Former Obama adviser, experts on religion discuss importance of religious literacy

By Casey Tom

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 9) — The 2015 Religion Communicators Convention kicked off at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., with Joshua DuBois, author of The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings that Inspired President Obama; Stephen Prothero, professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University; and Charles Haynes, Director of the Religious Freedom Center and Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center.

Joshua DuBois, head of a consulting firm, Values Partnerships, that creates faith-based partnerships for the public, private and non-profit sectors (Photo by George Conklin)

DuBois opened by discussing why communicating religion matters. Dubois spoke about his time working with President Barack Obama and about the speeches that Obama made concerning religion during his campaign and presidency. While doing research for Obama, DuBois was tasked with finding what the most important religious question was among various faith groups. With this, in Obama’s Call to Renewal address in 2006, he stated that America is no longer just a Christian nation, but a nation of many religions.

With America being a nation of many religions, it is essential that religion be communicated. This led to the discussion on religious literacy with Prothero and Haynes.

Dr. Stephen Prothero, professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University (Photo by George Conklin)

In 2007, Prothero wrote the New York Times bestseller, Religious Literacy: What Americans Need to Know. Prothero said that America is a country where people are deeply religious, but also religiously ignorant. He discussed how religious literacy is a civic problem both domestically and internationally.

With America being a highly religious country, political parties have taken on religion to appeal to the general public with one party often embracing “family values” and another party tending to view religion as more of a private matter. On a domestic level, this has led to a culture war. On an international level, he discussed how our world remains furiously religious, but there is a large population that is religiously ignorant.

Prothero urged religion communicators to communicate religion to the world and to model a way of talking about religion. He stated that there is a public way of speaking about religion where the communicator does not have to be a religious figure to do it.

Dr. Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center Education Project at the Newseum (Photo by George Conklin)

Haynes then commented that religious literacy matters because religious freedom matters, and religious literacy is an essential condition for religious freedom. He specifically discussed how religion is taught in public schools and that in 1989 guidelines on religion in the classroom were developed.

Presently, states have standards in social studies courses that religion can be taught in specific ways, and world religion classes are now available in public schools. Schools around the United States and in 30 countries have also joined hands with the Tony Blair’s Face to Faith initiative where students are able to discuss global issues and their beliefs via video conferencing. This allows students to learn directly from each other.

Video of the plenary session

Recorded by the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute

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