Sunday, May 3, 2009

Book Review: Religious Literacy

Title: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't
Author: Stephen Prothero
Rating: ****
Tags: religions, literacy, christianity, judaism, islam, buddhism, hinduism

Prothero, a professor of religious studies, argues that the level of knowledge in the U.S. about religions of the world is dangerously low, with an appalling ignorance of how religion has shaped history, religion, and public policy. He traces the history of religion in the U.S. and believes that the lack of knowledge about religious doctrines and beliefs began with the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century, which emphasized feelings over thought, the spiritual experience over religious study, and the direct experience of the believer over the mediation function of clergy. During the latter part of the 19th century, public schools became more secular.

The latter part of the book is a dictionary of religious literacy. Prothero doesn't attempt to be comprehensive, but to introduce the aspects of the major world religions that are most often the subject of public debate. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable, but I learned a good bit from the dictionary. Where I fault Prothero the most is that he completely ignores modern Paganism and Wicca. Naturally I'm biased, since I am Pagan, but I do believe that the impact that Paganism, especially Wicca, has had on popular culture, the high degree of misunderstanding about it, and the debates over how it is handled in the military, for example, make it worthy of inclusion.

Nevertheless, an interesting and useful book.

Publication HarperOne (2008), Paperback, 384 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0060859520 / 9780060859527

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