Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't

Paperback | March 11, 2008

byStephen Prothero

not yet rated|write a review

The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of shocking religious illiteracy.

  • Only 10 percent of American teenagers can name all five major world religions and 15 percent cannot name any.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life's basic questions, yet only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels and most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.

Despite this lack of basic knowledge, politicians and pundits continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed—or misinterpreted—by the vast majority of Americans.

"We have a major civic problem on our hands," says religion scholar Stephen Prothero. He makes the provocative case that to remedy this problem, we should return to teaching religion in the public schools. Alongside "reading, writing, and arithmetic," religion ought to become the "Fourth R" of American education.

Many believe that America's descent into religious illiteracy was the doing of activist judges and secularists hell-bent on banishing religion from the public square. Prothero reveals that this is a profound misunderstanding. "In one of the great ironies of American religious history," Prothero writes, "it was the nation's most fervent people of faith who steered us down the road to religious illiteracy. Just how that happened is one of the stories this book has to tell."

Prothero avoids the trap of religious relativism by addressing both the core tenets of the world's major religions and the real differences among them. Complete with a dictionary of the key beliefs, characters, and stories of Christianity, Islam, and other religions, Religious Literacy reveals what every American needs to know in order to confront the domestic and foreign challenges facing this country today.

Pricing and Purchase Info

$15.04 online
$18.50 list price (save 18%)
In stock online
Ships free on orders over $25

From the Publisher

The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of shocking religious illiteracy.Only 10 percent of American teenagers can name all five major world religions and 15 percent cannot name any.Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life's basic ques...

STEPHEN PROTHEROis theNew York Timesbestselling author ofReligious LiteracyandGod Is Not One, a professor of religion at Boston University, and a senior fellow at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. His work has been featured on the cover ofTimemagazine,The Oprah Winfrey Show,The Daily Show with Jon...

other books by Stephen Prothero

God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World
God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the ...

Paperback|May 3 2011

$20.61 online$21.99list price(save 6%)
A Nation Of Religions: The Politics Of Pluralism In Multireligious America
A Nation Of Religions: The Politics Of Pluralism In Mul...

Paperback|Oct 31 2006

$40.59 online$42.50list price
see all books by Stephen Prothero
Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 0.86 inPublished:March 11, 2008Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0060859520

ISBN - 13:9780060859527

Look for similar items by category:

Customer Reviews of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can you Name the Four Gospels? "Religious Literacy" is about the paradox that Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion. Stephen Prothero himself is not religious but is a scholar of religious studies. That is to say, he writes 'about' religion and not 'within' religion. This book is significant because while a majority of Americans consult their religious beliefs in their everyday decision-making, what informs those decisions is a profound ignorance of the doctrines that founded those beliefs. According to Prothero, ignorance leads to dangerous misunderstandings. During the FBI siege on Waco, Prothero argues that had FBI authorities been more knowledgeable in the apocalypse of the end of days, they would have interpreted the Branch Davidions intentions more accurately and perhaps avoided the terrible loss of life. So who, what, and when did Americans lose their religious literacy? Prothero argues that the Puritans who populated America during the 17th century were very well versed in the catechism of the Christian faith. But the revivals, specifically the Second Great Awakening weakened that knowledge through their emphasis on morality and orthopraxy. The postwar evangelical movements, the second Vatican Council, all contributors to the overall de-emphasis on catechism and reliance on faith alone. This all culminated in the rise of the so-called "culture wars" between the secular humanists and the fundamentalists. Though I agree with most of Prothero's anti-intellectual argument, along the lines of Richard Hofstadter. I think that he tends to dismiss the reasons behind and the powerful impulse of the many religious populist movements including revivalism and contemporary evangelicalism. The rise of the Christian Coalition, Moral Majority, is precisely the result of a rejection of the elitism, snobbery of traditional institutionalized religion. This is the same reason why revivalists of the Second Great Awakening rebelled against the divinity schools of Harvard and Yale, they focused on the experiential and conversion elements instead of dogma and theology. The "circuit riders" knew little about theology but knew how to sell religion to the public. Megachurches are precisely so popular today for the same reason. Why would the average person want to listen to their Pastors and Priests recite verses from the Bible ad nauseum, they could go back to school if they wanted that. In other words, religion has become popular again precisely due to the reasons why Prothero objects to. Dumbing down religion is what made it popular again. An injection of intelligence is likely only to push people away. True to his word, Prothero includes an extended glossary, 100 pages worth explaining such terms like Exodus, Sermon on the Temple Mount, Hadith, and Orthodox Judaism. It is a great reference, and is reason alone to buy the book. Overall, I think Prothero makes some very interesting obvervations about the role of religious education in today's society. From a literary perspective, religious references are used by almost every writer, a basic knowledge would obviously be crucial in understanding such references and parallels. Definitely recommend "Religious Literacy" for anyone wanting to learn more about the world's five major religions.
Date published: 2008-12-22

Extra Content

Editorial Reviews

“Prothero’s book can be recommended for its readability. It is constantly interesting, very well-written, and chock full of essential information about all religions…This could be one of the most important books to be published this year. It deserves serious attention.”