Religious Literacy

  • by Stephen Prothero
  • Narrated by Stephen Prothero
  • 10 hrs and 9 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

What's Your Religious Literacy IQ? Quick - can you:

Name the four Gospels?
Name a sacred text of Hinduism?
Name the holy book of Islam?
Name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament?
List the Ten Commandments?
List the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism?

If you can't, you're not alone. We are a religiously illiterate nation, yet despite this lack of knowledge, politicians 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 civics education problem today," says religion scholar Stephen Prothero. He makes the provocative case that to remedy this, 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, he says.
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," says Prothero, "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 audio has to tell."
Religious Literacy reveals what every American needs to know in order to confront the domestic and foreign challenges facing this country today.


What the Critics Say

"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'." (Publishers Weekly)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Unfairly criticised

The people who are blasting this book for not being a primer on religion are being unfair for two reasons: 1) That is not what the book is - the author says so right up front and the publisher's notes say so as well. It is not their fault if some did not read their comments or chose to ignore them. 2) The last part of the book is a primer, although I would not purchase it for this purpose.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first he makes the case that Americans, while being devout, are also ignorant. It seems that they chose to enthusiastically follow the Bible without actually bothering to read it. He then goes into why it is not only bad religion but also bad civics. His argument is clear and convincing although somewhat repetitive.

The second section is a brief history of religion, mostly in the US, and how the clashes of the competing interests lead a formerly Bible reading people into religious ignorance. His argument is again convincing but this time not quite as clear. His conclusion that much of the ignorance has been caused by the religious leadership(s) is surprising but well supported. Again, he would have benefitted from more editorial over-sight.

The last section is a glossary of religious terms which was a useful review of some basic concepts even for someone who, at least according to his pre and post test, is already fairly religiously literate (but not at all devout - which would support his thesis).

It is an interesting read for people who want to learn ABOUT religion in the U.S. and how it has evolved (or devolved) overtime that should have been better editted. People who are looking for a spiritual guide or a Bible review should look elsewhere.
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- 00doc


The basic premise of the book is good enough: Religion has a significant impact on our culture and so to effectively participate individuals should have a functional understanding of religion.

It takes well over 2/3 of the book to say that.

He leaves little time to explore religions. When he gets down to his core religious literacy facts (or as another reviewer puts it so well “factoids”) they are presented in alphabetic order. So one gets little if any of overview of a religion in context of itself let alone other religions.

I think the two prior reviews make outstanding points: Author seems to have all the dots but can't connect them. If you want to learn more about religion, do not get this book.

After the authors appearance on the Daily Show, my daughter and I were excited to read and discuss this book. I found it sufficiently disappointing that I could not recommend she spend the time to listening to it. I can’t recommend anyone else do so either.

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- B. Dunlap

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-13-2007
  • Publisher: HarperAudio