One of America's Foremost Experts on Religion
"Prothero brilliantly shows how the same groups drive conflicts year after year and often lose—and how the results eventually make us stronger. Useful, instructive reading for all voters in the upcoming election year."—Kirkus Reviews
In his latest book, The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation, Stephen Prothero considers lesser known texts that have sparked our war of words and informed our national identity. And in his provocative book, Religious Literacy, Prothero addresses a national crisis—that religious ignorance is not bliss—and offers solutions. One of them is mandatory academic study of world religions in public schools. The more that Americans know about religion—whether or not they themselves are religious—the less likely they will be to defer, through sheer ignorance, to politicians who often frame their actions in a religious context. In his book, God is Not One, Prothero looks at the differences between religions and how they have shaped the world. His forthcoming book, Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson's Heresies to Gay Marriage (January 2016), will explore battles of right-versus-left throughout American history, arriving at the present state of our cultural debates.
Can citizens understand the War in Iraq without knowledge of Islam? Can they debate gay marriage or stem-cells without knowledge of the Bible? In his talks, Prothero shows us that Americans don't know much about their own religions—much less those of others. He then makes an elegant, timely argument for why religion must become the "fourth R" of education. Only by teaching students in high school and in colleges about the Bible and the world's religions (in an academic sense), can we equip them to understand American politics and world affairs. An intelligent, engaging presenter, Prothero presents a balanced understanding of one of the most highly charged issues of our time.
Prothero is a Professor of Religion at Boston University. He earned his PhD in Religion from Harvard, and is a specialist in Asian religious traditions in the United States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of American History. He is a regular contributor to CNN.com's Belief Blog. He is also the author of American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, is a frequent guest on NPR, has appeared on The Today Show and The O'Reilly Factor, and has written for Salon.com and The New York Times Magazine.
God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World - and Why Their Differences Matter
Are the world's religions different paths up the same mountain? This is doubtless the prevailing sentiment. But, as Stephen Prothero persuasively argues, this sentiment is naive, dangerous, and untrue. In this talk, he provides a timely and indispensable guide to understanding the great religions, from Islam (which he ranks as the most influential) to Daoism (the least). What makes each tick? What are the similarities between them? But more importantly, what are the differences? It's on this last point -- the differences -- that Prothero offers the greatest illumination. He is convinced that the way to real and enduring interreligious understanding, especially after 9/11, lies not with "pretend pluralism," but with a clear-eyed knowledge of religious difference. Prothero has appeared on the Colbert Report, taught a course about religion on Twitter, and routinely uses New Yorker cartoons to get his point across. In other words, he can speak, with both deep intelligence and broad accessibility, about religion for a mass audience.
The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation
Based on his book, The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation. Since Thomas Jefferson first recorded those self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence, America has been a nation that has unfolded as much on the page and the podium as on battlefields or in statehouses. Here Stephen Prothero reveals which texts continue to generate controversy and drive debate. He then puts these voices into conversation, tracing how prominent leaders and thinkers of one generation have commented upon the core texts of another, and invites readers to join in.
Few can question that the Constitution is part of our shared cultural lexicon, that the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision still impacts lives, or that "The Star-Spangled Banner" informs our national identity. But Prothero also considers lesser known texts that have sparked our war of words, including Thomas Paine's Common Sense and Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In The American Bible Christopher Hitchens weighs in on Huck Finn, and Sarah Palin on Martin Luther King Jr. From the speeches of Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan to the novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Ayn Rand—Prothero takes the reader into the heart of America's culture wars. These "scriptures" provide the words that continue to unite, divide, and define Americans today.
Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)
In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win.
Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam.
As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.
The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation
“Required for putting in one place so many historic pieces that are more opined over than actually read. Awesome scholarship to an admirable purpose.”
- Kirkus Reviews
God is Not One
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, dizzying scientific and technological advancements, interconnected globalized economies, and even the so-called New Atheists have done nothing to change one thing: our world remains furiously religious. For good and for evil, religion is the single greatest influence in the world. We accept as self-evident that competing economic systems (capitalist or communist) or clashing political parties (Republican or Democratic) propose very different solutions to our planet's problems. So why do we pretend that the world's religious traditions are different paths to the same God? We blur the sharp distinctions between religions at our own peril, argues religion scholar Stephen Prothero, and it is time to replace naive hopes of interreligious unity with deeper knowledge of religious differences.
In Religious Literacy, Prothero demonstrated how little Americans know about their own religious traditions and why the world's religions should be taught in public schools. Now, in God Is Not One, Prothero provides readers with this much-needed content about each of the eight great religions. To claim that all religions are the same is to misunderstand that each attempts to solve a different human problem. For example:
-Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission -Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
-Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
-Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is awakening
-Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is to return to God
Prothero reveals each of these traditions on its own terms to create an indispensable guide for anyone who wants to better understand the big questions human beings have asked for millennia—and the disparate paths we are taking to answer them today. A bold polemical response to a generation of misguided scholarship, God Is Not One creates a new context for understanding religion in the twenty-first century and disproves the assumptions most of us make about the way the world's religions work.
Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't
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.
American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon
The United States (it is often pointed out) is one of the most religious countries on earth, and most Americans belong to one Christian church or another. But as Stephen Prothero argues in American Jesus, many of the most interesting appraisals of Jesus have emerged outside the churches: in music, film, and popular culture; and among Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of no religion at all.
Popular revisions of Jesus are nothing new: Thomas Jefferson famously took scissors to the New Testament to produce a Jesus he could call his own. In Prothero's incisive chronicle, the emergence of a cult of Jesus—as folk hero and commercial icon—is America's most distinctive contribution to Western religion. Prothero describes how Jesus was enlisted by abolitionists and Klansmen, by Teddy Roosevelt and Marcus Garvey. He explains how, in our own time, the proliferation of Jesus' image on Broadway stages and bumper stickers, on the cover of Time and on the Internet, in a Holy Land theme park and on a hot-air balloon, expresses the strange mix of the secular and the sacred in contemporary America.
American Jesus is a lively and often witty work of history. As an account of the ways Americans have cast the carpenter from Nazareth in their own image, it is also an examination, through the looking glass, of the American character.