Britain’s ‘religious illiteracy’ is examined by Parliamentarians

May 5, 2016 by

Church of England Newspaper May 6th 2016

Widespread religious illiteracy among the media, civil servants, policy makers in government and members of different faith groups contributes to insecurity in national life.

So agreed a hearing by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education in a Commons Committee Room on Monday April 25th as part of a nationwide enquiry. Four witnesses from the Christian, Jewish and Sikh traditions spoke and were questioned.

They argued that religious literacy is not factual knowledge but skills and attitudes that enable someone to understand a religious worldview and its implications for daily life, even when the beliefs and practices are very different from their’s. It enables people of all faiths and none to ask questions well and feel confident in religious encounters.

Lord Singh, regularly heard on Thought for the Day, advocated for such literacy to combat irrational prejudice and highlight norms for responsible living in a society which spends millions on addressing irresponsible behaviour. The BBC Sunday programme was criticised for failing to communicate anything about the content of religions. Call the Midwife was praised for showing how religion wrestled with social issues.

Nick Spencer of Theos illustrated public religious illiteracy by the respondent to a religious survey who asked if War and Peace is part of the Bible.

Professor John Wolffe of the Open University insisted that policy formers and enforcers “ responsible for identifying individuals at risk of being drawn into terrorism ..make religiously literate judgements, otherwise there is a danger of stigmatizing intense but harmless patterns of mainstream religious behaviour while missing potentially extreme beliefs and attitudes.”

The proposal that OFSTED inspect Sunday Schools was said to be a vast and unwarranted intrusion into public life, a charge with which the chairman, Fiona Bruce MP publicly agreed.

Religious literacy is vital for the media who can risk reinforcing public prejudices. Greater religious literacy among at risk groups is needed to pre-empt distorted understandings of their own tradition and unwarranted assumptions about others. The widespread Muslim perception that they face a neo-crusading mentality among Christians was quoted.

Just as sex education should not be merely a matter of biology, religious literacy is too important to be left to RE but must be integrated into the wider curriculum A website could provide basic religious literacy training.

A key factor in breaking down prejudices between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland was personal contact. The initiative of the Muslim Council of Britain in encouraging open days at mosques was welcomed. Miriam Lorie of Co-exist House in Cambridge described its work as a public visitors centre with hospitality, a “Sunday-School for grown-ups’ and experience based presentations.

Professor Wolfe noted that his north London Anglican church had started holding annual open days, to share beliefs and activities with local people who would not attend a service.

Also suggested were a prize for good religious journalism; a Government office for religious responsibility as a channel for communication with religious groups, researchers and analysts; and that religious literacy considerations inform all relevant legislation and policy, as equality and human rights considerations already do.


Related Posts


Share This