Frequently Asked Questions

Does the RPL promote any religion or religion in general?

The RPL takes a nondevotional approach to religion, meaning we do not promote any particular religion or religion in general. What we do promote is the public understanding of religion. Religion is a powerful force in human societies. Whether you adhere to a particular religion, practice forms of spirituality, or none of the above, we all live in a world where religion matters. We offer opportunities for you to understand it better.

What is religious literacy?

If you follow conversations about the public understanding of religion, you may know that religious literacy is sometimes a fraught term. Some use it to mean a focus on the facts about religious traditions, history, and practice, the ones that appear in traditional world religions textbooks. Examples include where, when, and by whom it was “founded,” information about holy days and sacred texts, important historical figures, etc. Adherents of this approach argue that students need to know these facts about religious traditions to be informed citizens and good neighbors. We agree that this type of information is important, but we don’t believe it is sufficient.

What we’re focused on at Religion and Public Life is a deeper kind of question. We’re asking about how religions consciously and unconsciously influence individual behavior, social structures, and cultural norms. Facts alone don’t answer that question. What is needed instead are habits of mind and investigative strategies that can be used to explore these questions in particular times and places. Our approach to religious literacy is a way of thinking about religion that lets us explore and make sense of the immensely complicated and powerful roles religions play in society.

Why does religion matter in public life?

One of our core principles is that religion is embedded in culture. Too often, we in the West especially imagine religion to be a separate, private thing. But religion is not contained within the pages of a sacred text or the four walls of a temple. Religion is interwoven with all other aspects of society, including the state, the market, and education. This is in part because religious people bring their religious identities with them as they live all parts of their lives. It is also because religious institutions participate in public discourse. They also interact with the government, the media, the market, healthcare systems, and schools. And religious narratives and ideas deeply shape our values and how we debate them, regardless of whether the “we” in question is explicitly religious or not.

What kinds of careers are open to me with a degree or certificate in Religion and Public Life?

Deeper understanding of the power of religion in human experience is relevant across all sectors and a wide diversity of fields, including journalism, government, media and entertainment, organizing and activism, education, health, and more. People in all walks of life benefit from understanding how religion influences individual choices, social structures, and cultural norms.

How can I help advance the public understanding of religion?

You can learn more about the principles of religious literacy: religions are internally diverse, they evolve and change over time, and they are embedded in culture, not separate from it. These are the habits of mind we teach to prepare people to engage with complexity when it comes to religion. You can also explore opportunities to study with us and explore how religious literacy can make a difference in your own work.

Can you sponsor my event?

While Religion and Public Life supports all efforts to examine the role of religion in public life, we are unable to co-sponsor events that are not directly led by or involving our affiliated faculty, fellows, staff, or students.

I’d like to invite one of your faculty, fellows, or staff to speak. What is the best way to reach them?

Please send an email to our general account detailing your request: who you would like to speak, when and where, and details on the type of engagement you are requesting.