"The culture wars have always been with us," correspondent David Shribman writes in this smart and carefully crafted review in the Boston Globe (January 14, 2016). "Prothero reminds us of this in his important new book, 'Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars,' which is less a partisan victory cry than a potent injection of perspective."
Starred review (November 9, 2015): “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.’”
Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2015): “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.”
Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars in Library Journal
Brian Sullivan (December 1, 2015): “With yet another presidential election just around the corner, America’s culture wars are in full swing. Prothero (religion, Boston Univ.; God Is Not One; Religious Literacy) offers a timely social history that illustrates that the current conflicts are actually part of a much larger story that dates back at least to 1796. Using a series of episodes that include the religious beliefs of Thomas Jefferson, anti-Catholicism, anti-Mormonism, and Prohibition, then sweeping through some of the key skirmishes of the past 40 years, Prothero lays out an intriguing proposal. His thesis is that conservatives tend to instigate individual culture wars owing to anxiety that their world is passing away, and that liberals tend to win them, in large part because conservatives usually rally around lost causes. Eventually, the liberal side becomes the default American perspective, leading to an ever-more inclusive culture over time. The conservative side then moves on to the next grievance and the cycle begins again. Prothero demonstrates this pattern repeating itself in each of his chosen historical episodes. VERDICT 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.”
Here Stephen L. Carter calls my prose “spritely, informed and incisive” but calls me to task for my “unfortunate decision to scatter political asides . . . throughout the otherwise astute commentaries” (July 13, 2012).
"Knowing Not" by Mark Oppenheimer (June 10, 2007): "Prothero’s corrective proceeds in two parts. First, he offers a diagnosis: a 100-page précis of American religious history that tells a familiar story, from the Puritans to today’s pluralism, remarkably well. He also argues, persuasively, that both conservatives and liberals are to blame for American religious illiteracy."
"Take the Test" by John A. Coleman, S.J. I'm grateful to John A. Coleman, SJ, for attending to the historical arguments of my book in "Take the Test" (April 30, 2007). "In a deft historical excursus," he writes, "Prothero shows how during the 19th and 20th centuries religion in America morphed from intellect to feeling; from doctrine to story telling; from the Bible as such to Jesus; from theology to morality."
In "Faith Without the Facts," Jean E. Barker, calls Religious Literacy "a critical addition to the debate about Americans' civic education." The book's argument, she adds, is "compelling and persasively presented" and its Dictionary of Religious Literacy "readable and sometimes entertaining" (April 8, 2007).
In "Matters of Faith" Rich Barlow calls Religious Literacy a "sensible, readable manifesto" (April 8, 2007).
"Joan of Arc, Wife of Noah?" by Columbia University's Randall Balmer, who calls "Religious Literacy" a "remarkable new book" (April 2007).
"Brush Up Your Bible and Koran" by Jim Rossi (March 28, 2007).
In this book, the author combines a lively history of the rise and fall of American religious literacy with a set of proposed remedies based on his hope that "the Fall into religious ignorance is reversible." He also includes a useful multicultural glossary of religious definitions and allusions, in which religious illiterates can find the prodigal son, the promised land, the Quakers and the Koran. -Susan Jacoby (March 4, 2007).
"Religious Literacy" in Book List (Starred Review)
*STARRED REVIEW* The author of American Jesus (2003) opens this important book with a paradox. To wit, Americans are deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion; that is, one of the most religious countries is also a nation of "religious illiterates." Prothero calls religious illiteracy dangerous because religion is one of the greatest forces for good-as well as evil-in the world. Nowadays, standing on shaky religious ground can be literally a matter of life and death. To cite two brief examples of America's religious illiteracy: only half of American adults can name one of the four Gospels, and 10 percent of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Prothero defines religious literacy-what it is, and what it is not. He also discusses the two great religious revivals in U.S. history, the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century and the postwar revival of the 1940s and 1950s. He argues both the constitutionality and the necessity of teaching--with an emphasis on spreading knowledge, not inculcating values--about religion in public schools and higher education. He suggests that every U.S. public high school should require a course on the Bible and another on the religions of the world. And he devotes an entire chapter to "a modest list" of a hundred or so religious terms that he deems essential, from Abraham to Zionism, to any American religious knowledge. A must read on its subject. (February 2007)
"Religious Literacy" in Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
*STARRED REVIEW* Prothero (American Jesus), chair of the religion department at Boston University, begins this valuable primer by noting that religious illiteracy is rampant in the United States, where most Americans, even Christians, cannot name even one of the four Gospels. Such ignorance is perilous because religion "is the most volatile constituent of culture" and, unfortunately, often "one of the greatest forces for evil" in the world, he writes. Prothero does more than diagnose the problem; he traces its surprising historic roots ("in one of the great ironies of…history, it was the nation's most fervent people of faith who steered Americans down the road to religious illiteracy") and prescribes concrete solutions that address religious education while preserving First Amendment boundaries about religion in the public square. Prothero also offers a dictionary of religious literacy and a quiz for readers to test their knowledge. This book is a must-read not only for educators, clergy and government officials, but for all adults in a culture where, as Prothero puts it, "faith without understanding is the standard" and "religious ignorance is bliss." (November 20, 2006)
"American Jesus" in the Chicago Tribune
(BEST NONFICTION BOOK AWARD) Wide-ranging... Indispensable... Splendid... Prothero conducts his quest for the American Jesus with broad and imaginative research, and reports his findings in a lucid and lively prose... Sifting through a vast assortment of material - books, pictures, films, sermons, hymns - Prothero offers a generous and often witty panoramic view of [Jesus]. - Eugene McCarraher
Prothero is nothing if not sly. Within his narrative, ostensibly a popular and often entertaining account of the rendering of Jesus in song, story and spirituality, he has embedded a fairly detailed history of American religion itself. - R. Scott Appleby
Prothero uses the image of Jesus as "a Rorschach test of ever-changing national sensibilities." The results of that test, carried out with such energy and wit, will make it impossible to tolerate simplistic references to America's Christian or secular character ever again. - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor
well written, judiciously argued and impressively researched. - Michael Massing
Let me say at once, with no disrespect to Prothero's impressive scholarship, that the resulting book is enormous fun. It is well written, and offers a host of insights even on topics that the reader might think are thoroughly familiar. - Philip Jenkins
An engrossing look at a largely ignored subject. While it's an academic approach, Prothero's style is energetic and lively. As a historian, he is thorough and conscientious. As a writer, he spins a good yarn. Which seems like the right way to treat this deathly subject. - Laura Miller
Stephen Prothero's readable new history is a peculiar, heroless yarn, since cremation's proponents were often their own worst enemies, insensitive or even oblivious to the powerful emotions people attach to the rituals of death. As a nation, we half-consciously stumbled, unguided, toward the flames, carrying a whole lot more baggage than just the corpses of our dead. - Julie Finnin Day