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Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't    by Stephen Prothero order for
Religious Literacy
by Stephen Prothero
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Audio, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Religion has always been a major factor in American culture (especially in society and politics), but - as author Stephen Prothero argues exhaustively and persuasively in the highly recommended Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't - Americans are severely handicapped by a 'religious illiteracy {that} is at least as pervasive as cultural illiteracy, and certainly more dangerous.'

With a profusion of statistics, documentation, and anecdotes, Prothero examines the ways in which 'the political, cultural, social, and economic force of religious ideas and institutions' has profoundly influenced American life (beginning in the 17th century and continuing in the 21st century). And with religion being so intricately involved in American history and culture, Prothero - with more statistics, documentation, and anecdotes - shows the extent to which Americans generally 'know next to nothing about religion.'

Prothero clearly demonstrates the pervasiveness of a troubling paradox: Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion. 'There are Protestants who canít name the four Gospels, Catholics who can't name the seven sacraments, and Jews who can't name the five books of Moses.' Firmly and repetitively establishing the fact through 148 pages of cogently supported arguments that the United States is 'one of the most religious countries on earth which is also a nation of religious illiterates,' Prothero also provides a useful (84 page) Dictionary of Religious Literacy in which readers can test their own knowledge (and, at the same time, mitigate their ignorance).

The bottom line is this: Given the current political and social climate in the United States and around the world (especially in the aftermath of 9/11), Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy ought to be required reading for everyone; moreover, it is a superb beginning for anyone who wants to further his or her understanding of the ways in which religion (and knowledge or ignorance about world religions) affects the lives of every American.

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