© 2007

Overcoming Religious Illiteracy

A Cultural Studies Approach to the Study of Religion in Secondary Education

  • Authors

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvi
  2. Foundations

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-8
    2. Diane L. Moore
      Pages 9-25
    3. Diane L. Moore
      Pages 53-88
    4. Diane L. Moore
      Pages 89-104
  3. Implementation

  4. Conclusion

    1. Diane L. Moore
      Pages 177-178
  5. Epilogue

    1. Diane L. Moore
      Pages 179-181
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 183-226

About this book


In Overcoming Religious Illiteracy, Harvard professor and Phillips Academy teacher Diane L. Moore argues that though the United States is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world, the vast majority of citizens are woefully ignorant about religion itself and the basic tenets of the world's major religious traditions. The consequences of this religious illiteracy are profound and include fueling the culture wars, curtailing historical understanding and promoting religious and racial bigotry. In this volume, Moore combines theory with practice to articulate how to incorporate the study of religion into the schools in ways that will invigorate classrooms and enhance democratic discourse in the public sphere.


Cultural Studies education learning religion teacher education teaching

Bibliographic information


'Moore's new book is a vitally important contribution to the growing international literature on educating the public especially the young about religions. At a time when learning about religion is being debated in Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries and when international bodies such as UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe are giving close attention to teaching and learning about religions, Moore's important book will attract much attention internationally.' - Robert Jackson, DLitt Director, Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of Warwick and Editor of the British Journal of Religious Education

Moore has brought insight, clarity, common sense, and long experience to one of the most important and contentious issues of our day-the question of religion in the public schools. Religious literacy goes to the heart of the purpose of education in a democracy that can no longer afford to remain uneducated about the world's religions. This book is a must-read for teachers, school administrators, parents, and every citizen concerned with the quality of American education.' - Diana L. Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Director of The Pluralism Project, Harvard University

'Moore's lucid, thoughtful book wrestles with a fundamental educational question-what should we teach our children? She argues persuasively the critical importance of religious literacy for survival in the 21st century and goes deeply into the contentious debates around the teaching of religion in public schools. Moore convinces that we keep the teaching of world religions out of our schools at our own peril. Read it, debate it, act on it.' Steve Seidel, Bauman and Bryant Chair in Arts and Education, Graduate School of Education, and Director of Project Zero, Harvard University

'In a world fraught with religious and cultural conflicts, Moore models how to teach about religion respectfully as part of the goal of educating for democratic citizenship. What is unique about this book is that the author explores both the philosophy as well as the pedagogical challenges of using a cultural studies approach to teach about religion. This important book will be of interest to educators and any citizen concerned about our country's religious illiteracy.' - Marya R. Levenson, Professor of the Practice in Education and the Harry S. Levitan Director of the Education Program, Brandeis University

"Overcoming Religious Illiteracy is unique. Moore not only persuades us about why we ought to teach about religion in our public schools, but she also tells us how to do it-practically, sensitively, and effectively." - James W. Fraser, Professor, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University

'Religious illiteracy in our country and in the world is rampant. Ignorance of the faith and cultural practices of others is the source of great misunderstanding and suffering. Moore's book proposes an inquiry-based approach for American public schools that opens the door to religious discussion and reflection in an atmosphere of respect and cultural awareness. This book is pioneering. It offers a strong base of theory and concrete foundations for practice to bring a new dimension to teaching about diversity.' - Renee Cherow-O'Leary, Assistant Professor of English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

"In recent years religion has become a dominant feature of global politics and American public life. Today active participation as informed citizens in our multicultural society demands knowledge of the world's religious traditions. Moore's Overcoming Religious Illiteracy offers a template for achieving that goal. It should be required reading for all secondary school educators.' - Donald K. Swearer, Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies, Harvard Divinity School

'Moore convincingly argues that religion should be taught in public schools by giving both solid theoretical reasons and productive examples of how to do so practically. I am sure this fascinating study will enrich the debate not only in academic circles but in public discourse as well. This is a remarkable and innovative book that should be widely read by Americans and Europeans alike.' - Wolfram Weisse, Professor of Religious Education, University of Hamburg and Director of the Centre for World Religions in Dialogue

"In a world marked by the inability of societies to engage with religious difference, the need to combat religious and cultural illiteracy has become urgent. Diane Moore presents a strong and convincing case for the inclusion of the study of religion as a cultural phenomenon in the curricula of schools and, indeed, for a liberal arts college education. She persuasively demonstrates the destabilizing consequences of religious illiteracy for the proper functioning of democratic societies. A must read for anyone concerned with the crucial role of education in fostering healthy multiracial, multicultural and multireligious societies." - Ali S. Asani, Professor of the Practice of Indo-Muslim Languages and Cultures, Harvard University

"Overcoming Religious Illiteracy is a must read for those concerned with the future of public education in a multi-religious society. Moore offers thoughtful suggestions for educators preparing to tackle this difficult subject.' - Adam Strom, Director of Research and Development, Facing History and Ourselves

'Teachers everywhere should welcome Overcoming Religious Illiteracy. Finally here is a text that gives instructors the perspective and tools they need to teach about religion in a way that avoids the shrill stereotypes, over simplistic assumptions, and unexamined sectarianism that too often beleaguers this topic. Moore links theory with practice, offering educators both methodologies and resources to teach responsibly and creatively about religion.' - Susan McCaslin, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies and Associate Dean of Faculty, Phillips Academy

'Moore's well-written and very readable book, Overcoming Religious Illiteracy, is important for two reasons. It is a cogent guide for any district, school or teacher looking to integrate the study or discussion of religion into the curriculum and it outlines clear steps for making any class a learning-centered, inquiry based experience where students participate fully in the teaching and learning process.' - Charles Skidmore, Principal, Arlington High School

'Concerned by the detrimental consequences of religious illiteracy and the divisive nature of the culture wars, Moore appeals to teachers in particular for change. She argues that teachers should be 'treated as professionals, supported as scholars, recognized as moral agents, and given voice as public intellectuals.' An award winning educator, Moore offers teaching models for constructing learning communities to stimulate student-centered inquiry about religions while remaining respectful of religious beliefs.

How refreshing! This is a book of fundamental importance to those interested in educational reform.' Heidi Roupp, World History teacher and founding member of the World History Association

"Moore takes her readers seriously, as she does her students, and challenges us to debate the purpose of education, especially vis-à-vis democracy and the possibilities inherent in talking to each other across differences. Her contributions to this conversation are based on years of classroom teaching as well as scholarship, but she ultimately defies stale scholarly logic: she deftly bridges the chasm between theory and practice, and she dares express an optimism so profound that it is a form of resistance in itself." -Shipley Robertson Salewski, Teacher, 8th Grade English, KIPP Summit Academy

'Moore's in-depth case studies provide teachers with what is often the missing element in substantial theoretical work-how to transfer the intellectual concepts they find compelling into the classroom. Moore does so in a way that will have impact for both teachers and students.' - Clare R. Sisisky, Director and Teacher, Center for the Humanities, Henrico County Public Schools