Synopses & Reviews
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.
“Smart but gentle, loving but blunt, Prothero is uniquely qualified to guide us through the fraught fields of faith.” Bruce Feiler, author of Walking the Bible and Where God Was Born
“A compelling, provocative, wholly innovative historical interpretation of the place of learning in American religious life. I love this book!” Lauren F. Winner, author of Girl Meets God and Real Sex
“Protheros 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.” Journal of American Culture
“Provocative and timely . . . Combines a lively history with a set of proposed remedies.” Washington Post Book World
“This book is a must-read not only for educators, clergy and government officials, but for all adults.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Remarkable...an especially deft examination of the reasons for Americans religious literacy.” Washington Monthly
“Religious Literacy presents a compelling argument for Bible-literacy courses.” Time magazine
“Prothero makes you want to go back to college ... a scholar with the soul of a late-night television comic.” Newsweek
“Compelling and persuasively presented . . . a critical addition to the debate about teaching religion in public school.” San Francisco Chronicle
“A significant contribution to the improvement of conversation about religious literacy by insisting that informed debate be the norm rather than a rarity.”
“A clear and fearless statement that we need to regain a proper conversation about religion and politics in our uncertain age, it provides both the tools and the ideas by which we may begin to have this conversation in public.”
“This is a groundbreaking and positive response by relevant experts to questions about the discussion of religion in a wide range of social contexts. Each chapter is thought-provoking, original, and clear.”
Although we often assume religion is in decline in the West, it continues to have an important yet contested role in individual lives and in society at large. And after half a century in which religion and belief were barely talked about in the public sphere, we face a pressing lack of religious literacy. Many are now ill-equipped to engage with religion and belief when they encounter them in their daily livesin relationships, law, media, professions, business, and politics, among other venues.
This valuable book is the first to bring together theory and policy with analysis and expertise to explore what religious literacy is, why it is needed, and what might be done about it. Its contributors make the case for a public realm that is well-equipped to engage with the plurality and pervasiveness of religion and belief, whatever an individual participants own stance. It will be of great importance to academics, policy makers, and practitioners interested in the manifold implications of the continued presence of religion and belief in the public sphere.
About the Author
Stephen Prothero is the New York Timesbestselling author of Religious Literacyand a professor of religion at Boston University. His work has been featured on the cover of Timemagazine, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, National Public Radio, and other top national media outlets. He writes and reviews for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Salon, Slate, and other publications.
Table of Contents
Foreword ~ Grace Davie
Section one – Theory
Religious literacy: contesting an idea and practice ~ Adam Dinham and Matthew Francis
Diminishing religious literacy: methodological assumptions and analytical frameworks for promoting the public understanding of religion ~ Diane L. Moore
Religious literacy in the context of Theology and Religious Studies ~ David Ford and Mike Higton
The irony of religious illiteracy in the USA ~ Stephen Prothero & Lauren R. Kerby
Religious literacy as lokahi: social harmony through diversity ~ Michael Barnes SJ and Jonathan D. Smith
Section two – Policy
Religious literacy and welfare ~ Adam Dinham
Religious literacy, radicalisation and extremism ~ Matthew Francis and Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist
Religious literacy, equalities and human rights ~ Rebecca Catto and David Perfect
Section three – Practice
Religious illiteracy in school Religious Education ~ James C. Conroy
Religious literacy in higher education ~ Stephen H. Jones
Religious literacy and social work: the view from Australia ~ Beth R. Crisp
Religious literacy and the media: the case of the BBC ~ Michael Wakelin and Nick Spencer
Religious literacy and chaplaincy ~ Jeremy Clines with Sophie Gilliat-Ray
Religious literacies: the future ~ Matthew Francis and Adam Dinham.