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Is Religious Education Important?

Would knowing more about the world's religions quell "Islamophobia" and thwart politicians from advancing faith-based agendas?

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that, whereas 92 percent of Americans claim to be religious, self-described atheists and agnostics appear to know more about religion than believers. Brian Thorn, an intern with the Center of American Progress' Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, says this dearth of religious education dangerously undermines our ability to understand world politics.

He writes that the separation of church and state, which protects religious freedom, can be exploited in a society where people are ignorant of other's beliefs:

The public needs to be well informed about the appropriate role of religion in a pluralistic democracy as well as the various teachings of diverse faiths. And as candidates increasingly tout their own religious beliefs—sometimes conflating religion with politics on issues such as global warming or Israel—it is important for people to be able to discern politics from theology as well as valid expressions of faith versus intrusions of doctrine on a diverse citizenry.


Currently, a lack of knowledge on Islam has led to "Islamophobia." Thorn cites another Pew poll that found that 80 percent of Americans admitted to knowing little to nothing at all about the religion, which is prescribed to by nearly a quarter of the world's population. He also notes a recent resolution passed by the Texas State Board of Education to ensure that its social studies textbooks included more pro-Christian sentences than pro-Muslim ones.

Clearly, scapegoating an entire religion for the behavior of a lunatic fringe is unfair, and Thorn concedes that while it's Islam that is currently under fire, other religions have come under fire in the past.

To the point of being able to tell when a politician is conflating politics and religion: if the listener is a devout member of the same religion—who makes decisions according to doctrine—will simply having a basic knowledge of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism, make him or her less likely to vote for a candidate whom they agree with in principle?

Photo (cc) via Flickr user Ranoush.

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