Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)
The Battles That Define America from Jefferson's Heresies to Gay Marriage
Though America is deeply religious, Americans know shockingly little about religion. Without a grasp of religions, we are ill-equipped to understand world affairs or the motivations of our political leaders. Stephen Prothero—“a world religions scholar with the soul of a late night comic” (Newsweek)—offers an illuminating corrective.
In his last 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 new book, Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage, explores battles of right-versus-left throughout American history, arriving at the present state of our cultural debates.
“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 on Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)
Religious plurality, or the idea that each religion is just a “different way up the same mountain,” is a dangerous belief. The sooner we can understand the differences between religions, the more we can figure out how to achieve religious tolerance and co-existence. Prothero’s bestselling books have inspired a Time cover story, and has landed Prothero on Oprah, The Daily Show and as a speaker on religious literacy at the White House.
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.
In this timely, carefully reasoned talk, Stephen Prothero 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.
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.
Are the world’s religions different paths up the same mountain? This is doubtless the prevailing sentiment. But, as Stephen Prothero 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.