For more than a century, Western diplomats and scholars were sure of one thing -- that religion's role in world affairs would decline as humanity evolved toward a future rooted in logic and science.
Those who didn't accept this vision were considered naive, irrational or perhaps even dangerous.
The problem? There is little evidence that this secularization theory is true. In fact, it has become increasingly obvious that journalists and diplomats must pay more attention to religious traditions and practices if they want to understand many of the conflicts shaping and shaking our world, argued historian John Wolffe of the Open University in England.
"Precisely because mainstream Western society is predominantly secular, a positive effort needs to be made to enable those who do not have a religious faith to have a better understanding both of the significant minorities in the West itself who have a religious commitment and of a continuing, and arguably growing, influence of religion in much of the rest of the world," he said, during the recent "Getting Religion" conference in Westminster, England, led by the Open University and Lapido Media.
To be blunt, he said, confusion about the role that religion plays in the real world is dangerous. But how will religious believers and unbelievers learn to understand each other if journalists don't learn to cover religion accurately and fairly?