Religious Literacy (Paperback)

What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't

By Stephen Prothero

HarperOne, 9780060859527, 384pp.

Publication Date: March 11, 2008

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (3/12/2007)
Hardcover (3/13/2007)
Paperback (5/1/2007)

List Price: 15.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of shocking religious illiteracy.

  • Only 10 percent of American teenagers can name all five major world religions and 15 percent cannot name any.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life's basic questions, yet only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels and most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.

Despite this lack of basic knowledge, politicians and pundits continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed—or misinterpreted—by the vast majority of Americans.

"We have a major civic problem on our hands," says religion scholar Stephen Prothero. He makes the provocative case that to remedy this problem, we should return to teaching religion in the public schools. Alongside "reading, writing, and arithmetic," religion ought to become the "Fourth R" of American education.

Many believe that America's descent into religious illiteracy was the doing of activist judges and secularists hell-bent on banishing religion from the public square. Prothero reveals that this is a profound misunderstanding. "In one of the great ironies of American religious history," Prothero writes, "it was the nation's most fervent people of faith who steered us down the road to religious illiteracy. Just how that happened is one of the stories this book has to tell."

Prothero avoids the trap of religious relativism by addressing both the core tenets of the world's major religions and the real differences among them. Complete with a dictionary of the key beliefs, characters, and stories of Christianity, Islam, and other religions, Religious Literacy reveals what every American needs to know in order to confront the domestic and foreign challenges facing this country today.

About the Author

Stephen Prothero is the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One and a professor of religion at Boston University. His work has been featured on the cover of TIME magazine, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, NPR, and other top national media outlets. He writes and reviews for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, The Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Salon, Slate, and other publications. Visit the author at or follow his tweets @sprothero.

Praise For Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't

“This book is a must-read not only for educators, clergy and government officials, but for all adults.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Smart but gentle, loving but blunt, Prothero is uniquely qualified to guide us through the fraught fields of faith.”
— Bruce Feiler, author of Walking the Bible and Where God Was Born

“A compelling, provocative, wholly innovative historical interpretation of the place of learning in American religious life. I love this book!”
— Lauren F. Winner, author of Girl Meets God and Real Sex

“Provocative and timely . . . Combines a lively history with a set of proposed remedies.”
— Washington Post Book World

“ especially deft examination of the reasons for Americans’ religious literacy.”
— Washington Monthly

“Religious Literacy presents a compelling argument for Bible-literacy courses.”
— Time magazine

“Prothero makes you want to go back to college ... a scholar with the soul of a late-night television comic.”
— Newsweek

“Compelling and persuasively presented . . . a critical addition to the debate about teaching religion in public school.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Prothero’s book can be recommended for its readability. It is constantly interesting, very well-written, and chock full of essential information about all religions…This could be one of the most important books to be published this year. It deserves serious attention.”
— Journal of American Culture