What should college grads, and high school grads, know about world religions?

What should college grads, and high school grads, know about world religions?

THE QUESTION:

What should U.S. college graduates, and high school graduates, know about religion?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A Gallup poll for the Bible Literacy Project 15 years ago found only about a third of U.S. teen-agers knew about Islam’s holy month of Ramadan or that the Quran is the religion’s holy book. The youths generally did better on Christian questions, though only a third could identify the significance of the “road to Damascus” and a tenth couldn’t say what Easter is.

The Religion Guy guesses that, if anything, teens in 2019 would do worse, due to the increase of religiously unaffiliated “nones” in the younger generation. Meanwhile, religious illiteracy becomes a more important problem for cohesion and understanding among the American people as diversity reaches beyond the Protestant-Catholic-Jew triad of times past.

Concerned about this, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (established by the late industrialist, a Congregational preacher’s kid) sought help from the American Academy of Religion, a professional association of some 8,000 college-level religion teachers. The result was a three-year study that concluded Oct. 3 with the release of “AAR Religious Literacy Guidelines: What U.S. College Graduates Need to Understand about Religion.” Click here for the .pdf document.

What we do not get in this AAR booklet is answers to the question The Guy poses above, what information people should know by the time they have earned a two-year or a four-year degree. That’s not surprising, given the complexity of the field of religion.

Instead, we’re informed on what grads need to “understand.” Two major points from the AAR team are that religion is central for every human culture that has ever existed, and that therefore people need to have a good grasp of reliable, non-sectarian information in this field. It distinguishes academic study of religion, which is “descriptive,” from the “prescriptive” education that people receive from their faith groups.

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Post-Beto podcast: Yes, it's time for reporters to ask about 'freedom of worship' (again)

Post-Beto podcast: Yes, it's time for reporters to ask about 'freedom of worship' (again)

First, an apology for a long delay (I have been on the road) getting to this important news topic — as in the hand grenade that Beto O’Rourke tossed, whether his fellow Democrats want to talk about it or not, into the 2020 White House race.

I am referring, of course, to his LGBT-forum statement that the U.S. government should strip the tax-exempt status of churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious groups that defend — even inside their own doors — ancient teachings on marriage and sex that do not mesh with modernized doctrines.

If you want to start a firestorm, that was the spark you would need in a nation bitterly divided on the role of religious faith and practice in the real world. Here’s the key quote:

“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” he said. …

Will journalists keep asking about this or will that job be left to members of Donald Trump’s campaign advertising team? That was the topic we discussed during this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in).

To its credit, the team at Religion News Service did a basic follow-up report: “Buttigieg, Warren reject O’Rourke plan to link church tax status, LGBT policy.” Here’s a crucial chunk of that:

“I’m not sure (O’Rourke) understood the implications of what he was saying,” said Buttigieg, an Episcopalian who is married to a man. “That (policy) means going to war not only with churches, but I would think, with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do.

“So if we want to talk about anti-discrimination law for a school or an organization, absolutely they should not be able to discriminate. But going after the tax exemption of churches, Islamic centers, or other religious facilities in this country, I think that’s just going to deepen the divisions that we’re already experiencing.” …

In a statement to Religion News Service on Sunday, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign also pushed back on O’Rourke’s remark.

So, for journalists who are paying close attention, it would appear that O’Rourke’s bold stance represents the left side of the Democratic Party, while Mayor Pete and Warren are trying to find a centrist stance.

Reporters: What is the content of that center stance?

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When is a Byzantine cross just a tattoo and when is it a reason to ask another question?

When is a Byzantine cross just a tattoo and when is it a reason to ask another question?

On one level, this is a simple story about Culture Wars American in 2019.

A trans woman, a regular customer, is eating dinner in a local restaurant in a corner of America — the upper Midwest — where liberal and conservative citizens regularly bump into one another.

A pair of elderly locals is seated nearby and they make some unfriendly comments about the transexuals — not to the trans customer, but to their waitress. The waitress is triggered, when her boss insists that she serve these customers The woke NBC News double-decker headline outlines the outcome of this exchange in the marketplace of ideas:

'Morals over money': Waitress fired after refusing to serve transphobic customers

"Turning a blind eye to hate is just as bad as saying the hateful things in my opinion," the waitress, Brittany Spencer, said.

This is the stuff of shallow television news reports, of course. But here is the question that haunted a GetReligion reader: “Did anyone think to ask what's on her neck and what relevance it might have to morals??”

The waitress, you see, is heavily inked and she has a large, prominent tattoo on her neck that raises some interesting religious issues.

This tattoo includes a large Byzantine cross, of the style favored in Eastern churches — Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic — in Slavic lands and elsewhere.

But the cross is upside down.

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Friday Five: Elijah Cummings, Kurdish evangelicals, Tree of Life, viral forgiveness, open marriages/NYT

Friday Five: Elijah Cummings, Kurdish evangelicals, Tree of Life, viral forgiveness, open marriages/NYT

It’s not religion news per se, but for those interested in the future of American journalism: Poynter.org reported this week on signs pointing to USA Today phasing out its print edition.

Amazing.

But come to think of it, I don’t open those free copies that I receive at hotels as often as I once did.

Anything that affects the health of major American newspapers will, ultimately, affect their ability to cover tricky, complicated subjects like religion. So would changes at USA Today affect Gannett newspapers everywhere, including funding for religion news coverage? This is worth watching.

Anyway, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In case you missed my post Thursday, faith was a major part of the life of powerful Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who died this week from complications from longstanding health challenges. He was 68.

Some major news organizations — including Cummings’ hometown Baltimore Sun — nailed the religion angle.

However, at least one major national news organization failed to do so.

Check out my post.

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Looking for a tough group to interview? Try doing cold-call visits with the Amish

Looking for a tough group to interview? Try doing cold-call visits with the Amish

Julie Zauzmer seems to be the Washington Post’s down-in-the-trenches reporter these days who gets to slog about places like rural West Virginia, Concord, N.H. and Virginia Beach to get interesting stories outside the Beltway.

Must say I appreciate it when journalists get off the phone and go on the road. Her latest is based out of Lancaster County, Pa., where there’s an effort going to get the reclusive Amish to sign up to vote for President Donald Trump in 2020.

There’s only one problem. Amish folks aren’t hot on being interviewed. Read the beginning of the piece:

MANHEIM, Pa. — In 2016, when more than 6 million Pennsylvanians voted in the presidential election, the state’s 20 pivotal electoral votes were decided by a margin of less than 45,000 voters.

Pennsylvania is home to more than 75,000 Amish people, and most who are eligible don’t vote.

For two Republican operatives, those two numbers add up to one major opportunity — to convince the traditionally reluctant Amish to come out to the polls, where their votes might be tremendously influential…

What they came up with was a group called the Amish PAC, which hopes to keep Pennsylvania — always a vital swing state — Republican in 2020.

Amish people tend to align strongly on policy with Republicans, who share their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But making voters out of the Amish, who forgo television and the Internet and believe fiercely in the separation of their religious community from government intrusion, may be a steep goal.

No kidding.

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Obituary of powerful Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland haunted by religion ghosts

Obituary of powerful Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland haunted by religion ghosts

There’s sad, sad news today in the world of politics: the death of powerful Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland.

The Associated Press obituary — which will be the one many thousands of Americans read — captures key highlights of Cummings’ prominent life.

Yes, those highlights include clashing with President Donald Trump:

BALTIMORE (AP) — Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a sharecropper’s son who rose to become a civil rights champion and the chairman of one of the U.S. House committees leading an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, died Thursday of complications from longstanding health problems. He was 68.

Cummings was a formidable orator who advocated for the poor in his black-majority district , which encompasses a large portion of Baltimore and more well-to-do suburbs.

As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings led investigations of the president’s government dealings, including probes in 2019 relating to Trump’s family members serving in the White House.

But read the full AP report, and it’s clear that something is missing.

Holy ghosts, anyone?

AP offers hints of a potential religious influence in Cummings’ life, including here:

It steeled Cummings to prove that counselor wrong. He became not only a lawyer, but one of the most powerful orators in the statehouse, where he entered office in 1983. He rose to become the first black House speaker pro tem. He would begin his comments slowly, developing his theme and raising the emotional heat until it became like a sermon from the pulpit.

Hmmmmm. Why might Cummings’ oratory have resembled a sermon?

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Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) officially announced details Oct. 6 on a major archaeological project in northern Israel south of Haifa near present-day Harish. The inland En Esur site has remains of a town that covered 160 acres, indicating that an estimated 6,000 residents lived there in the Early Bronze Age 5,000 years ago.

This remarkably early date for such a large settlement is an unprecedented find not only within Israel but for the entire region. Without later technological developments, that’s about as big as a municipality could have been. Not only that. The archaeologists found another settlement lying underneath En Esur that dates back 7,000 years. These towns were strategically located along an ancient trade route and with access to fresh-water springs.

The IAA team reports that the Bronze Age settlement demonstrates careful urban planning, with streets, drainage and public spaces that included a notable temple with a sizable basin that contains burned animal bones signaling ritual sacrifices, a town square, storage facilities and a mausoleum. There are many figurines, showing artistic culture and a possible religious purpose. Tools on the site are identified as Egyptian. Huge stone blocks for construction were somehow hauled from a quarry a half-mile away.

The site has long been known, but was only excavated in earnest starting in 2017 by a team led by Itai Elad, Yitzhak Paz and Dina Shalem. Work was funded by Netivei Israel, the transport infrastructure firm that is building a highway interchange at the site. Some 5,000 students volunteered to help with the massive archaeological dig.

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Pondering how to cover religion news for readers in the 'nones' generation

Pondering how to cover religion news for readers in the 'nones' generation

Here at GetReligion we write a lot about how the news media wrestle — successfully and otherwise, but mostly otherwise — with religion stories that have public policy consequences. That makes sense since these stories constitute the bulk of what religion reporters produce. They dominate because they’re far and away the easiest for journalists to make sense of.

Reporters spend far less time tackling religion’s deeper, less linear realms. Including, how we make sense of our lives. 

For traditional believers, religion is key to extracting sufficient meaning from life to keep its bewildering complexity and insecurity from rendering us dysfunctional. For religion journalists, historically that’s meant concentrating on the minutia of faith group wrangling over the day’s public issues. 

Comprehend the jargon, restate it in more universally understood language, organize it in dramatic fashion, and — voila — you’ve mastered the formula of successful religion journalism.

But as with so much about contemporary journalism, that was then and this is now — the hallmark of which is radical change.

A dominate trend in today’s America, and the West in general, is the move away from traditional religious expression. I’m referring, of course, to the growing cohort of the religiously disengaged “nones,” who by some estimates now account for a fourth of all Americans and 35 percent of those under age 30. Click here for the Pew Forum research on that.

A hefty percentage of these people have tired of public policy religion stories, so many of which seem to defy resolution year after year, decade after decade. Religiously disengaged, they have no interest in hearing about the ongoing squabbles of groups they feel have nothing to offer them.

Now combine that with the growing trend in journalism away from what we like to call the historical American model of fact-based, balanced, “objective” reporting. And remember that it’s replacement is opinion and expository writing.

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GetReligion drinking game: Trends, demographics and Ryan Burge's newsy charts

GetReligion drinking game: Trends, demographics and Ryan Burge's newsy charts

It’s been a while since we had a good GetReligion drinking game.

So here’s the rule for this one: You take a drinking of an adult beverage whenever a GetReligion post mentions demographics, birth rates or, what the heck, “81 percent.”

These discussions may increase in the future, because a very interesting progressive Baptist fellow, who is also a political scientist, has said that it is fine with him if your GetReligionistas reproduce some of this fascinating charts that focus on religion, politics and, often, religion and politics.

The main thing is that these charts often point to valid news stories. Here at GetReligion, we like that. Here’s a large chunk of a recent “On Religion” column that focused on this scholar’s work. This is long, but essential:

Earlier this year, political scientist Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University dug into the 2018 General Social Survey, crunched some data and then took to Twitter to note that Americans with ties to no particular religious tradition were now about 23% of the population. That percentage is slightly higher than evangelical Protestantism and almost exactly the same as Roman Catholicism.

"At that point my phone went crazy and I started hearing from everyone" in the mainstream media, said Burge, who is co-founder of the Religion In Public weblog. "All of a sudden it was time to talk about the 'nones' all over again."

Burge recently started another hot discussion on Twitter with some GSS statistics showing trends among believers — young and old — in several crucial flocks.

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