The United States of America is often described as the great melting pot, home to many ethnicities, cultures and religions, the practices of which are a protected freedom within the U.S. Constitution.
Though the coexistence of many different religions is a foundation of American society, religious prejudices and stereotypes often cause conflict, which many scholars attribute to a simple lack of understanding.
Benjamin Marcus, a former Presidential Scholar at the Harvard Divinity School and a graduate of the University of Cambridge and Brown University is a firm believer in comprehensive religious literacy education.
Marcus will present his lecture “Religious Literacy in Public Schools: Embracing Complexity and Tension” at 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 4, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The lecture is in keeping with the Interfaith Lecture Series Week Six theme “Lessons in the School House.”
In the last few years, the religious landscape of the United States has become increasingly complex,” Marcus said. “Unfortunately, that complexity has been accompanied by destructive tension between people of various religions and none, evidenced by an increase in religion-related hate crimes and an increase in active hate groups that target religious minorities.”
Religious literacy is the knowledge of and ability to understand religion, including religions with which one may be unfamiliar.
A specialist with the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Group, Marcus has helped to develop religious literacy programs for public schools, universities, businesses, U.S. government organizations and private foundations.
“In the last few years, the religious landscape of the United States has become increasingly complex,” Marcus said. “Unfortunately, that complexity has been accompanied by destructive tension between people of various religions and none, evidenced by an increase in religion-related hate crimes and an increase in active hate groups that target religious minorities.”
Marcus believes that increased religious literacy education in schools will create a better understanding of all religions and have a positive effect on the interactions between people of varying faiths.
“The complexity of the landscape can lead to productive tension,” Marcus said. “By educating people about religion in academic and Constitutional ways in American public schools, such as nurturing religious literacy, we can equip young people with the knowledge, skills and civic dispositions to navigate complexity in productive ways.”
Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno is looking forward to Marcus’ lecture, voicing her support for increased religious literacy education in public schools.
“Religious literacy is a social and civic good that seeks a deeper understanding of religion’s role in private and public life to improve personal conduct, ethical leadership, and professional effectiveness,” Rovegno said. “Benjamin brings very special insights to our conversation this week, and we could not be more grateful.”
This program is made possible by the Elizabeth Elser Doolittle Endowment Fund for Adult Programming.