Bible Literacy Project

Bible Literacy Report

What do American students know about the Bible, and what do they need to know in order to get a good education?

This research project consists of two parts:
(I) a qualitative research study of what the best high-school English teachers think their students need to know about the Bible and
(II) the only recent nationally representative survey of American teens' religious knowledge to uncover what American students currently know about the Bible (and other religious texts).

Qualitative Research Findings

In a diverse sample of high school English teachers in 10 states, 40 out of 41 teachers said Bible knowledge gives students a distinct educational advantage. Ninety percent of high-school English teachers said it was important for both college-bound and "regular" students to be biblically literate. An Illinois teacher stated, "I think from the standpoint of academic success, it is imperative that college-bound students be literate. For the others, I think it's important for them to understand their own culture, just to be well-grounded citizens of the United States - to know where the institutions and ideas come from."

National Representative Gallup Survey: Bible Literacy Project Analysis

This Gallup Survey is based on a national representative sample of 1,002 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, who were interviewed between May 20 and June 27, 2004. It represents the first extensive, nationally representative survey of the Bible and religious knowledge among American teens in recent years.

The good news is that strong majorities of American teens recognize the basic meaning of widely used Judeo-Christian terms such as "Easter," "Adam and Eve," "Moses," "The Golden Rule," and "The Good Samaritan."

However, only a minority of American teens appear to be "Bible literate," reaching the level of knowledge similar to that defined by high school English teachers as necessary to a good education. Substantial minorities lack even the most basic working knowledge of the Bible. Almost one out of ten teens believes that Moses is one of the twelve Apostles. About the same proportion, when asked what Easter commemorates, or to identify Adam and Eve, respond "don't know."

The Bible Literacy Project analysis of the Gallup data concludes "No controversy among adults, however heated, should be considered an excuse for leaving the next generation ignorant about a body of knowledge crucial to understanding American art, literature, history, language, and culture."

Bible Literacy Report II

What do today's college students need to know about the Bible to participate fully and equally in the courses taught in America's elite colleges and universities? This study surveyed 39 English professors at 34 top U.S. colleges and universities to learn their assessment of how important Bible literacy is to college-level study of English and American literature. What do incoming freshmen in college-level English courses need to know about the Bible?

Almost without exception, English professors we surveyed at major American colleges and universities see knowledge of the Bible as a deeply important part of a good education. The virtual unanimity and depth of their responses on this question are striking. The Bible is not only a sacred scripture to millions of Americans, it is also arguably (as one Northwestern professor stated), the "most influential text in all of Western culture.)

This report concludes that high schools should make basic Bible knowledge part of their curriculum, especially for college preparatory students. Doing so requires developing a variety of educational materials and curricula that simultaneously (a) acknowledge the Bible's status as sacred scripture to millions of Americans, (b) are fair to students of all faith traditions, and (c) are of high academic quality.

The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide

The Bible & Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide contains legal standards on how to teach the Bible constitutionally to an academic course in public schools.

The Guide, co-published by Bible Literacy Project and the First Amendment Center, is endorsed by 21 national educational, advocacy and faith groups, including the National School Boards Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Christian Educators Association International, the American Jewish Congress, and the National Association of Evangelicals, among others.