The concept of literacy has become a well-used term of late, applied to over 30 areas of study and practice, ranging from the functional (financial, digital) to the description of current trends (emotional, environmental) and the more abstract (philosophical, critical). Like many of these, religious literacy is an attempt to define and modernise a pursuit for understanding our world that is as ancient as creation stories. In this chapter we look at one such traditional model – at once ancient and yet new in the sense that it seeks to renew and re-energise one of the most important of contemporary debates.
The chapter is divided into three sections. The first articulates the ancient philosophical concept of lokahi from its Hawaiian roots to its post-modern relevance. The second engages with four key aspects of the definition of religious literacy as proposed by Dinham and Jones (2010), and proposes a contested definition of religious literacy as lokahi, in response. The third presents three case studies of religious literacy in practice in different professional contexts and continents. A brief conclusion brings us back to the ‘new’ contribution that an ancient tradition can offer to the contemporary world.
Concept of lokahi
The Lokahi Foundation, like many interreligious organisations that have sprung up in the UK in recent years, aims to deepen public understanding of religion and increase its sophistication. Most agencies recognise that the promotion of religious literacy as a civic practice, while neither simple nor straightforward, is primarily a matter of broadening the sense of human religiosity as a significant phenomenon for all spheres of modern society. Lokahi, however, is distinctive in seeing religious diversity not as a problem to be managed but as an inevitable and rich source of human diversity. In probing the foundations of religious beliefs and values of all kinds, lokahi begins with the conviction that diversity is inherent in individuals and communities of faith. The task is not to elide but to value difference and embrace it as part of working with others for the common good.
Simply put, the concept of lokahi means ‘harmony through diversity’. It draws on and weaves together a number of ideas. The most remote, yet arguably the most important, is the religious culture of Hawaii and, quite literally, the Hawaiian geology and the volcanic landscape that supports it.