In a short item at the end of my weekend blog here, I mentioned that the American Academy of Religion has published guidelines showing what college students should know about religion and its influence in the culture.
I want to unpack that a little more today because I think it's important and because I hope you will give some thought to whether you have learned and understood what the AAR thinks all college students should.
Religious illiteracy, after all, seems to me to be a big problem, and I'm wondering how you'd grade yourself. In fact, my hope is you'd do better than the possibly mythological student who, when asked to identify Joan of Arc, said she was Noah's wife.
Here's what the AAR says college students should be able to do:
- -- Discern accurate and credible knowledge about diverse religious traditions and expressions
- -- Recognize the internal diversity within religious traditions
- -- Explain how religions have shaped — and are shaped by — the experiences and histories of individuals, communities, nations and regions
- -- Interpret how religious expressions make use of cultural symbols and artistic representations of their times and contexts
- -- Distinguish confessional or prescriptive statements about religion from descriptive or analytical statements.
As you might expect, the AAR is using the kind of academic language its members use every day. There are simpler ways to say what the goals are, but surely they should include knowing something about what the major religions teach and how those teachings get put into practice by adherents. They should include a sense of the number of followers of different religious traditions, which means knowing that Christianity is now the world's most populous religion, followed by Islam. They should include some history of how each faith tradition developed and how it affected various periods of history. And they should include major developments involving various faith traditions, from the Crusades to the Holocaust to modern Islamist terrorism to Hindu nationalism in India.
A pretty good book to start with, by the way, is Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- And Doesn't.
If you're in the Kansas City area, one way to improve your religious literacy is by connecting with the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. If you live elsewhere, look for a similar organization there.
I've been advocating and working on behalf of religious literacy for many years. At the moment, in fact, I've organized a four-week session at my church called "What Christians Should Know About Other Religions." The link will tell you how to join us for the final two weeks.
I've also been part of a group that has been trying to establish an Interfaith Religious Literacy Center, probably at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It's been a slow process and we're not there yet, but we haven't given up.
The American religious landscape has changed quite a bit in recent decades -- and will continue to. If we're to live together in some kind of harmony, we need to know the information the AAR recommends that college students know. Do you?
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UKRAINE'S RELIGIOUS MAKEUP
With Ukraine being front and center in the news these days, perhaps you've been wondering, as I have, what the religious makeup of that country is. Well, as this Wikipedia entry on that subject reports, most of the population there identifies as Christian -- and most of those as some sort of Orthodox Christian. But there is, in fact, quite a bit of diversity. As this World Atlas entry notes, you'll also find Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Protestants and a growing number of the religiously unaffiliated. I don't know all the details of what each of those traditions teaches about current events, but perhaps the admonition to stay out of American politics would be a good one to promote.