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Religious literacy: Challenges for Today

Religious Literacy: Challenges for Today is the theme of the latest conference organised by the Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin. It will take place on Thursday 16 January 2020, at 9 am in the JM Synge Theatre, TCD. Registration begins at 8.30am. The cost of the conference is €35 (the earlybird offer which will increase to €45 nearer the event). It includes tea, coffee, and lunch.

Pat Coyle of Jesuit Communications Ireland spoke recently with Dr Fáinche Ryan, Director of the Loyola Institute, about the upcoming conference. In her interview, Dr Ryan describes religious illiteracy as ignorance of core religious beliefs, symbols and practices operative within a culture.  She says that a feature of the culture in Ireland today is the increasing absence of Christian or indeed religious literacy and that this poses a significant challenge for the well-being of Christian churches.

The dangers for wider society must also be of concern, she says, and quotes the principal speaker at the conference, Professor Alberto Melloni who says that “Religion is like iron. You can make good use of it or you can make bad use of it.”

Fáinche Ryan says that when ignorance replaces literacy space is created where fundamental misunderstandings will occur and ignorance will feed upon itself. “Without religious literacy how can fiction be distinguished from truth?” she asks, adding that the symposium will explore questions like these from the perspective of both academics and practitioners. “We will ask both why are things the way they are, and what can be done.”

Dr Rayn also lists the guest speakers and their topics and among them is the aforementioned Alberto Melloni is Professor of History of Christianity in the University of Modena-Reggio and  Director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies. He will address the topic of European Religious Illiteracy: the historical framework of a removed agenda.

Dr. Johanna Gustafsson Lundberg writes about the church in late modern society. She has also analyzed questions concerning religion, social practices, and the meaning of religious symbols in the public sphere, the subject which gathered in significance both in Sweden and, more broadly, in Europe due to the growing polarization. Her paper will address the controversial ‘handshake debates’ in the context of Nordic secularism.

Nick Spencer is a Senior Fellow at Theos. He is the author of a number of books and reports, most recently The Political Samaritan: how power hijacked a parable (Bloomsbury, 2017), and he will address the issue of the media and religion in his talk entitled  Illiterate, incurious, indifferent: religion and the media today.

Dr Ryan says the event will also focus directly on the Irish experience of religious literacy and illiteracy with contributions from pastoral workers and priests working in the area of education. Fr Gerard Condon is a PP from Co. Cork and his paper is entitled Ignore, Deplore, Restore, Explore? Observations of a Diocesan Advisor.

Frances Rowland is a Pastoral Development Worker with the Diocese of Kerry since 2003. Her concern is to enable people to live and minister in a life-giving way and to deepen their relationship with God. Can you hear me now? – reflections of a pastoral worker is the title of her paper.

Fr Gerard Tanham from Dublin asks Are the people of Ireland still communicating — listening, speaking, engaging — with the church/religion: in his address. Emma Rothwell, a secondary school teacher look at the teaching of RE in schools which she says is ‘a subject unlike any other’.

The conference will be of interest to a wide range of people and practitioners, according to Dr Ryan, including pastoral workers, catechists, educators, clergy and religious, cultural commentators, academics and anyone with a concern for the future direction of Irish society.

You can book for the conference by clicking here.