Expanding the AAR's Reach

In 2010, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life polled more than 3,400 U.S. adults to gauge what they knew about their own faiths and other religions. The results of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey showed that, on average, participants correctly answered only half of 32 questions about major world religions:

Previous surveys by the Pew Research Center have shown that America is among the most religious of the world’s developed nations. Nearly six-in-ten U.S. adults say that religion is “very important” in their lives, and roughly four-in-ten say they attend worship services at least once a week. But the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey shows that large numbers of Americans are uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions – including their own. Many people also think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are stricter than they really are (U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, pg. 7-8).

With religion often playing a role in causing or resolving social strife, the AAR recognizes the growing need to provide resources that fill common gaps in understanding. By facilitating engagement with scholars and their research, the AAR can help various publics access useful information and experience the value of nuanced thinking about religion. 



Goal II

Promote the public understanding of religion 

Strategy A:  Educate the public through religious literacy programs
Strategy B:  Serve as a valuable resource for public servants
Strategy C:  Serve as a valuable resource for news media
Strategy D:  Establish a high-profile online presence



Highlighted Initiatives


religious literacy guidelines

While K-12 public school educators can teach about religion, they need guidance on how to do so in ways that are academically and constitutionally sound. Helping these teachers discuss religion with more confidence may increase their likelihood of including it in their classes, which might also encourage students to continue that study in college. Similarly, having guidelines for undergraduate educators who design curricula requirements can shape the degree of religious literacy students gain by graduation.



resources for intermediary sectors

Intermediary groups—such as policymakers, journalists, law enforcement officers, museum curators, and educators—have the potential to affect thousands of people, far more than individual scholars or the AAR can accomplish alone. By serving as a resource to intermediary sectors, the AAR can leverage the vast expertise held by the AAR membership and provide insight into religious beliefs and practices that these influential persons may be unfamiliar with.



a new, user-friendly website

The AAR website contains a wealth of useful information, but its organizational structure and user interfaces are in need of considerable updates. To align the site with member needs and topics of interest to the public, the AAR will conduct a complete site overhaul. The redesigned website will employ improved navigation, bring visibility to the achievements of members and the work of the AAR, and present public-facing material that informs and engages.


Many people fail to grasp the importance of religion. It’s the first subject scrapped in schools, and yet it’s often what determines our worldview, our behavior, how we draft laws—the role it plays in society is enormous. When it comes to expertise on religion, no organization compares with the AAR, and its impact on the world needs to reflect that.
— Grace Ji-Sun Kim, AAR Board Member (2015-2018)

Spotlight on Volunteer Leadership

Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion   

The Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion fosters attention to the broad public understanding of religion and the role of religion in public life. It seeks to catalyze the skills and practices among AAR members that promote the public understanding of religion and equip members to more effectively engage issues of religion in the public sphere. The committee also collaborates with individuals and organizations to promote the public understanding of religion by using many channels to reach many publics.

Programming highlights include a pre-conference workshop at the Annual Meeting that focuses on developing media skills, the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion, service on the Journalism Award jury, and the Public Scholars Project, a joint initiative of the AAR and the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute that provides resources to the public. 


Long-Range Goals: