From Publishers Weekly
Prothero (American Jesus
), chair of the religion department at Boston University, begins this valuable primer by noting that religious illiteracy is rampant in the United States, where most Americans, even Christians, cannot name even one of the four Gospels. Such ignorance is perilous because religion "is the most volatile constituent of culture" and, unfortunately, often "one of the greatest forces for evil" in the world, he writes. Prothero does more than diagnose the problem; he traces its surprising historic roots ("in one of the great ironies of…history, it was the nation's most fervent people of faith who steered Americans down the road to religious illiteracy") and prescribes concrete solutions that address religious education while preserving First Amendment boundaries about religion in the public square. Prothero also offers a dictionary of religious literacy and a quiz for readers to test their knowledge. This book is a must-read not only for educators, clergy and government officials, but for all adults in a culture where, as Prothero puts it, "faith without understanding is the standard" and "religious ignorance is bliss." (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* The author of I^ American Jesus (2003) opens this important book with a paradox. To wit, Americans are deeply religious I^ and profoundly ignorant about religion; that is, one of the most religious countries is also a nation of "religious illiterates." Prothero calls religious illiteracy dangerous because religion is one of the greatest forces for good--as well as evil--in the world. Nowadays, standing on shaky religious ground can be literally a matter of life and death. To cite two brief examples of America's religious illiteracy: only half of American adults can name one of the four Gospels, and 10 percent of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Prothero defines religious literacy--what it is, and what it is not. He also discusses the two great religious revivals in U.S. history, the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century and the postwar revival of the 1940s and 1950s. He argues both the constitutionality and the necessity of teaching--with an emphasis on spreading knowledge, not inculcating values--about religion in public schools and higher education. He suggests that every U.S. public high school should require a course on the Bible and another on the religions of the world. And he devotes an entire chapter to "a modest list" of a hundred or so religious terms that he deems essential, from I^ Abraham to I^ Zionism, to any American's religious knowledge. A must-read on its subject. June SawyersCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved