Alternative Visions

God is Not One: Religious Tolerance in an Age of Extremism / a lecture by Stephen Prothero

Though America is deeply religious, Americans know shockingly little about religion. Without a grasp of religions, we are ill-equipped to understand world affairs or the motivations of our political leaders. Stephen Prothero—“a world religions scholar with the soul of a late night comic” (Newsweek)–offers an illuminating corrective.

In his latest book, The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation, Stephen Prothero considers lesser known texts that have sparked our war of words and informed our national identity. In his provocative book, Religious Literacy, Prothero addresses a national crisis—that religious ignorance is not bliss—and offers solutions. One of them is mandatory academic study of world religions in public schools.

In his book, God is Not One, Prothero looks at the differences between religions and how they have shaped the world. Prothero argues that Religious plurality, or the idea that each religion is just a "different way up the same mountain", is a dangerous belief. Prothero provides a timely and indispensable guide to understanding the great religions, from Islam to Daoism. What makes each tick? What are the similarities between them? But more importantly, what are the differences?

It's on this last point -- the differences -- that Prothero offers the greatest illumination. He is convinced that the way to real and enduring interreligious understanding, especially after 9/11, lies not with "pretend pluralism," but with a clear-eyed knowledge of religious difference.  The sooner we can understand the differences between religions, the more we can figure out how to achieve religious tolerance and co-existence.

Can citizens understand the War in Iraq without knowledge of Islam? Can they debate gay marriage or stem-cells without knowledge of the Bible? In his talks, Prothero shows us that Americans don't know much about their own religions—much less those of others. He then makes an argument for why religion must become the "fourth R" of education. Only by teaching students in high school and in colleges about the Bible and the world's religions (in an academic sense), can we equip them to understand American politics and world affairs.

Prothero is a Professor of Religion at Boston University. He earned his PhD in Religion from Harvard, and is a specialist in Asian religious traditions in the United States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of American History.

His bestselling books have inspired a Time cover story and landed him on Oprah, The Daily Show, The Today Show, The Colbert Report, The O'Reilly Factor, and at the White House as a speaker on religious literacy. He is a regular contributor to's Belief Blog, a frequent guest on NPR, and has written for and The New York Times.

Selected Bibliography

Prothero, Stephen. The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation. HarperOne, 2012.
Prothero, Stephen. God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter. HarperOne, 2010.
Prothero, Stephen. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-And Doesn't. HarperOne, 2007.

Visit his personal web site at or follow him on Twitter at sprothero.

Monday, October 21, 2013 - 1:30pm

Free and open to the public.  Tickets are not required but please RSVP using the CSRC ticket request.

The lecture was available online, live at

This lecture is supported by a grant from John Whiteman and is part of the Religion and Conflict: Alternative Visions lecture series.