What is Harvard doing to combat religious illiteracy?

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With the sharp rise in Islamophobia and ideologues issuing statements about religions they have never studied, some professors at Harvard University have come together to educate the public with a free series on religious literacy, studying world religions, over a series of six classes. The classes will be offered online, starting on March 1st.

The first class will be a general approach to religious literacy, followed by specific courses on different faiths, with a goal of covering the following:

  • Tools for how to interpret the roles religions play in contemporary and historic contexts;
  • How religions are internally diverse
  • How religions evolve and change
  • How religions are embedded in all human cultures
  • The strengths and limitations of learning about religions through their scriptures.

This video introduction, by Diane Moore, outlines the curriculum and the value of the class.

You can sign up for the first class on EdX, the online learning platform created by Harvard. For more about the series, visit their overview page.

Will you take this class? Do you see the value in it? Would you recommend it to parishioners at your church?

Still image taken from introduction video

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Ann Fontaine
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Ann Fontaine

I attended Harvard Divinity School (what you are calling seminary) and had my faith deepened by interacting with others from conservative to liberal Christians and Unitarians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Wiccans, and those just interested in religion. About half our class were in an ordination track in one of those faith groups - the other half were in the academic track -but we all took classes together. You could take any scripture course - Bible, Bhagavad Gita, etc. according to your needs. You also had access to the Boston Theological Union - and all the schools in the area. Most of us did not come out "atheists" but came out with a strong faith and knowledge of others.

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Pete Haynsworth
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Pete Haynsworth

One could do worse than the Great Course's "Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know" [bit.ly/1LEONKL]. It was available at a public library in these parts and happens to be on sale at the Great Courses site for $35 (audio).

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Ellen Ehrlich
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Ellen Ehrlich

How many sessions, how long are the sessions, how long are they going to stay on line, is there a study guide? We might be interested at my church in following each session with a group.

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Timothy Fleck
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Timothy Fleck

From the next-to-last paragraph of the story: "For more about the series, visit their overview page." https://www.edx.org/xseries/world-religions-through-scriptures.

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Donald E. King
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Donald E. King

I have spent my life as a student and then a teacher, so as a lifelong learner, am eager to pursue new ideas and engage with others. I have had a long spiritual pilgrimage and am currently studying about Anglicanism, Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox churches to see which I want to participate in which will be a good fit after being immersed in evangelicalism in America, as much as a sociologist as a committed member. I do not know what life would be if I could not continue to learn.

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Pepper Marts
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Pepper Marts

"Will you take this class?
I have signed up.

"Do you see the value in it?"
While reasonably knowledgeable about my own Judeo-Christian-Anglican-Episcopal tradition, I know practically nothing of other ways. I hope this course will address that lack.

"Would you recommend it to parishioners at your church?"
Ask me later.

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efren supanga
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I am interested to read manuscripts of their teaching materials if there are any that will soon be made available online. Thank you.

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MaryLou Scherer
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MaryLou Scherer

HDS is famous for accepting students with a call to be a minister...and graduating atheist students

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JC Fisher
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JC Fisher

MaryLou, there are many gods (some even pronounced "jē'zəs"), away from whom atheism is a welcome (and necessary) step toward the Gospel! 🙂

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David Allen
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David Allen

As a graduate of a progressive seminary, it isn't the school making them atheists, it is they themselves arriving at that belief using the tools offered to do theology.

In my experience, conservative seminaries spoon feed set doctrinal beliefs, usually established by a statement of faith to which students must subscribe in order to continue as a student at the seminary. Progressive seminaries provide the tools to do theology.

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David Allen
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David Allen

I was much more conservative in my late teens in the early 80s.

I am not familiar with a progressive seminary that has a statement of faith. Progressive seminaries don't dictate what their students must believe.

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Carolyn Peet
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Carolyn Peet

I'm surprised that you would even have considered applying to a conservative seminary, based on your worldviews.
But are you also saying that progressive seminaries do not have a statement of faith? I know nothing of seminaries, so may be a dumb question.

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David Allen
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David Allen

My experience with conservative seminaries was having applied to over a dozen of them when seeking a graduate seminary in the US to attend. The interview/application process for all of them was cookie cutter sameness; this is our statement of faith, you must sign this by a certain point in your career with us to be allowed to continue. Comparing the statement with the catalogue of classes showed how the educational process was directed completely towards propping up the statement.

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Carolyn Peet
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Carolyn Peet

You say that you are a graduate of a progressive seminary, yet you reference your experience at conservative seminaries.
Have you attended both?

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

Marylou, whether or not the students' faith is shaken depends a lot on how firm their faith was when they started their studies.

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