Until recently I didn’t have a term for it.
I had noticed that very few people know much about other people’s religions. What does a menorah represent? Why do some Muslim women wear hijab and others do not? What’s the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh, and which ones wear the turbans?
I knew that few people can answer these questions, let alone knew the difference between Sunni and Shi’a or between Conservative and Reform Jews. What I had somehow not suspected is that most people in the United States know little about their own religious traditions. That was a surprise.
Maybe I should have suspected it. I have had Jewish friends ask me to tell them the story of Joseph and his brothers in order to better understand Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I have long known that my fellow Catholics know little about their own powerful social justice traditions. I guess maybe I thought that was specialized knowledge.
But watch this video clip of Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University, discussing the problem of religious illiteracy: