Religion is a vital aspect of many cultures and the primary global faiths encompass millions of followers, which in the modern globalized world continuously travel, interact, exchange beliefs, and co-exist. Religious literacy is an important skill in the 21st century in order to have the ability to comprehend and establish a dialogue with people of other faiths without creating difficulties in communication or inadvertently insulting them. Religious literacy can bridge cultural divides while illiteracy can cause issues in interaction (Moseley, n.d.: par. 1). Religious illiteracy can contribute strongly to ethnic and religious conflicts which often plague interreligious areas where boundaries are contested alongside national identities. Religious spaces protected in communal settings use autochthonal rhetoric and creating cosmopolitan identities which contribute to inciting differences. In the modern pluralistic world, there are many regions in both developed and developing countries with deeply divisive century-old religious conflicts that can only be maintained through competence and understanding of the inherent socio-cultural elements that contribute to the religious identity and kinship in such communities (Robinson, 2016: 476).
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When approaching the study of religions and culture, there are inherently insider and outside perspectives which offer differing viewpoints regarding faith and values. While an insider understanding helps to have self-knowledge and better understanding, it can also lead to self-deception and prejudicial stance. An outsider perspective that someone with religious illiteracy would not have offers the opportunity of detached analysis and critical reason regarding the matter of faith. Religious illiteracy may face challenges of personal and passional commitment, at times reaching radical depersonalization while a broad understanding of all religions removes vitality and offers objectivity and sympathy of other’s religious traditions (Kessler, 2002: 3).
Religious literacy is an aspect that is commonly useful in situations outside conflict zones and scholarly research. Ironically, the United States as one of the most religiously diverse countries is also the most illiterate in that sense. The prevalence of religious illiteracy is inherently dangerous due to the volatility of the concept, and through history, religion has been one of the greatest advocates or supporting mechanisms for forces of evil. Ignorance about vital aspects such as Muslim martyrdom (in a modern context) is potentially lethal, producing incompetent leadership and destabilizing ideologies (Prothero, 2009: 31).
Kessler, Gary E. Studying Religion: An Introduction Through Cases (3rd ed.). McGraw-Hill, 2008.
Moseley, David. “Fall Evening Programs.” St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, N.d., www.stpetersdelmar.net/WorldReligions. Accessed 6 Apr. 2019.
Robinson, Kathryn. “Communal Peace and Conflict in Indonesia: Navigating Inter-religious Boundaries.” Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, vol. 17, no. 5, 2016, pp. 475-479.