Fostering faith and religious literacy at the Maxwell Institute

11.22.2019 | Blair Hodges

In September, Sister Joy D. Jones delivered a remarkable address about religious education and fostering peaceful communities during a devotional event in Holladay, Utah.

“Safety comes in engaging, not avoiding,” said Sister Jones, who serves as general Primary president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fear of differences in religious beliefs often becomes a greater obstacle to peace than the actual differences themselves, she added.

Sister Jones invited those in attendance to become more literate—that is, more familiar with other religions, with other people’s beliefs. She listed some qualities that help foster fruitful discussions: Be informed, civil, sincere, clear, natural, meek, and patient. As Aubrey Eyre noted in the Church Newsroom article covering the event, the most natural human response is to become defensive against differences, to protect one’s own beliefs. But people in healthy societies resist that natural tendency. And they keep working on it, because “goodwill is a work in progress.”

Crucially, Sister Jones pointed out that religious literacy is a key component of protecting religious freedom. Including religion in school curriculum can foster shared understanding and peace. We recently announced that our executive director Spencer Fluhman will soon be a visiting scholar at UCSB. He says his passion for religious studies is partly fueled by a concern to foster peaceful relationships in communities with diverse beliefs.

“I worry about religious illiteracy, not knowing about the community life of my neighbors,” Dr. Fluhman said when his 2020 appointment was announced. “Religious studies is a democratic process that can deepen and broaden that understanding.”

At the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, we gather and nurture disciple-scholars in order to fortify Latter-day Saints in their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and also to engage the world of religious ideas. This fortification and engagement isn’t always a separate process!

If you’re interested in increasing your religious literacy—about your own faith and also the faith of others—I invite you to check out the Maxwell Institute Podcast. You might start with Catherine Cornille’s excellent interview, “The risks and rewards of inter-religious dialogue.” If you can’t listen, there’s also a full transcript of this and every other episode for you to read.

Learn more about Sister Jones’s powerful devotional address from the Church Newsroom article by Aubrey Eyre:

Sister Jones shares 7 things to ‘be’ when participating in civil dialogues about religious education and freedom