Regardless of one’s own religious identity or heritage—or even whether one likes or dislikes organized religion—acquiring a basic competency or fluency about religion is fundamental to the understanding of any culture and its visual and performative arts, literature, ethical worldview and legislation, as well as sciences and technologies. Be it a medieval painting, a novel like Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, a Supreme Court opinion, an archeological or modern urban plan, medically attending to patients in the wake of an environmental or humanitarian disaster, or interpreting what might be at issue in diplomatic or trade negotiations (such as Brexit and historic antimony between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland), the ability to “read” and parse explicit and implicit influences of complex if not also conflicting religious meanings is key to almost any analysis.
Being informed with a basic understanding of the manifestations and expressions of religious symbols and nuances equips one with deeper insight regarding artistic and literary expressions as well as social, political, and global events. Religious literacy entails the ability to discern and analyze the history and presence of the influence of a religion, let alone of multiple religions, both on the surface but also deep within cultural phenomena.
Furthermore, the extent to which the undercurrents of a religion and inter-religious engagements infuse, for good or for ill, social strife and civic participation, market expansions and xenophobia, efforts in cultural preservation, as well as conflict resolution and peace-building through secular and inter-faith NGOs makes the need for (inter-)religious literacy all the more pressing. Regardless of area or field, experts and professionals who are literate in the plurality of religions are in a better position to recognize, navigate, and respond to individual, interpersonal, and political articulations.
The study of religion at George Mason prepares students for encounters with diverse religious traditions, religious identities, and religious frameworks. This knowledge, in turn, precipitates a better understanding of our local community, as well as what is expressed elsewhere around the globe.