Religious Literacy

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In recent years there has been a concern to develop alternative forms of literacy so that our citizens are better prepared for the challenges of the future. In addition to the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic - the traditional "3 Rs" - schools are recognizing the need to develop computer literacy and various other life skills.

There is another life skill essential to the well-being of our society - religious literacy. So what is religious literacy? And why is it important for the health of religious communities as well as the wider society?

Religious literacy is not about being correct. It does not ensure that we will always draw the right conclusions. But it is about being well informed: including a capacity to locate relevant information and employ it appropriately.

In one sense, religious literacy is a shorthand way to describe our aspirations to be well informed in matters of religion. However, it goes beyond "information" to include "competence" in forming our religious values and acting upon them.

This gets us close to the heart of the matter. Many members of our society - including many active church members - are functionally illiterate in religion.

Such people are unaware of a great body of scholarship that is relevant to their faith. And those who consider themselves non-religious - the fastest growing religious option in many western societies - are often unaware that many popular stereotypes are not well grounded in the religious traditions they no longer find persuasive.

As we move through a period of profound transition in our society, religion can be a focus for negativity as well as a catalyst for meaning and hope. That is why it matters that so many people remain functionally illiterate in matters of religion. We all need some basic capacity to weigh the claims of those who invoke religion in support of their social and political agendas. At a time when the polarities of the Cold War are being replaced by tensions along ancient religious boundaries, it is all the more important that the knowledge developed by scholars in religion be accessible to as many people as possible.

The Churches could (should?) be a voice for religious literacy in public life. We all have much to learn - and much to gain - as we pursue the goal of a society whose citizens have the capacity to access and critique the religious traditions that we have inherited. It begins in our homes, our parish communities and our schools.

FaithFutures Foundation exists to engage directly in the quest for religious literacy, and this wiki project is one of the key strategies to fulfil that mission. You are invited to become a part of this particular contribution to religious literacy in our global village.

Greg Jenks