The American Academy of Religion (AAR) in Atlanta published guidelines on what college students should know about religion whether or not they are attending a religious institution.

“Students in any field — from the humanities to political science to business to the STEM disciplines — should learn something about how religion shapes and is shaped by the ways humans view the world,” the document reads.

The guidelines were produced over a three-year period with wide consultation within and outside of the AAR. Diane Moore, Director of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School, and Eugene Gallagher, Rosemary Park Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Connecticut College, led the effort.

“Religion, though it can be defined in different ways, provides frameworks for interpreting human purpose, action, and self-understanding. Religious traditions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify the full range of acts and attitudes from the heroic to the heinous,” the guidelines say. “Its influence remains potent in the 21st century in spite of predictions that religious influences would steadily decline with the rise of secular democracies and continuing advances in science.”

The group’s findings are intended to inform colleges’ religious coursework that could incorporate religious literacy across courses in biology, geology, neuroscience, nursing, psychology and sociology, officials say.
AAR finds that religiously literate undergraduate students should understand five key aspects of religion:

  • Discern accurate and credible knowledge about diverse religious traditions and expressions
  • Recognize the internal diversity within religious traditions
  • Understand how religions have shaped — and are shaped by — the experiences and histories of individuals, communities, nations, and regions
  • Interpret how religious expressions make use of cultural symbols and artistic representations of their times and contexts
  • Distinguish confessional or prescriptive statements made by religions from descriptive or analytical statements
Susan Barreto
Susan Barreto

Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.

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