Monday, March 12, 2007

Religious illiteracy

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stephen Prothero, a Professor at Boston University, writes about the religious ignorance of his students and how to remedy this kind of illiteracy:
For the past two years, I have given students in my introductory religious-studies course at Boston University a religious-literacy quiz. I ask them to list the four Gospels, Roman Catholicism's seven sacraments, and the Ten Commandments. I ask them to name the holy book of Islam. They do not fare well.

In their quizzes, they inform me that Ramadan is a Jewish holiday, that Revelation is one of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and that Paul led the Israelites on the Exodus out of Egypt. This year I had a Hindu student who couldn't name one Hindu scripture, a Baptist student who didn't know that "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is a Bible quote, and Catholic students unfamiliar with the golden rule. Over the past two years, only 17 percent of my students passed the quiz.

"Cultural literacy" has been hotly debated ever since E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s best seller of that name injected the desideratum into the culture wars in 1987. Today religious illiteracy is at least as pervasive as cultural illiteracy, and certainly more dangerous. Religious illiteracy is more dangerous because religion is the most volatile constituent of culture. Religion has been, in addition to one of the greatest forces for good in world history, one of the greatest forces for evil.

Nonetheless, Americans remain profoundly ignorant about their own religions and those of others. According to recent polls, most American adults cannot name even one of the four Gospels, and many high-school seniors think that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A few years ago, no one in Jay Leno's The Tonight Show audience could name any of the Twelve Apostles, but everyone was able to shout out the four Beatles.
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Source: The Chronicle: 3/16/2007: Worshiping in Ignorance
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