Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Big Book Read #15

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn’t
By: Stephen Prothero

304 Pages

It’s been several weeks since I finished Religious Literacy so I’m afraid my review may be more vague than I had originally hoped.

Stephen Prothero is a professor of Religion at Boston University. I was lucky enough to be be in attendance when he was the speaker for Theology on Tap way back in 2008. His book American Jesus had just come out and his talk was pretty darn interesting.

Religious Literacy discusses the religious literacy, or more accurately, the religious illiteracy demonstrated by the majority of Americans today. The book discusses the religious literacy of colonial and early post-revolutionary America, its descent into religious illiteracy and his prescription for how to make it all better.

The book also contains a religious literacy quiz, which Prothero gives all his students at the beginning of class. In his mind, the students (and we the readers) should be able to answer these questions, but the sad fact is the majority of his students cannot answer many correctly. What’s even more disturbing is that these questions are EASY.

A few sample questions:

Name the four Gospels.

Name a sacred text of Hinduism.

Name the Ten Commandments.

Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t too that well. I managed to come out above average according to his classroom results, but overall the outcome was embarrassing.

This book not only taught me a ton about the history of religious literacy in America (I never knew what The Great Awakening and The Second Great Awakening were) but inspired me to learn more on my own. Immediately after finishing this book I bought a giant book on the history of Christianity and another on the Histories of Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto. Next on the list will be Islam.

I’d recommend this book to everyone.

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