Harvard Religious Literacy Project aims to foster understanding
Each religion’s followers tend to believe that their religion is true and others are fake. There is a reluctance to explore other religions for fear of being ‘led astray’, and this reluctance is born of and reinforced by peer pressure, conformity and groupthink. This is why some people find objects of suspicion in things as superficial as other religions’ followers’ clothing, rituals, food, and even hairstyles.
Even religions with common roots, like the Abrahamic faiths, can find themselves at loggerheads due to human beings’ innate desire to belong to a group and to see other groups as threats. This is how religions, which so often aspire to unite humanity, can degenerate into to a destructive tribalism that loses touch with the positive messages at their cores. History also sees internal splits in religions, often over how the founding scriptures or principles are interpreted, and these rivalries can be just as virulent as inter-faith ones.
Religions are still powerful forces in the 21st century, despite Enlightenment predictions they would decline concurrently with the rise of secular democracy and science. They are still critical to a full understanding of human affairs at local, national and global level.
The religio-boffins at Harvard Divinity School are acutely aware of all this, and seek to improve the situation with the Harvard Religious Literacy Project. It aims to explore and educate in the arena of religion’s place and influence in contemporary affairs, and does this through workshops, webinars, executive education opportunities, courses and conferences. It also conducts extensive research and provides venues for groups and individuals outside Harvard to explore religion’s function in modern-day society. The Project’s overall aim is to combat religious illiteracy and strengthen global understanding and co-operation.
One place to start would be the course Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures, which approaches the ‘Big Five’ world religions – Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism – not as static cultural phenomena but as internally diverse and changing. They are explored both via their scriptures and via a set of tools for interpreting the roles religions play in contemporary and historic contexts. Proper academic rigor is applied in the exploration of the strengths and limitations of learning about religions through their scriptures.
This course is an excellent place to start for anyone seeking to critically examine major religions in order to better understand the roles they play in human affairs.
Harvard Religious Literacy Project courses are free and delivered on the EdX platform.