literacy refers to the ability to understand and use the religious terms, symbols, images, beliefs, practices, scriptures, heroes, themes, and stories that are employed in American public life.

Some of this is factual information, which might be learned, as students often learn vocabulary words, by simple memorization. But religious literacy is not just the accumulation of facts. This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue? Upload Sign In Join.

Paramjit Singh Sachdeva (Author of Appreciating All Religions)

Save For Later. Create a List. Summary The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of shocking religious illiteracy.