What is Religious Literacy?

The following definition of religious literacy articulated by Diane L. Moore has been adopted by the American Academy of Religion to help educators understand what is required for a basic understanding of religion and its roles in human experience: 

Religious literacy entails the ability to discern and analyze the fundamental intersections of religion and social/political/cultural life through multiple lenses. Specifically, a religiously literate person will possess: 

  1. A basic understanding of the history, central texts (where applicable), beliefs, practices, and contemporary manifestations of several of the world's religious traditions as they arose out of and continue to be shaped by particular social, historical, and cultural contexts. 

  2. The ability to discern and explore the religious dimensions of political, social and cultural expressions across time and place.  

Critical to this definition is the importance of understanding religions and religious influences in context and as inextricably woven into all dimensions of human experience. Such an understanding highlights the inadequacy of understanding religions through common means such as learning about ritual practices or exploring “what scriptures say” about topics or questions. 

Unfortunately, these are some of the most common approaches to engaging religions and lead to simplistic and inaccurate representations of the roles religions play in human agency and understanding—and ultimately in public life.