Why College Students Should Care About Religious Literacy
January 7, 2021
Did you know that less than half of students dedicate time in college to learn about people of different faiths? According to the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS), nearly three-quarters of undergraduates (74%) spend time on campus learning about people of other races (74%) and countries (73%), but far fewer take steps to learn about Muslims, Jews, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, atheists, Hindus, or Latter-day Saints. Without knowledge of different religions and worldviews at their fingertips, many students struggled to correctly answer a series of religious literacy questions included in the IDEALS survey. In fact, 72% of students in the study scored a “C” or below, and a full quarter of them received a failing “grade.”
You may be asking yourself: what’s the significance of a failing “grade” in religious literacy? Given the many competing demands of college, why should I make time to learn about different faiths? The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) offers one answer to this question. Their research found that “a majority [of Americans] … frequently interact with people who do not share their political party (53%) or religion (51%) at work.” To collaborate and problem solve with colleagues who think differently than you do, it’s important to possess a foundation of knowledge that will help you understand where they’re coming from. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that employers are actively seeking hires who possess strong civic knowledge and intercultural skills.
While data points highlight the importance of focusing on religious literacy in college, the most compelling proof might come in the form of first-hand experiences of recent graduates. For this reason, we turned to IFYC’s alumni to learn how the interfaith knowledge they gained in college is showing up in their work lives. In a survey of our alumni across a range of professions, 83% felt that knowing how religious traditions contribute positively to society, as well as possessing knowledge of the history and practices of different religious traditions, would be essential to their professional success.
Recently, we also asked our alumni about situations they encountered at work where it was helpful to draw on a strong foundation of religious literacy. Here’s what we they told us:
These alumni offer a strong rationale for improving your religious literacy, but ultimately, it’s up to you to make time for interfaith learning in college. How can you imagine an interfaith knowledgebase serving you well in your career? How will religious literacy be essential to your professional success? If you consider these questions the next time you’re invited to enroll in a world religions class, join an interfaith dialogue, or participate in a religious diversity training, you just might be inclined to say “yes.”