What do Americans know about the world’s major religions? In 2019, the Pew Research Center sought to answer this very question by surveying approximately 11,000 Americans about their understanding of religious traditions practiced around the globe. The answer: not nearly enough.
According to the Pew survey, 62% of the respondents could correctly answer only half of the 32 religious knowledge questions. A mere 9% of respondents gave correct answers to more than three-quarters of the questions, and less than 1% earned a perfect score.
The results are worrisome in light of the controversial political and moral conflicts impacting the U.S. today that are connected to religion. Religion and spirituality shape our beliefs, motivations, and identity. Ignorance or misconceptions about the religion of others leads to increased hostility and intolerance that contributes to anti-Muslim bias, anti-Semitism, and other forms of religious discrimination.
Just as religious ignorance contributes to bias, a greater religious understanding has the power to build positive sentiment between fellow U.S. citizens and neighbors. To promote religious literacy among large populations, AVDF has supported several organizations that create and disseminate content through digital media. In 2023, AVDF and the Pew Charitable Trusts jointly funded the PBS Foundation to support a new religious literacy series through the popular YouTube channel Crash Course.
Crash Course hosts free digital video programming that provides instruction to viewers in a way that promotes intellectual curiosity and is easily digestible through short, creative episodes. The YouTube channel currently has 14.8 million subscribers and averages 220 million views each year.
“Crash Course is a trusted digital media source for teachers, students, and lifelong learners. The YouTube channel provides reliable and high-quality introductions to topics in the sciences and humanities, all in a light, interesting tone that keeps audiences engaged. The success of previous Crash Course series on topics in philosophy, literature, and history leads us to believe that this new series will educate millions of viewers about religious traditions practiced around the world,” said AVDF Director of Programs John Churchill.
The AVDF-supported series “Crash Course Survey of World Religions” will include 24 episodes, each between 8 and 15 minutes long. All episodes will be released on the YouTube channel by June 2025. Crash Course has gardened an extensive following on YouTube, one of the fastest-growing online platforms. With 75% of Crash Course viewers falling in the 13 to 34 age range, the digital program will introduce teens and young adults to a variety of religious traditions.
The introductory religion program will include content on major world religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. The series will also educate viewers on lesser-known religions such as Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism, and Native American practices.
“Crash Course Survey of World Religions will provide a foundational understanding of religion and an overview of the differences and commonalities among religious belief systems. The series aims to reach a broad audience of learners and explore with them the worldviews and cosmology of various religions by examining how ritual, community, morality, and meaning are imparted across religious practices,” said Stan Muller, Complexly Development Producer for Crash Course.
The series will be narrated by Crash Course co-founder John Green. Green, also a New York Times bestselling author, has hosted some of the most popular Crash Course series produced.