Humanities in American Life: Insights for Religious Studies

From the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

November 10, 2020

A report released by the Humanities Indicators project shows that views on studying religious texts and teaching differences in religious thought in schools are impacted by age and racial differences. These insights into American adults’ practices and views on religion was part of an overall survey on the humanities conducted last year by the Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Findings from “Humanities in American Life: Insights for Religious Studies” show that less than a quarter (22 percent) of Americans often engage in religious text study, while 15 percent do so sometimes and nearly half (47 percent) never engage at all in such activities.  Americans who are most likely to engage in religious text study are age 60 and older and Black Americans, who account for 33 percent of those who do so often. Only 18 percent of those in the 18 to 29 age group study religious texts. 

When it comes to seeking out information on religions and cultures other than their own online, the 18 to 29 age group showed more interest. They are somewhat more likely to explore religious and cultural differences online than those in the age 60 and above group.  Similarly, Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than White Americans to do the same research on differences online. But overall, the number of Americans seeking information about religion and culture online is very low with just 15 percent of Americans seeking information. 

The importance of teaching K–12 students about differences in religious thought is a priority for 58 percent of Americans. Black and Hispanic Americans are more like to value this education over White Americans. While many Americans may not see the value of this education, religion is embedded in state standards across the K–12 spectrum, even though few educators have been trained in religious studies methods. Because of the need for training in religious studies for educators, the AAR board approved Guidelines for Teaching about Religion for K–12 Public Schools in the United States in 2010.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences Humanities Indicators project was made possible with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The survey asked a representative sample of 5,015 American adults, age 18 and above (in a sample drawn from NORC at the University of Chicago’s AmeriSpeak panel) how often they engage in different humanities activities and what they believe the humanities contribute to the American experience. You can read more in the full study: “The Humanities in American Life: A Survey of the Public’s Attitudes and Engagement.”