About

The Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School is dedicated to enhancing and promoting the public understanding of religion.  We provide resources and special training opportunities for educators, journalists, public health workers, foreign service officers, interfaith/multifaith groups, students, and others wishing to better understand the complex roles that religions play in contemporary global, national, and local contexts. 

Explanation of Need

Religions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify the full range of agency from the heinous to the heroic.  Their influences remain potent at the dawn of the 21st century in spite of modern predictions that religious influences would steadily decline in concert with the rise of secular democracies and advances in science.  Understanding these complex religious influences is a critical dimension of understanding modern human affairs.  In spite of this awareness, there remains a widespread illiteracy about religion that spans the globe.  There are many consequences of this illiteracy, but the most urgent is that it fuels conflict and antagonisms and hinders cooperative endeavors in all arenas of human experience. 

The RLP at HDS

We at HDS are uniquely situated to enhance the public understanding of religion given our longstanding expertise in all of the world’s religious traditions coupled with our over 40 year history focusing on education about religion through various iterations of our teacher education program.  The Religious Literacy Project is a new initiative that builds upon both of these legacies and focuses on how to understand the roles that religions play in human experience across political, economic, and cultural spheres with a special focus on contemporary issues related to conflict and peace.   

Arenas of Focus

The RLP has three arenas of focus:  education, resources, and research.

  • Education:  Through workshops, webinars, executive education opportunities, courses, conferences, and the Religious Studies and Education Certificate, the Religious Literacy Project provides several venues for individuals and groups within and outside of Harvard to explore how religion functions in contemporary human affairs.
  • Resources: The RLP is creating a series of open access resources to enhance the public understanding of religion.  Through country profiles, religion profiles, commentaries by Harvard faculty and affiliates on contemporary issues, and resources specifically designed for K-12 educators, the Religious Literacy Project represents how religions are 1) internally diverse; 2) how they evolve and change; and 3) how religious ideologies are embedded in all aspects of human experience.  
  • Research: The Religious Literacy Project has embarked upon a substantial research initiative to collect data, map, and analyze how religion is taught in K-12 schools in the United States.  The Project collects data, maps, and analyzes how teacher education programs address content related to religion and religious diversity within schools and communities. Even though religion is embedded in K-12 humanities and social science curriculum standards as well as in the Common Core Standards, there is no comprehensive information about how religion is taught in schools.  Similarly, there is no comprehensive information regarding training for pre-service teachers about the special challenges and opportunities related to teaching about religion in light of First Amendment guidelines in a multireligious society.