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Monday, September 10, 2007

Religion profs who don't know much religion?

Dinesh d'Souza defends himself against unreasonable accusationsthat he supports terrorism, but also points up a problem I have bellyached about myself: Religion profs who don't know much about religion. Responding to a baseless claim from one prominent religion scholar that he was a bin Laden supporter, d'Souza took the opportunity to ask him what he knew about the Muslim world,
During the cross-examination, I asked Wolfe a series of simple questions about the Muslim world. What percentage of Muslims around the globe live in a democracy? He had no idea. Which is the largest Muslim country in the world? He answered, "India," which is not a Muslim country at all. (The correct answer is Indonesia, which also happens to be a democracy.) I then asked him to name the world's second largest Muslim democracy? Once again Wolfe ventured, "India?" (The correct answer is Bangladesh.) And on it went. I looked into the audience and saw many students, including Wolfe's fans, with their mouths open. They couldn't believe that one of their college's most distinguished professors had been exposed as a complete ignoramus. Remember that this is a fellow who heads the religion center at Boston College.

Sadly, it's nothing new or unusual. In fact, it used to be a big problem in media too. I remember the bad old days of the Religion Page, dominated by vitriolic cranks, militant atheists, and clerical dullards, while the real news about religion spilled across the front pages - often covered by people who had not been given any background or context. I almost hesitate to point to any one person or group who is beginning (admittedly quit slowly) to change that, because many people played critical roles. But Terry Mattingly, GetReligion.org (as in, "the press doesn't 'get' religion - but maybe a few pointers will help") and BeliefNet come immediately to mind. There's also Adherents, which stockpiles massses of information on faith groups. Heck, you can even find out what Bruce Springsteen believes and how prominent a religion Wicca is in the United States (you might be surprised).

Anyway, a journalist should find it much easier today than decades ago to actually know what's going on in religious communities, so these goofs will, one hopes, become rare.

I don't know what to do about the religion profs though.

More d'Souza here and here.

By the way, The Spiritual Brain is being translated into Bahasa Indonesia, the language of Indonesia and, I understand, of Malaysia, which is probably the reason I have received an invitation to a Malaysian reception this week.

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