Cultural and religious illiteracy are not new themes in the national academic discussion, but only recently have certain initiatives set their aims at understanding their causes and then attempted to bring a debate about these issues out of academia and into the real world. The percentage of functional illiterates in Italy is significant, and its effect causes hardship and social conflict. The issue is no longer strictly linked to the need to simply bring literacy to the population, but rather it extends to the inability to help the population master the processes of knowledge acquisition and the skills to generate social communication, socio-economic well-being and cultural growth. Religious illiteracy contributes to intensifying these problems within a pluralistic, multi-denominational and multi-religious society, slowing down the mechanisms of integration, citizen participation and the sharing of public space.
This is the result of a process that is first and foremost historical. In this context, the work of historians can and must relate how illiteracy today is experienced as the result of antagonisms and misconceptions. It also expresses the will to create niches in order to differentiate. Even to discriminate. The project’s first objective was to produce a volume that, while using the language of a variety of specific specialized fields, is able to have an influence on decision-making processes within a less-specialized, general public and to foster improved debate among legislators, teachers, and social agents. The report on religious illiteracy in Italy is set forth as an instrument to pose questions, outline strategies and contextualize the issue of the absence of a religious dimension ineducational processes on a national and international scale. We have produced the report in full knowledge that there are already many excellent studies in Italy that have confronted this problem. These studies have had diverse outcomes, and we have drawn on these studies and outcomes in order to offer a bold proposal. Setting aside the debate over the hour of religious instruction in schools (which is an open issue but only a part of the phenomenon we wish to outline), the lack of religious matter in school programs has produced – and continues to produce – difficulties in social and cultural order that cannot be traced back with analysis strictly linked to a single discipline. For this reason it is important to pose multidisciplinary questions and find interdisciplinary solutions.
We have, therefore, chosen a theoretical and content-based approach. Thanks to the contributions of jurists, theologians, historians, sociologists, experts in political affairs and educators, this volume formulates an organic reflection on aspects of cultural and religious illiteracy that have challenged the educational system. In addition, the profound changes in the Italian religious landscape are an added challenge to the methodological and disciplinary character of our new social and institutional frontiers.