“Seeking to learn about other faiths is our right and responsibility,” Bushra Bajwa wrote on The Tempest a few weeks ago. “Because if left unchallenged, basing opinions on incorrect information is…incredibly dangerous to the goal of establishing peace in our communities.”
As Islamophobia continues to rise and anti-Semitism is still apparent, it is clear that a lack of knowledge on various religions is what fuels misconceptions that lead to detrimental consequences. In response, religious studies professors from Harvard University, Harvard Divinity School (the graduate school of religion at Harvard), and Wellesley College are launching a free online course to promote religious literacy on March 1.
The series of online courses, which is kicking off through Harvard University and MIT’s learning platform, edX, is being offered to combat religious illiteracy. This religious illiteracy, according to Dr. Diane Moore, is what “fuels bigotry and prejudice and hinders capacities for cooperative endeavors in local, national, and global arenas.”
Moore, along with prominent religious scholars, Karen King, Charles Hallisey, Ali Asani, Neelima Shukla-Butt, and Shaye Cohen, will be teaching a total of six courses on different subjects – with four weeks to cover each course to really dive into each of these religious subjects: Traditions and Scriptures, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism.
The battle-plan to combat religious literacy through this series is simple: the Religion XSeries will explore how religions are internally diverse, and how they evolve and change as living traditions that impact, and are impacted, by the cultural, historical, and political contexts of adherents. It will explore issues of interpretation through themes such as gender and sexuality, the arts, violence and peace, science, and power and authority.
In addition to learning with and from world-renowned scholars, learners will have the opportunity to interact with peers from around the world representing diverse backgrounds, affiliations, and perspectives.
Harvard University and Harvard Divinity School are not new to promoting religious literacy and pluralism. If the series is not one’s cup of tea, one can also look into two Harvard organizations for further information on other religious traditions, interfaith dialogue, religious pluralism, and more: The Pluralism Project (which recently celebrated it’s 25th anniversary) and The Religious Literacy Project. While the Pluralism Project aims to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach, and the active dissemination of resources, the Religious Literacy Project is dedicated to enhancing and promoting the public understanding of religion.
It is obvious that through these resources, one can clearly see that religious literacy does not mean simply reading the Qur’an or knowing the religious laws of Judaism or Buddhism. Instead, it promotes the “understanding that religious traditions are ‘internally diverse’, ever-evolving, and play complex roles in people’s lives.”
And it is only through this understanding can we move forward as one without misconceptions and bigotry.