"You don't own it in your heart..."
What is the goal of religious literacy training? Is it an intellectual understanding of the world's religions, or is it more than that? Should it be more than that?
I was excited to see this article in The Tablet, published on March 15, 2017, because it confronts this dilemma of the purpose of religious literacy. In it, Major General Tim Cross, a retired officer in the British military, discusses what he believes to be the failures of religious literacy training in this organization. While it may provide officers with "an intellectual understanding of the role of religion in geopolitics," Cross believes that this is an insufficient understanding for those who are tasked with resolving/managing religiously-motivated violent conflict. The article continues,
"The Foreign Office’s basic introduction to religious literacy module can take half a day, and a spokesman confirmed the optional Religion and Foreign Policy course takes two days. [Major General Cross] said officials still failed to grasp why, for example, Sunni and Shia Muslims would fight each other. 'So you can explain the distinction, but I don’t think anyone in Whitehall really understands how somebody can blow themselves to pieces on the basis of believing that the prophet Mohammed’s successor was bloke x instead of bloke y,' he said."
Religious literacy training can certainly provide people with the "nuts and bolts" of religion-- the texts, rituals, sites, history, "characters"-- but can it teach people about faith? Faith is what motivates religious individuals to fast, to love, to fight, and yes-- to "blow themselves to pieces." Can that type of religious devotion be communicated effectively to non-believers, or to those that are only nominally religious? Cross isn't so sure:
“The trouble is that if you believe that you are – I call them ‘intellectual idiots’ – people educated beyond their intelligence – if you sit there in Whitehall thinking ‘well all this religion stuff is complete bollocks’ – then you can go and sit for half a day and be told it’s important and you can understand this stuff, but you don’t own it in your heart,” he said.
Read the full article here.