Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--and Doesn't
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HarperOne / 2008 / Paperback

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

HarperOne / 2008 / Paperback

In Stock
Stock No: WW859527

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Product Description

America has Christian roots, and the English language is chock full of references to biblical words, phrases, stories and concepts. But as American culture moves farther away from the authority of the Bible, many religious touchstones are getting lost on newer generations. Misuse of terms like 'Good Samaritan' and 'Armageddon' are just the tip of the iceberg...many Americans can't name half of the Ten Commandments. Even worse, many teachers and professors either drag the Bible down to the level of manmade literature or keep dragging it down to where man can judge it rather than the other way around.
Stephen Prothero, the chair of Boston University's religion department, proposes not religious instruction, but religious literacy for school students. Moving past just Christian thought, he addresses the need for major tenets of all major religions to be taught for students to have a fully-rounded education, and one which they can inform with necessary elements from religious beliefs of the majority of the world's population. The last chapter is a 100+ page dictionary of religious terms and basics that (except for a few glaring omissions, like 'justification' and 'salvation') can serve as a beginning point for becoming informed about this crucial element of American culture.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 304
Vendor: HarperOne
Publication Date: 2008
Dimensions: 8.00 X 5.31 (inches)
ISBN: 0060859520
ISBN-13: 9780060859527

Publisher's Description

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.

Author Bio

STEPHEN PROTHERO is the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God 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 of Time magazine, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, National Public Radio, and other top national media outlets. He blogs for CNN's Belief Blog and writes for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, USA Today, The Washington Post, and other publications. Visit the author online at

Editorial Reviews

“This book is a must-read not only for educators, clergy and government officials, but for all adults.”
“Smart but gentle, loving but blunt, Prothero is uniquely qualified to guide us through the fraught fields of faith.”
“A compelling, provocative, wholly innovative historical interpretation of the place of learning in American religious life. I love this book!”
“Provocative and timely . . . Combines a lively history with a set of proposed remedies.”
“ especially deft examination of the reasons for Americans’ religious literacy.”
“Religious Literacy presents a compelling argument for Bible-literacy courses.”
“Prothero makes you want to go back to college ... a scholar with the soul of a late-night television comic.”
“Compelling and persuasively presented . . . a critical addition to the debate about teaching religion in public school.”
“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.”

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