politics | December 08, 2015

First Look: Stephen Prothero’s New Book, Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars

This January, religious authority Stephen Prothero returns with a sixth book—and subtle shift toward a more overtly political focus—with Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage. As the long(ish) title reveals, it’s a book that offers a clear take on America’s most divisive issues. With the 2016 presidential election looming—and with candidates taking extremely polarizing stances on emotion-fraught affairs like immigration, Islamaphobia, abortion, gay rights, and police brutality—it’s bound to be a well-timed contribution to the American political (and moral) conversation. And regardless of its assessment of who wins and who loses in these battles, it promises another (very timely) message: that of hope.

In addition to being the author of five books on faith, American mores, traditions, and education—including the New York Times bestseller Religious Literacy: What Americans Need to Know—Prothero is a Professor of Religion at Boston University and a Senior Fellow at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of American History. His work has appeared on the cover of TIME magazine. He’s also a regular contributor to CNN.com’s Belief Blog, a frequent guest on NPR, has appeared on The Today Show and The O’Reilly Factor, and has written for Salon and The New York Times Magazine.

With Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars, he’s already garnering some high praise. Kirkus Reviews writes that “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.” In a starred review, Publishers Weekly claims that “Prothero’s illuminating and absorbing take on America’s growing pains reveals that when ‘each of our cultural battles comes to an end, we are left with a more inclusive country.’” And Library Journal calls it “A timely social history that illustrates that the current conflicts are actually part of a much larger story. This book provides social, political, and historical context to the current culture wars and offers constructive and hopeful ideas for defueling the cycle, ideas that are pertinent to liberals and conservatives alike.”

It’s hard for many of us, whether we’re in policy, business, or in the business of making policy, to know how to pinpoint the heart of America. What’s a fringe or outlier belief, what’s mainstream, and what’s ultimately going to win in the court of opinion (or the court of appeals)? Through his writing and speaking, Prothero offers accessible, historically grounded answers, helping us make sense of the national heartbeat with informed opinion. 

From the publisher, HarperCollins:

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.

To hire Stephen Prothero as the keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

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