Another semester of teaching the History of Religion is coming to a close. Two courses this summer: World Religions and Religion and Society in the Modern World (mostly the British Isles and North America). I have been teaching these two courses in one form or another for about twelve years now. Sometimes they were offered twice a year; in one case I taught a classroom version and an online version of the same course running concurrently.
The curious fact? I have noticed over the years that students whose surnames indicate a Christian family history are less knowledgable about Christianity than students of non-Christian ethnicities, or who are immigrant Christians from Africa or the Philippines. I encounter thoughts and ideas that indicate a fundamental ignorance of Christianity with students named Smith or Jones, or they have very odd ideas about Christianity. I wonder if this comes from snippets of conversations with parents who went to church as children? For the generation I teach currently have often never been inside a church and their parents last attended as children. Immigrant Christians and immigrants who are non-Christian start fresh, in a zero-based form and read the course content and perhaps some secondary sources giving them a good grounding in what Christianity is. The immigrant Christians, of course, have a good grounding in their denominational beliefs which fits the course content. Those who have Christian grandparents only have rumour and half understood ideas their parents recall vaguely from childhood.
Anyway, to give any substance to this hypothesis would require a juicy research grant and expertise in random sampling techniques.