Religious Literacy?

Having taught intro classes in World Religions, and after years active in interfaith work, I thought I was fairly familiar with the “Great Religions.”  Turns out, I still have a great deal to learn.

To truly understand our world we have to have a working knowledge of world faith traditions.  Religious or not, a certain degree of religious literacy is necessary.

Today’s column presents a brief introduction to Yoruba:

Yoruba: The Greatest Religion You’ve Never Heard Of

“Ifa [Yoruba] is one of an interrelated network of religions with African roots, including Vodou, Santeria and Sango Baptism, that appear to be gaining popularity in the United States, including in Maryland, as some African-Americans seek a spiritual experience firmly grounded in their own cultural heritage.”

“These traditions are indeed growing in the U.S.,” says Albert Wuaku, a professor at Florida International University who specializes in African and Caribbean religions. “They have a strong appeal to groups of African-Americans who have been struggling with questions of identity, who don’t feel they fit so well within the American system. They’re especially appealing to women, who tend to hold more powerful positions within the African traditions than in Western cultures.”

from The Baltimore Sun

(note:  it’s easy for us to condescend and judge more deeply-rooted indigenous traditions as “primitive” and “superstitious.”  Critique is important, yet the wise and rational way to learn about new thoughts, beliefs and practices is to approach with respect and curiosity, ask questions, hear from the believers.  With a better understanding of the history and culture, more balanced decisions and conclusions can be considered.  This applies to any serious literacy when it comes to any religions)

Categories: world religionTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Hello again Chris. I am mixed in my reactions about returning to ancient, indigenous and tribal religions just because, “they were ours in the beginning and in our language and not imposed on us”. I get that because it speaks of cultural freedom, autonomy to choose your own beliefs. But are they really each choosing them, or is it like a return to a reactive heritage revival which often is very anti-scientific, and sees most of modernity as a ruse for white supremacy (which it is at times). I think young people and indigenous people today want to not be forced into a belief systems like the old-time religious were as families had so much control over their children’s lives. Those days are gone. Our children grow up and follow their own paths but are also very influenced by contemporary mystical rituals like tarot cards which are on the rise and vampire quests. These in my mind are fruitless ways to guide yourself even if you have freedom of choice. We have lost many young people to the drug and cult cultures because they have no grounding what so ever in critical discernment of whom is trustworthy to follow..

    I do agree that calling indigenous and non-monotheistic religions superstitious is very hypocritical if you compare the rituals of say, communion vs banging a drum to drive away evil spirits. I am remembering a story in Robert Wright’s book, The Evolution of God, where a Christian missionary in a small African tribal area was trying to convince an elder to convert to Christianity as it was the” true” religion. The elder said to him, what is it that makes your religion anymore truer than mine? The missionary started a familiar hackneyed set of phrases, about how God has come as a man and was crucified to save all of humanity. He died for our sins so you and me could go to heaven. The elder replied, what is this heaven? to which the man replied a place where the saved live forever in peace and glory. The elder said , oh, have you been there and seen this place? To which the missionary condescendingly said, in my faith we believe it exists without ever having seen it. The elder says, that is not truth, that is your belief and it is superstitious. HA HA. touche.

    • I think I’m with you on most of this, Marty. I wasn’t suggesting people “return” to indigenous religions, but simply to get over our “religious supremacy” and recognize the world of faith is much larger and more diverse than many of us have been taught.
      I totally agree on the need to teach “critical discernment,” especially perhaps to younger generations who may have limited “religious literacy.”
      Yes, I enjoy reading those stories of native elders pushing back on missionaries. John Muir tells a few of those.
      Thanks once again for joining the small circle of conversation!

  2. I studied world religions through a spiritual base (Religious Science) for decades and came to believe the adage “the more you study religions, the less you believe” because I finally realized…it’s all made up, mainly by men in power to ensure their control.

    • Buffy, totally agree. The more you read about how they each claim “the truth” the more you see it is very self-serving and control dynamics. Today, these leaders try to do this by political movement mostly in the secular space and by global corporations. New religions are started by crazed cult leaders who have lost their way so badly they think they have all the answers. It is also monitored now by the law and media which expose and also exploit the narratives. Some are convinced as they have read so little and others try to convict them and send the masters of deceit to prison as criminals. e.g. NIXIM Oh yeh, the Christians will say. that is what they did to my Lord and look what happened. Please read about Emperor Constantine supposed conversion first before you get to carried about about the “truth” and exponential growth of early Christianity.

    • Can’t argue with that, Buffy. We might wonder how the world would look if the “great religions” had been founded and propagated by women. Yet, overall, you make a cogent point about belief which can certainly dwindle with wider, and wiser, study. Thanks!

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