Fostering Religious Literacy through the Arts: The Case of Islam

August 2014

Over the past several years, academics working in various disciplines have begun to confront religious illiteracy in their work. Religious illiteracy is the propensity to conceive of religion as an actor external to, rather than a construction enmeshed in, political, cultural, and economic contexts. Religious literacy, by contrast, interrogates the role of these factors in constructions of religion. Though academics have proposed several techniques to combat this issue, among the most successful, both in conversations and in courses, have been the arts, broadly defined. Educators have the potential to utilize diverse media—encompassing both visual and sonic cultures—as powerful pedagogical tools. In the case of Islam, they enable us to move beyond teaching solely about doctrine and toward an exploration of the role that various artistic expressions—such as calligraphy, architecture, Qur’anic recitation, poetry, music, and dance—play in Muslim societies, helping to address tendencies to view the religion of over 1.5 billion people as a monolith. This seminar will assemble scholars and students from diverse disciplines, both within and beyond Islamic studies, who have used the arts to teach about Islam. Organizers will highlight best practices and strategies for teaching and will consider the broader implications their methods could have on informing the pedagogy of religious studies.