Dr. Steven Clark Cunningham was born in Denver, Colorado. After graduating from Creighton University with majors in chemistry and Spanish, he attended medical school at George Washington University, finished residency in general surgery at the University of Maryland, and completed a fellowship in surgery of the liver and pancreas at Johns Hopkins University. A list of Dr Cunningham’s medical writings is found
. In addition to his medical training, he is currently a graduate student and at the Harvard Extension School, with a focus on religious studies. He also has served there as a teaching assistant for HarvardX’s MOOC (massive open online course) “Religion, Conflict and Peace.”
Learn how to better understand the rich and complex ways that religions function in historic and contemporary contexts.
Explore the diverse and complex roles that religions play in both promoting and mitigating violence.
Some Ways to be Religiously Illiterate*
Think that religion is simply the rites, rituals, and ceremonies that are commonly performed as part of a given religion…
(…religion is much more complex than this).
Think that a religion is defined by the scripture of that particular religion…
(…scripture is important to many religions, but religions are more than scripture and are not limited to their scripture).
Think that religions are monolithic and unchanging over time…
(…religions are actually very dynamic, changing over time, and from place to place, and from person to person).
Think of religions as things that can do something, in other words, as actors with agency…
(…religions do not do things, anything; rather, people who interpret religions different ways do different things).
See the actions of individuals or communities through the lens of their religion…
(…people are more than their religions, and the reasons people do things are rarely just religious alone).
Hold an entire religious community responsible for the actions of an individual in that religious community…
(…people who commit violent acts are to be blamed for those violent acts, not the many other people who happen to interpret the same religion).
How to be Religiously Literate*
Learn to tell the difference between devotional expression of religion and the study of religion.
Recognize that religions are internally diverse, not uniform, or monolithic, and there are many interpretations of each religion.
Understand that religions and their narratives evolve and change with the times.
See religion as embedded in and influencing all dimensions of culture, as opposed to being separate.
Understand religion as being situated and interpreted in a particular way, depending on one’s context.
*Credit Harvard Divinity School’s
Religious Literacy Project
Note: Please do not jump to conclusions about me (or anyone) based on a list of books. Just because I read it does not mean I like, support, endorse, or recommend it, and many books I like, support, endorse, and recommend may not be present in this sample. I am always happy to have a constructive conversation about books I have read or am reading.
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Muhammad, by Karen Armstrong
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins
Overcoming Religious Illiteracy: A Cultural Studies Approach to the Study of Religion in Secondary Education
After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam, by Lesley Hazleton
How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, by Bart D. Ehrman
The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad, by Lesley Hazleton
Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation; by J. Philip Newell
The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan
God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer, by Bart D. Ehrman
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, by Karen Armstrong
Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto, by Lesley Hazelton
The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, by N. T. Wright
The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View, by Tim Crane
Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Nonviolence in Religious Traditions, by Daniel Smith-Christopher
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, by Marcus J. Borg
Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris
Living Religions, 10th ed., by Mary Pat Fisher and Robin Rinehart
Anthology of Living Religions, 3rd Ed, by Mary Pat Fisher and Lee W. Bailey
Jesus: The Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary
The Righteous Mind
When Peace is Not Enough
A History of God
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett
God is Not Great
The Bible Challenge
The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, by Bart D. Ehrman
The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis
Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction,
by A. C. Grayling
The Gospel in Brief: The Life of Jesus, by Leo Tolstoy
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by by Jonathan Haidt
Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today, by John Shelby Spong
Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in a Multicultural America, by James W. Fraser
Educating the Right Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality, by Michael W. Apple
Palestinian Art, by Gannit Ankori
Intersectionality (Key Concepts)
by Patricia Hill Collins, Sirma Bilge
Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View? by Normal Malcolm
Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, by Bart Ehrman
Happiness: A Very Short Introduction, by Daniel M. Haybron
Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It, by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Logic and Sin in the Writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, by Philip Shields
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Spiraling out of Control