One of America's foremost experts on religion, Stephen
Prothero is currently the Chair of the Department of Religion at Boston
University. "To describe Prothero as 'quick-witted'â€¦wouldn't
quite do him justice," writes Newsweek. "Prothero is
a world-religions scholar with the soul of a late-night television comic."
Prothero notes, sadly, that most Americans don't know much about their
own religions, much less the religions of others. In Religious Literacy,
an elegant and timely argument for why religion must become the "fourth
R" of American education, he calls for our schools to teach a mandatory
academic study of religions, which has sparked a much-needed debate concerning
the powerful and often uncontested role religion plays in our lives.
While politicians continue to root their speeches and political arguments
in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed, or misinterpreted, by
the majority of the American public, Prothero asks some sobering questions.
Can citizens understand the war in Iraq without knowing something about
Islam? Given the arguments steeped in Biblical reference, can they foster
debates about gay marriage or stem-cell research without knowing something
about the Bible? Simply put, the more that Americans know about religionâ€”whether
or not they themselves are religiousâ€”the less likely they will be
to defer, through sheer ignorance, to politicians and leaders who often
frame their actions in a religious context.
Prothero's previous book, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became
a National Icon, is considered one of the great religious books of
the decade. It is an incisive account of Jesus' transformation, in Americans'
hearts and minds, from crucified Lord to folk hero, from divinity to celebrity.
Prothero earned his PhD in Religion from Harvard, and is a specialist
in Asian religious traditions in the United States. He is a frequent guest
on NPR, has appeared on The Today Show, and has written for Salon.com
and The New York Times Magazine.
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Books:God Is Not One, April 2010
Religious Literacy, March 2007