Our Approach

The cultural studies method

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 twenty-first 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 across the full spectrum of endeavors in local, national, and global arenas.

The Religious Literacy Project provides educational opportunities and resources for how to recognize, understand, and analyze religious influences in contemporary life through the overarching theme of conflict and peace and the specific (often intersecting) sub-themes of gender and sexuality, public health, and environmental sustainability.

For a variety of reasons dating back to the Enlightenment (including Christian influenced theories of secularization that were reproduced through colonialism) there are many commonly held assumptions about religion in general and religious traditions in particular that represent fundamental misunderstandings.

Scholars of religion are well aware of these assumptions and have articulated some basic facts about religions themselves and the study of religion that serve as useful foundations for inquiry. [1]  

The Religious Literacy Project represents the following methodological and analytical assumptions about religion:

  1. There is a fundamental difference between the devotional expression of a religious worldview as normative and the study of religion which recognizes the factual existence of diverse devotional assertions;
  2. Religions are internally diverse;
  3. Religions evolve and change;
  4. Religious influences are embedded in all aspects of human experience;
  5. All knowledge claims (including religious ones) are socially constructed and represent particular “situated” perspectives;
  6. There is nothing inevitable about either violence or peace; both are manifest in three intersecting formulations: direct, structural, and cultural and both are shaped by conscious and unconscious human agency where religious influences are always operative. 

The country and religion profiles represent these assumptions as do the materials constructed for teachers. We believe that these foundations provide the best tools to understand the complex roles that religions play in human experience, and understanding them will help diminish the negative consequences of widespread religious illiteracy.  

 [1] See The American Academy of Religion Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States, Atlanta: AAR, 2010. (PDF)

Image Credit:

"Muchilottu Bhagavathy Theyyam," Bobinson KB (2007), from Flickr Creative Commons.