Sunday, November 1, 2009

Learn About Your Religion Month (November 2009)

While writing for another project of mine, I was reminded of some experiences I had while teaching a class on the psychology of religion at a large state school in the southeast a few years ago. On the one hand, my students were very hungry to learn about the topic. On the other hand, they were so poorly informed about the facts of religion--even their own religions--that it was agonizingly difficult to conduct the class at first. I wound up revising my syllabus and lesson plans about a week into the semester, to allow for a three- or four-session unit devoted to just conveying the basic facts about some of the major religions of the world.

Then, a couple of years ago, I came upon Stephen Prothero's excellent book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--and Doesn't. Dr. Prothero documents just how ill-informed the average American is about religion--again, his or her own religion, let alone the religions of others.

This should not be. An understanding of the basics of religion is important to understanding American and world history, art, and culture. Beyond that, at the risk of stating the obvious, religion offers an important resource for many areas of one's life.

Consequently, the On The Mark blog is designating November 2009 as our first "Learn About Your Religion" month. I encourage you to take some concrete action to learn about the basics of your own religion sometime this month. Specific suggestions follow below.


There are many aspects to religion: there are actions, emotions, and experiences that are all a part of religion. However, one of the problems with the way many Americans approach religion is that they pay no attention at all to the content of religion. "Content" refers to what religions actually teach about life and the world. As Dr. Prothero puts it:

Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion. They are Protestants who can't name the four Gospels, Catholics who can't name the seven sacraments, and Jews who can't name the five books of Moses. (Religious Literacy, p. 1)
Fortunately, ignorance is a curable disorder. I would suggest that people interested in learning something about their religion would do well to study one or more of the following:

  • A For Dummies or Complete Idiots guide about your religion. The For Dummies series (Wiley) and the Complete Idiots series (Penguin) each publish books about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, and so forth. Within Christianity, each series also has separate books just about Catholicism and Mormonism (the nickname for the Latter-day Saint faith). You'll find a good selection in any large bookstore, and they can be ordered online as well. Read one this month.
  • A For Dummies or Complete Idiots guide about the scriptures of your religion. Each of these series also publishes books about the Bible, the Jewish scriptures, and the Koran. One can hardly be said to know one's religion without knowing something about the central writings of one's religion. A For Dummies or Complete Idiots guide can give you the basics that you need to know how to go about studying these central writings themselves.

(Of course, I've co-authored a For Dummies book myself, but my book [look for the announcement soon] is in a completely different area. Be assured, please, that I don't make a nickel from your following my suggestions above.)

Coming This Month

As the mood strikes me, I may have other suggestions for Learn About Your Religion Month. In the meantime, you're welcome to share your experiences, comments, and questions in the comment space below. Enjoy.

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