Readings and Resources

Mapping the Field of Religious Literacy Education: A Working Retreat

On March 15, 2024, fifteen members of the Religion & Education Collaborative gathered at Princeton Theological Seminary for a full day of conversation about the field of religious literacy education. This was a unique opportunity to step back from the busyness of our daily work to really think and talk about what is happening in the field, from the most practical issues to the big theoretical questions. It was inspiring and energizing to be with this amazing group of people who are working to advance religious literacy in many so different ways, including elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, teacher preparation and professional development, and religious studies scholarship. This event was co-organized and led by Dan del Nido of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and Kate Soules, executive director of the Religion & Education Collaborative. 

No one will be surprised to hear that we left with just as many, if not more, questions than when we started. Religious literacy is a complex field with many stakeholders and methodologies. We are building a preliminary map of the field, but will need the input of many more voices to fill in all of the pieces. The challenges facing this work have changed over time and addressing those challenges requires new collaborations, more research, and many more conversations. We look forward to continuing these conversations and hope to have more opportunities like this in the future. 

Retreat Overview

March 15, 2024

Princeton Theological Seminary

There are numerous individuals and organizations working to promote constitutionally and academically sound K-12 religious literacy education in the United States today. However, these stakeholders tend to be fragmented and are often unable to effectively collaborate as a result (Marcus, Soules, & Callaway 2019). This working retreat is intended to take stock of the state of the field of religious literacy education in the post-pandemic era and serve as a step toward developing cohesion in the field of K-12 religious literacy education. We will convene a small number of core stakeholders to share knowledge and perspectives from their work promoting religious literacy education. 

Our aim is to develop a preliminary map of the field, including:

  • Major stakeholders in the field of K-12 religious literacy education, including K-12 educators developing best practices, researchers working on these and related topics, organizations that offer resources and/or services, consultants with a religious literacy focus, teacher training programs on religious literacy education, and others. 
  • Current working definitions of religious literacy according to which stakeholders operate. This includes identifying not only how current stakeholders define religious literacy as a concept, but also how they understand the goals of religious literacy education and other terminology they use to frame their work.
  • Current methodologies of stakeholders for promoting religious literacy education. How are different stakeholders approaching the task of religious literacy education? What resources and/or services do they provide? How do they engage with clients and build partnerships to further their efforts?
  • The state of religious (il)literacy in 2024. Does religious illiteracy remain “widespread” among Americans today (AAR, 2010)? How is religious literacy conceptualized and operationalized in different contexts? What challenges do stakeholders face in pursuing their work? What social/economic/political forces oppose the promotion of religious literacy education?
  • Next steps for developing a more complete map of the field of K-12 religious literacy education in the United States.

Desired Outcomes and Outputs:

  • Develop greater community and collaboration among participants working in various religious literacy education contexts;
  • Produce a “working draft” map of the field of religious literacy to report out on the findings from this event;
  • Define next steps to continue collaboration and research into mapping the field of religious literacy.

Next Steps:

Following the retreat, we hosted a series of online follow-up meetings, open to the full REC membership, to continue the discussion of the map of the field and concrete next steps. We initiated a new REC Reading Group, and other new initiatives and projects are also being developed by participants in the retreat. A full report on the retreat and our findings will be available later this year. 

This event was generously supported by: the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, and the Northeast Region of the American Academy of Religion.