October 3, 2019
Contact: Marion Pierre
American Academy of Religion
Atlanta, Georgia: The American Academy of Religion (AAR) today published guidelines outlining what every undergraduate student should know about religion.
The board of the world’s largest association of religion scholars adopted the recommendations last month, following three years of discussion and edits by a committee and advisory board. Diane L. Moore, Director of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School, and Eugene V. Gallagher, Rosemary Park Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Connecticut College, led the effort, which was funded by a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.
“We are immensely grateful to the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for its generosity, leadership, and continued commitment to religious literacy, demonstrated by its support of this incredibly important project,” states Alice Hunt, Executive Director of the AAR.
The guidelines come at a time when anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise in the U.S. and Europe and when a growing number of U.S. citizens claim no formal religious affiliation. Domestic court cases and foreign policy initiatives at times aim to protect religious freedom, but exactly what that means is complex and poorly understood by many people.
“Religion, though it can be defined in different ways, provides frameworks for interpreting human purpose, action, and self-understanding. Religious traditions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify the full range of acts and attitudes from the heroic to the heinous,” the guidelines say. “Its influence remains potent in the 21st century in spite of predictions that religious influences would steadily decline with the rise of secular democracies and continuing advances in science.”
The guidelines argue that some critical understanding about the ways in which religion shapes and is shaped by human behavior should be part of the general education of every person who receives an undergraduate degree.
Specifically, religiously literate undergraduate students should understand five key aspects of religion:
- Discern accurate and credible knowledge about diverse religious traditions and expressions
- Recognize the internal diversity within religious traditions
- Understand 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 made by religions from descriptive or analytical statements
Designed to aid both faculty and administrators, the guidelines include suggested outcomes, frequently asked questions, and an outline of common approaches to teaching and learning about religion on college campuses, along with examples.
The guidelines are intended to inform religion courses taught throughout a college’s curriculum.
“In addition to religious studies courses, religious literacy can also be promoted in other disciplines including (but not limited to) anthropology, archeology, art, biology, criminal justice, economics, education, film, geology, history, humanities, journalism, literature, languages, media studies, music, neuroscience, nursing, philosophy, political science, psychology, social work, sociology, speech, and theatre,” the report states.
Courses or units contributing to religious literacy could also be included in pre-professional, scientific, technical, and work place programs for industries that require cultural awareness for delivery of services, such as healthcare, criminal justice, business, and hospitality, according to the guidelines.
These guidelines, which are posted on the AAR website, follow the AAR’s 2010 publication of curriculum guidelines for teaching religion in K-12 schools.
About the AAR: Established in 1909, the American Academy of Religion is the world’s largest organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the academic study of religion. AAR members number more than 8,000 religion scholars around the globe, a membership that continues to grow in influence and diversity. The AAR is not a faith-based organization. The expertise of its membership spans virtually all religions, and the AAR neither endorses nor condemns any religious belief or practice.