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The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University Hardcover – March 26, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 269 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In what could be described as religious gonzo journalism, Roose documents his experiences as a student for a semester at Liberty University, the largest Christian fundamentalist university in the United States. Coming from progressive Brown University, the author admits that the transition to Liberty, with its iron-clad attempts at controlling student behavior, came with much anxiety. He trains himself to control his foul language and even begins to pray and study the Bible regularly, much to the bewilderment of his liberal Quaker parents. He suffers his way through a course debunking evolution, but finds enjoyment in a Scripture class. Roose may be young—he's a 19-year-old college sophomore—but he writes like a seasoned veteran and obviously enjoys his work. He quickly makes friends at Liberty, but is naïvely stunned and not a little disgusted by their antigay rhetoric. School founder Rev. Jerry Falwell granted Roose an interview for the student newspaper shortly before the famous evangelical's death in May 2007. "Complicated" is how Roose describes Falwell, which is a good descriptor for his undercover student experience. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Brown University student Roose didn’t think of himself as being particularly religious, yet he conceived the novel idea of enrolling at Liberty University, the school Jerry Falwell built, thereby transferring from a school “a notch or two above Sodom and Gomorrah” to the evangelical equivalent of Notre Dame or Brigham Young. His reasons were logical, though curious. To him, a semester at Liberty was like studying abroad. “Here, right in my time zone, was a culture more foreign to me than any European capital.” He tells his story entertainingly, as a matter of trying to blend in and not draw too much attention to himself. One hardened habit he had to break was cursing; he even bought a Christian self-help book to tame his tongue. Throughout his time at Liberty, he stayed level-headed, nuanced, keenly observant. He meant to find some gray in the black-and-white world of evangelicalism, and he learned a few things. His stint at Liberty hardly changed the world but did alter his way at looking at it. That’s a start. --June Sawyers

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (March 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 044617842X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446178426
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (269 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #583,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I know a church pastor who sometimes encourages his staff to pretend they are visitors during a Sunday morning service. "Walk into this place like it is the very first time. Don't take anything for granted. Look for proper signage, décor and whether or not the bathrooms are clean, consider how the greeters treat you, and observe how difficult it is to find your children's Sunday School Class." The goal is to discover the issues that the church is ignoring because of familiarity, to take care of family dysfunctions obvious to outsiders that perhaps the church has grown tolerant, if not strangely comfortable with.

Sometimes it is very helpful to have a new pair of unbiased eyes catch what you may be missing. Organizations and businesses hire people to critique their services or their products. But when a company knows that a consultant is showing up they put their best foot forward. When a restaurant is expecting a food critique for dinner the chef and wait staff perform to a different standard than normal. The best case for unbiased feedback is when you don't know that it is coming. That is why Liberty University should be so appreciative of Kevin Roose's book, "The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University."

Kevin, on his own (crazy) initiative, took a semester off from college at (liberal) Brown University to experience an extremely different lifestyle than he'd ever known-right at the heart of fundamentalism- Jerry's Falwell's flagship megachurch, Thomas Road Baptist, and its accompanying university. Instead of viewing evangelical Christianity from the outside the glass, Kevin decided to jump into the fish bowl himself. He actually found that swimming with the fishes didn't kill him.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read.

The concept of a secular Ivy Leaguer immersing himself in fundamentalist Evangelical culture is only sort-of interesting, and I assumed this would be a condescending book, written by a wanna-be Bill Maher. However, Roose is self-depreciating, humorous, and skilled enough to make this a fascinating read. I finished it in one sitting.

Jerry Falwell's college, Liberty University, is an intriguing place, as the reader will learn in the first few pages of the book. There are serious punishments for offenses like drinking, swearing, watching R-rated movies, and hugging for more than 3 seconds. Yet what interests Roose, and causes him to write this book is that 10,000 of his peers choose to go there. His sincerity stands out as he tries to understand the "God Divide" with humility, fairness, and an open-mind.

The characters that Roose meets make this book a great read. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a startling amount of diversity at Liberty. Jersey Joey, one of the main-characters, is a foul-mouthed wise-cracking student who is hilarious and, despite his obsession with calling Roose "gay", quite lovable. There are the awkward pastor's kids, the jocks who don't follow the rules, and a few stereotypes: a racist southerner, and more than a few students who make truly offensive homophobic remarks.

Roose never "goes native". At the end of the book, he is still a secular liberal Democrat who never gets comfortable with some of the comments he hears at Liberty or with young-earth Creationism. But, nonetheless, he discovers nuance in his experience, and does a valuable service by humanizing a sub-culture that is otherwise caricatured.

Anyone who has interest in this aspect of American culture, whatever side of the God-Divide they might find themselves on, will find this to be a book worth reading. I can't emphasize enough how hilarious of a writer Kevin Roose is.
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Format: Hardcover
I opened this book out of simple curiosity. What /did/ a liberal college student from Brown think when confronted full-on with some of the most fundamentally conservative and literal evangelists around? I was desperate to know whether this book would be judgmental or soft-hearted, whether he would be won over or disgusted.

The happy truth is that it's a little bit of both. Kevin Roose writes with amazing maturity and insight (particularly given that he was 19 when he began this book), and his account of his semester at Liberty University is filled with both heart and nuance. He doesn't shy away from having his assumptions shattered, and he doesn't hesitate to see a very different world with eyes that are fairly close to understanding.

But he also doesn't pull back from delivering the hard truths - where the great divides are, where the unmoveable differences seem to be between his position and that of evangelical Christians.

At the same time, his change throughout the book is clear and moving - he presents the students and faculty at Liberty as complex, diverse, and largely caring people, and he finds some unexpected benefits to their joy in their faith and what it brings them. The good of this book is that it gives you both the good and the bad, and it's not afraid to give you a messy reality.

Roose's thoughtfulness does him credit when it comes to internal evaluation, too. He spends a lot of time wondering about what faith makes those around him, and what faith, or lack of it, makes /him/. His introspection is open, honest, fascinating, and will ring true for many who've brushed along the edges of Christianity, or even dove full-in.
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