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

By Stephen Prothero (Author)
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Item description for Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero...

A religious primer serves as an argument for why the author believes that religion should become a mandatory subject in American public schools, contending that most Americans are not able to identify basic tenets of their faith and that key political challenges can be better met with faith-based resolutions. Reprint.

Publishers 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.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: HarperOne
Pages   372
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8" Width: 5.3" Height: 0.9"
Weight:   0.6 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 1, 2008
Publisher   Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN  0060859520  
ISBN13  9780060859527  

Availability  0 units.

More About Stephen Prothero

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Stephen Prothero is the chairman of the Department of Religion at Boston University. He is the author of" The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott" and "Purified by Fire: Cremation in American Culture." He has written for "Salon "and other publications.

Stephen Prothero has an academic affiliation as follows - Boston University.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > General

Christian Product Categories
Books > General Interest > General Topic > Philosophy

Reviews - What do customers think about Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't?

Teach ABOUT Religion instead of Teaching Religion ...  Sep 2, 2007
A persuasive argument for teaching about religion, not proselytizing. Author Stephen Prothero traces the degradation in religious knowledge, not necessarily observance, in the United States over the past 150 years.

Nowadays, the gods of Political Correctness must be appeased. People are reluctant to bring up or discuss the topic of religion. As a result, it has largely left the school system. He offers some salient examples of illiteracy and ignorance with regard to basic religious concepts (for example, some people believe that the epistles were the wives of the apostles!!).

Prothero spends more time making his argument than advancing solutions, the chief example of which is restoring education about religion in the public schools and beyond. He makes a salient point and differentiation between teaching about religion and pushing religious beliefs on to people. It is a persuasive case and timely, since so many modern conflicts and foreign-policy issues are shaped by religious belief.

The majority of the book is comprised of a glossary of religious concepts and terms. This alone provides a valuable reference. There is also a quiz in the Appendix so that readers can gauge their own degree of religious literacy.

A thought-provoking and persuasive book!
Important yes -- but a Fourth R?  Sep 1, 2007
The Professor of Religion effectively proves that we need more religious education. Yes, his department of religion should be more important but is there not a crying need for the more basic Three Rs to be taken care of first before we divert resources?
And what about the lack of Financial Literacy? Not knowing about Whahhabism could certainly hurt us again, but not understanding the dangers to borrowers and the economy contained in the fine print in sub-prime real estate loans could, it turns out, drive us into recession (some economists think recession will hit us next year) and that could even hurt us more.
The application of limited educational resources should be well balanced. It comes down to a question of priorities. And the author of this fine book is overstating the priority of his department and career field.
Perfect for understanding the roots of religious belief and its connections to social issues.  Aug 7, 2007
Stephen Prothero's RELIGIOUS LITERACY: WHAT EVERY AMERICAN NEEDS TO KNOW - AND DOESN'T points out that the U.S. is a nation of terrible religious illiteracy: a huge percentage of Americans know relatively nothing about the Bible or other religions. Yet politics and social issue decisions continue to be made on the basis of religious beliefs. Religion scholar Stephen Prothero says there is a need to return to teaching religion in the public schools, and RELIGIOUS LITERACY addresses this and related issues, considering the core concepts of the world's major religions and their basic differences. Perfect for understanding the roots of religious belief and its connections to social issues.
Teach science, not religion  Jul 20, 2007
Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy makes some very good points. Number One: Americans are appallingly ignorant of even their own religions (I am not sure that this applies to non-Christians, but he sure makes the case that it applies to Christians). Number Two: This is attributable only in part to the Supreme Court and secularists. Number Three: This has serious implications for our domestic and foreign policy (it has been stated, for example, that George Bush had no knowledge of the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam on the eve of the invasion of Iraq). And there are other good points, too, but Prothero's solution (reintroduction of religious education into public schools) is unacceptable. It also ignores Americans' scientific illiteracy, which is even more appalling than their religious illiteracy, arguably more important, clearly within the area of responsibility of public education, and can be remedied without violating the First Amendment.

More Americans accept the possibility of miracles than accept the theory of evolution. What does this say about the state of science education in this country (rhetorical question)? How are Americans to make intelligent, informed decisions about bioscience issues (stem cell research, genetically modified foods, etc.), which will become increasingly important in the next few decades, when they do not even understand the basis of modern biology, now almost a century and a half old? While reasonable arguments can be adduced (as Prothero does) that it is the responsibility of public education to provide basic religious education, can anybody argue that it is NOT the responsibility of public education to provide basic science education? And yet, it seems that we are failing in science education even worse than in religious education. It may be possible to teach ABOUT religion without teaching RELIGION, as Prothero maintains, but even if it is theoretically possible, I seriously doubt that it can be carried out in the real world in a way that is acceptable to most parents, no matter what their religious views. And it is not at all clear how it could be done without violating the First Amendment. Does anybody really believe that teaching children about religion in government-supported schools is not an establishment of religion? No such issue exists for science teaching.

I say leave the teaching of (and about) religion to parents and their chosen religious institutions. They may be doing a lousy job of it, but they are doing an even worse job with science.
Not What I Was Looking For  Jul 15, 2007
After having seen Mr. Prothero promote his book on the Daily Show, and having read his review of a similar book in the Yale Alumni Magazine, I was expecting sort of a crash course in world religions. After all, the book is called, "What Every American Needs to Know" - I had thus assumed that the book would contain just that: the essential information to understand belief systems all over the world. I hoped to learn about Buddhism, Jainism, etc.

Instead, Prothero lays out his argument for WHY Americans need to know these things. The focus of the book is not to educate the reader, but simply to tell them that they SHOULD be educated.

The first half of "Religious Literacy", I feel, could have been collapsed into a few pages, or perhaps into a single sentence: "Americans used to know a lot about religion, and now we don't." The second half is SORT of an attempt to educate the reader on certain aspects of world religions, but this is done in an extremely ineffective glossary format, in which some insignificant details are given lots of space, and many world religions are passed over entirely.

In sum, I found that I had not been sold on Prothero's central argument that Christians should spend more time learning Christian doctrine, and furthermore that I had not learned very much about the many world religions with which I had hoped to become more familiar.

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