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God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter

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At the dawn of the twenty-first century, dizzying scientific and technological advancements, interconnected globalized economies, and even the so-called New Atheists have done nothing to change one thing: our world remains furiously religious. For good and for evil, religion is the single greatest influence in the world. We accept as self-evident that competing economic systems (capitalist or communist) or clashing political parties (Republican or Democratic) propose very different solutions to our planet's problems. So why do we pretend that the world's religious traditions are different paths to the same God? We blur the sharp distinctions between religions at our own peril, argues religion scholar Stephen Prothero, and it is time to replace naÏve hopes of interreligious unity with deeper knowledge of religious differences.

In Religious Literacy, Prothero demonstrated how little Americans know about their own religious traditions and why the world's religions should be taught in public schools. Now, in God Is Not One, Prothero provides readers with this much-needed content about each of the eight great religions. To claim that all religions are the same is to misunderstand that each attempts to solve a different human problem. For example:

–Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission
–Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
–Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
–Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is awakening
–Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is to return to God
Prothero reveals each of these traditions on its own terms to create an indispensable guide for anyone who wants to better understand the big questions human beings have asked for millennia—and the disparate paths we are taking to answer them today. A bold polemical response to a generation of misguided scholarship, God Is Not One creates a new context for understanding religion in the twenty-first century and disproves the assumptions most of us make about the way the world's religions work.

388 pages, Hardcover

First published April 20, 2010

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About the author

Stephen Prothero

25 books78 followers
Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books, most recently Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn't and American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Idol. He has commented on religion on dozens of National Public Radio programs and on television on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, MSNBC and Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal, he has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, Salon.com, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe.

Prothero has argued for mandatory public school Bible literacy courses (along the lines of the Bible Literacy Project's The Bible and Its Influence), along with mandatory courses on world religions. Prothero defines himself as a "confused Christian".

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 447 reviews
Profile Image for Ryan.
990 reviews
May 26, 2021
Stephen R. Prothero's God is Not One compares eight of the "greatest" religions in the world. Who made the cut? In descending order of greatness, the religions Prothero discusses are: Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba Religion, Judaism, and Daoism. This "ranking" of religions might wrinkle some readers' noses, but it primarily serves to justify stopping this overview at the eight most influential religions. It is not a "best" to "worst" list.

Still, it's worth asking why a ranking or listing of religions wrinkles our collective nose. Prothero suggests that many have begun to think of all religions as uniform, perhaps out of a laudable desire to minimize conflict. However, this idyllic unity requires us to overlook the real differences between one religion and another. And as Prothero points out, these religions do have many similarities, but they also have many vital differences. In the simplest terms, Prothero argues, each religion identifies a unique problem and offers a unique solution and a unique path to that solution. So while it may sound "enlightened" to suggest that all religions strive for the same end, in practice it tends to be rather arrogant since we so often imagine that others strive for our own religion's goals. Arrogant or not, this view that all religions are the same is inaccurate.

For Christians, the problem is sin and the solution is salvation. However, Christians might be surprised to find out that other religions don't view humanity as having fallen from grace. Prothero acknowledges that even this problem/ solution approach can be overly simplistic and dogmatic, which is why Prothero takes the time to expand on each religion in detail.

The rest of the book reads like a World Religions 101 textbook, though in some respects Prothero's frank writing makes for an interesting introduction. For example, Prothero suggests that there are things that some religions do better than others. Prothero is also ready to point out what might be called the "failings" of the religions he discusses. During a discussion of the influence of feminism on Judaism, Prothero writes that "there is no pretending away the patriarchal history of Judaism." I'll admit that my politically-correct-era upbringing was shocked by that sentence. So although I was already familiar with much of the content in God Is Not One, I certainly did not find Prothero's approach repetitive compared to my previous readings on these subjects.

In many cases, my understanding was expanded. Prothero also has a talent for illustrating how these various religions can speak to one another. In particular, I enjoyed reading about the way that Confucianism, which tends to emphasize the role of the individual within a community, and Doaism, which often emphasizes escaping the community to flourish as an individual, speak to each other.

My only complaint is Prothero's closing discussion of atheism, in which I felt that Prothero dropped his academic distance, and perhaps stepped outside of his area of expertise. Prothero suggests that the primary argument of the atheists is that religion is not good, but even if we put aside the generalization, surely the unifying argument of all atheists is that there is no God. Prothero later considers this latter atheistic position, and responds that atheists can only reject the gods that they know of. However, by this logic, no one can be "faithful" to a single religion. In comparison to the rest of the book, Prothero's coda on atheism felt rushed, and, though I hesitate to say so, even sloppily written.*

Fortunately, Prothero's coda on atheism is brief and, on the whole, God Is Not One is a fine read. It has an introductory thesis that I think everyone would benefit from considering. Further, the following discussion of these eight "great" religions is honest and informative. I am pleased that I read God Is Not One and intend to read more of Prothero's work. I happily recommend it to anyone curious about this subject.

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*Curiously, Prothero has since been involved in a study that found that atheists tend to know more about religions than the religious, so perhaps this will be the subject of his next work.
Profile Image for Terence.
1,160 reviews387 followers
October 6, 2010
I am not going to spend much time discussing the bulk of this book – the nine chapters that introduce you to “the eight rival religions that run the world” (in Prothero’s estimation) and atheism – because that turns out not to be the important part. I’ve had a difficult time writing this review because I didn’t know where to start but then it hit me as I was desultorily leafing through the book that the most important section is the author’s introduction, where he sets out why “god is not one” and why the idea that He is, is wrong headed and dangerous.

So let’s get the religions out of the way:

Prothero’s writing is strongest with the religions he knows best – Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Or, as I think it more accurate to say, Christianities, Islams and Judaisms, for he shows pretty clearly that even within religious traditions, adherents can have wildly variant ideas of their supreme beings (e.g., Mormons vs. Other Christians; Sunni vs. Sufi, etc.). He’s less confident when he writes about the others, however. I found this particularly noticeable in the chapters on Buddhism and Hinduism. In both he admits to not quite “getting” them, and it shows in his writing, which all too often becomes trite and superficial. I felt I was reading a different book and author compared to his treatment of Western religion. That said, if you’re serious about become more religiously literate, these chapters are a good place to start though not an end point. From recent personal experience I know how much more there is to all of these faiths (e.g., Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History, among others). Another example is his chapter on the Yoruba religious tradition (which includes Santeria; Candomble, Umbanda and Macumba; the Orisha Movement; Kele; and some aspects of Vodun) – an entirely new subject for me.

The true importance of the book lies in the introduction. If you don’t accept Prothero’s contention then the rest of the book is nothing more than a handy primer on different religions. If, however, you do see merit in Prothero’s argument (as I do) then the book assumes a somewhat more important status – a call to recognize religious differences as real, that each religion is a legitimate quest to discover what it means to be human, and that we must cultivate an atmosphere of tolerance (freedom of conscience).

Two statements Prothero makes struck me as key to his argument. The first is that, in as much as there’s any commonality among religions, it’s in the realization that “something is wrong with the world” (p. 11). And the second, is that every religion may begin from the same point but they identify different causes for the “wrongness” and different solutions. He breaks it down into four broad approaches religions take:

1. Identify the problem (e.g., “sin” in Christianity, “suffering” in Buddhism)
2. Offer a solution (e.g., “salvation in Christ”, “nirvana”)
3. Describe the technique (or method) to achieve the solution (e.g., faith and good works, the Eightfold Path)
4. Present exemplars of the faith (e.g., saints; arhats, bodhisattvas and lamas)

As Prothero notes, this is only a framework. A religion is an extraordinarily complex animal and shouldn’t be reduced to such an arbitrary mold but it’s a place to start to understand a faith.

Religions are a manifestation of humanity’s desire to know what it means to be human (the so-called “religious gene”?). Unfortunately, humans can also exhibit a need for certitude – not only is my religious tradition the best but it’s the only one – which fuels violent religious expression. In any quest to reconcile faiths, the ideas of certainty and exclusion will have to be jettisoned. Prothero is cautiously optimistic that such a spirit exists and is growing, particularly in the face of the obvious consequences of intolerance the world over.*

With some caveats, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.

* I’ve read too much history to be quite as optimistic. I’m reminded of a comment I heard while watching a video of a Tea Party rally in DC: “The only thing I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.” Or ignorant statements from people like Senator Coburn (R-OK) or Billy Graham’s son that Islam is a religion of violence (or not even a religion at all). If these were fringe elements that usually had audiences that could be counted on one hand, then it wouldn’t matter but, sad to say, they have platforms that reach millions.

** I’d also want to mention that I liked Prothero’s use of a biological metaphor in describing religions: “Religion” is a genus; “faiths” (or creeds or beliefs, however you want to describe them) are species. And just like you know an ostrich and a hummingbird are “birds,” you’re not going to confuse the two or suggest that they occupy the same environmental niche.
Profile Image for Lydia.
55 reviews6 followers
March 1, 2012
After reading Stephen Prothero’s “God Is Not One” I have a deeper and less judgmental understanding of religious differences and the religious experience. I feel we are all on a journey in this life to find a perfect love and we find it in different ways: through the love of God, or Allah; through meditation and the love of self; through the love of a mate, parent, sibling, or child. Regardless of where this perfect love is found, once you find it, you realize that life is something incredible and special and you want to nurture it and share your experience with the world around you.

I have been hypercritical of religion in the past, but it’s not the practice that has ever rubbed me the wrong way, always the practitioner. I am inclined to believe that some people understand love and how to express it through religion, while others have merely found a façade from which to exercise their hate by constantly focusing on being mean to others, finger-pointing and tirelessly professing to know their god’s mind and what is evil and must be destroyed. These people are still on their journey, and maybe religion hasn’t helped them discover and feel a perfect love, but we can’t forget that we are all searching for it, and that alone warrants a level of compassion and understanding, even if we don’t agree with the way in which they exercise their ignorance.

I’m so glad I got around to finally reading this! I heard about it on NPR news a few years ago (at least), and I like that Prothero doesn’t try to say that all religions have the same goal in mind. He rightly differentiates between them by pinpointing the problem area each identifies, and then the cure. For instance, Christianity identifies the human ill as sin; the remedy is salvation. Judaism – exile from the Promised Land; return from exile. Islam – self-sufficieny; submission. Buddhism – suffering; nirvana. Atheism – religion; self-sufficieny. And on and on. (My quick and loose interpretation, at best, which doesn’t even address the different types of these religions or the many other very different religions with varying goals.)
It’s a wonderful read. Prothero states quite smartly in the introduction:

"… The ideal of religious tolerance has morphed into the straightjacket of religious agreement.

Yet we know in our bones that the world’s religions are different from one another. As my colleague Adam Seligman has argued, the notion of religious tolerance assumes differences, since there is no need to tolerate a religion that is essentially the same as your own. We pretend these differences are trivial because it makes us feel safer, or more moral. But pretending that the world’s religions are the same does not make our world safer. Like all forms of ignorance, it makes our world more dangerous. What we need on this furiously religious planet is a realistic view of where religious rivals clash and where they can cooperate. Approaching this volatile topic from this angle may be scary. But the world is what it is. And both tolerance and respect are empty virtues until we actually know something about whomever it is we are supposed to be tolerating or respecting."

I highly recommend this book if you want to know the basics of Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba Religion, Judaism, Daoism and Atheism (which at times, depending on community and practice, can resemble religion).
Profile Image for Bob Nichols.
889 reviews292 followers
May 17, 2011
Prothero does a good job summarizing major religious systems. Left here, this would be an excellent book.

In emphasizing diversity of religious beliefs and practices, the author directly challenges those who claim that differences are superficial and that God is really One. That's a "lovely sentiment," he writes, but it's "dangerous, disrespectful and untrue." As becomes clearer at the end of the book, Prothero is also criticizing the New Atheists (Harris, Dawkins and others) who, he argues, paint all religions, malevolently, with the same brush.

The book runs into problems with this theme. For example, the title itself is misleading. As the author himself notes, God is not necessary (e.g., Confucianism, Buddhism; philosophical Hinduism, Daoism) for his argument. While "God" defined in terms other than a being would be consistent with his "God is not one" thesis, the terminology is nevertheless confusing when he goes on to say that all sorts of religious people in the traditions he mentions deny god. This book is not so much about diverse conceptions of god, however defined, but about the diversity of major religious systems. This allows the author to weave into his argument the Cult of Reason after the French Revolution where God was replaced by the "Goddess of Reason," and the anti-religious beliefs of the New Atheists that he characterizes a religion "of sorts."

More importantly, in stressing diversity, Prothero does not look at what might underlie these differences and, thereby, reveal that religions might have far more in common that what his argument conveys. Cataloging differences is one choice for an author. Cataloging similarities is another and the insights from evolutionary biology and other fields might be helpful here. Is Darwin's insight about our tribal nature and its tie to group-individual survival relevant to religious belief systems and a "we-them" orientation? How much is our love and propensity for group conformity, and a need to belong to something greater than ourselves, related to our need to be part of a group? Does our need for survival prompt fear, and does fear prompt need for a protector, submission, sacrifice and propitiation? Does our need for survival prompt us to look for ways to live eternally? Might unconscious father and mother archetypes lie inside of us and then externalized as gods, saints and patrons? Does our need for survival prompt our need for nurture and a nurturing god? Is the capacity to care for others related to a capacity among many to extend that care to a world beyond our 'tribe'? While the meaning of life is built into instinctual beings, might the minds that were designed by evolution to help us survive have the byproduct(because, for example, we're aware of death, suffering) of forcing us to create meaning (via religion, myth) in our lives?

This is not Prothero's way of looking at the religious landscape. He accepts diversity at face value, and works within the paradigm that our biology is not relevant when compared to mind and culture. "Of course, we are in a sense born human beings," he writes, "but only in the most trivial sense of genes and phylum and DNA," as if these have no relevance to how we interact with the world and why we interact the way we do. He concedes that "differences can be overemphasized" and that "the world's religions do converge at points." How they converge is only in the most simple and general sense that religious "adherents are human beings with human bodies and human failings." If Prothero has no problem suggesting that the atheists, who are quite biologically oriented (e.g., Harris and Dawkins), are a religion "of sorts," perhaps his 'everything is nurture' approach might also be a religion "of sorts."

In contrast to Armstrong, the 'Perennial Philosophers' and others, Prothero makes the point that we need to be realistic about the diversity that exists in religious systems. Looking at them from the perspective of what they have in common may also help with our sense of realism about the role of religion in our lives. Similar to Chomsky-like linguistic structures, are there underlying universal 'forms' that are expressed in religious diversity? Rituals, beliefs, and rules about fear and love, for example, can be expressed in a multitude of ways, which might very well be the proverbial 'shadows on the wall.' Might our understanding of these underlying factors help us to deal better with the evident problems such as excessive tribalism and fear, as well as building on the evident opportunities such as the capacity for nurturing and flourishing? If we are driven to serve our interest and the interests of those we care about, does the notion of mutual respect as a utilitarian principle and as expressed by the golden rule and its variations, rise to the forefront as the rational rule that helps to regulate the freedom of each within the context of the freedom of all? In this regard, the aggressive proselytizers who care so much about what others believe cross the line of mutual respect. Perhaps it is this that some critics of religion are particularly attacking. Seen this way, the principle of respect walks us along a fine line: Each can believe (or not believe) in God in their own way, but they will encounter a major push back when they seek to impose their belief systems on others. Clearly, it's more complicated than this, but this is the general rule that can apply to how one lives within a broader, diverse context, and perhaps the openness of Hindus and Daoists that Prothero references is a good model to follow.

There are a few other comments to make about this book. Prothero's definition of religion is not so clear. For the most part, we can understand it in a generic, intuitive way, dealing with the deeper 'meaning of life' questions. Toward the end of the book he more or less formalizes his definition so that "the family of religion" involves a statement of beliefs and values, ritual activities, codes of ethical conduct and institutions. That definition allows him to include atheism and secular humanism as religion, but that definition might also apply to the house or senate chambers of any state legislature or, for that matter, to the Lions Club. While small in size, Prothero includes Judaism as a major religion because of its "out of proportion" influence. In this regard, he mentions not only that it spawned Christianity and Islam (and, given Prothero's loose religious classification system, these might constitute one overarching belief system with three major divisions), but also the success of Jews such as Sandy Koufax and numerous playwrights, musicians and comedians, as if each religious tradition does not have its own important cultural representatives. Continuing in that vein, Prothero claims that the Jewish narrative of "slavery and freedom, exile and return may well be...the greatest story ever told." While we can understand a reference to a 'great story,' one wonders what is to be gained from claiming that one particular narrative is greater than those in other religious traditions.

In a few other minor ways, this book hits the reader wrong. In his laudable effort to encourage respect for diversity, Prothero notes that he is not one for bumper stickers ("I don't traffic in bumper stickers," he says), yet the chapter titles do exactly that (e.g., Judaism: The Way of Exile and Return; Islam, the Way of Submission; Christianity: The Way of Salvation). While such summary titles are generally appropriate to orient a reader, in a book on religious belief and practices where diversity is central, chapter headings giving simply just the name of each religion would do. To say that one religion is one of salvation, for example, overrides the rich diversity in that religion while also minimizing its presence in other belief systems. Elsewhere, Prothero references "Socrates'" allegory of the cave, not Plato's. He speculates that men are preoccupied with the religious aspects of death because "after all, it is men who have done most of the killing in human history," as if wives and mothers do not experience the loss of loved ones in war. Inexplicably, Prothero wonders (about Daoism) how can "a wanderer be purposeless on purpose," as if one is not capable of choosing, on purpose, to wander through life. Finally, Prothero notes his disagreement with religious and anti-religious name calling, yet he is not shy about calling the New Atheists "the spittle of angry men," and making gratuitous references to "Hardball" and other television shows that "sound like they were named by adolescent boys."

In an additive way, these comments on Prothero detract from a book that otherwise does an excellent job summarizing the major religious belief systems.





Profile Image for Sarah.
557 reviews65 followers
August 13, 2012
Having abandoned this book to gather dust on my ‘to-read’ shelf for over six months, I’m now a bit upset with myself at not having read it sooner. I am no stranger to Dawkins-esque New Atheism, which Mr. Prothero (not unjustly) describes as “angry” and “self-righteous.” After reading through an endless (and repetitive) collection of New Atheist books, though, I felt utterly drained of anger and in dire need of a long religious study hiatus.

Six months and a few epic novels later, I find myself closing the cover of one of the most reasonable and informative books about religion that I’ve ever read. Positing a new approach to the societal conversation about religion, Prothero warns his readers against the dualistic style of argumentation we’ve espoused for so long (i.e. religion is all good vs. religion is all bad). Instead, he urges his audience to consider a more objective strategy and offers detailed information (never a bad thing, in my opinion!) about the world’s most influential religions, highlighting the differences that make them each unique.

In the wake of a brutal and unyielding literary (and virtual) war about religion, Mr. Prothero offers a breath of fresh, neutral, adequately informed air. God Is Not One outlines the basics of the world’s major religions and crafts a solid foundation for a more humane and informed approach to discussing this delicate subject.
Profile Image for Rod Hilton.
150 reviews3,125 followers
May 27, 2010
In Stephen Prothero's last book, Religious Literacy, Prothero made the case that the level of understanding about the major world religions is dangerously low. Apparently many people reacted to this book by telling Prothero the same thing I thought when I finished reading that book: "I see that our cultural knowledge of religion is poor, I know I'm a part of that, and I want a single book to read to educate myself." God Is Not One is that book.

God Is Not One offers a high-level look at the eight most influential religions of the world: Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba, Judaism, and Daoism. None of the chapters ever go into any sort of excruciating detail on these religions, instead offering broad views of them and occasionally drilling slightly below the surface when warranted. This is not the book to become an expert on Islam or Hinduism, it's the book to become a "jack of all trades" when it comes to religious knowledge.

I found this book fascinating. I learned the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the way that Hinduism has modernized, the relationship between Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, and the different sects of Judaism (I didn't even know Judaism had sects).

One of my favorite things about the book is the way it re-contextualizes religions for the reader. I was raised Christian, so whenever I learned about other religions I would try to relate them to Christianity in order to understand them. Prothero argues that this is a mistake, and eloquently argues it's very much like evaluating Basketball on how well it scores home runs. Scoring home runs is the goal of Baseball, and if you want to look at Basketball you need to realize that it's not about scoring runs, but sinking baskets. Similarly, each of the different religions focuses on a different "problem" and the solution to that problem. For Christianity, the problem is sin, and the solution is salvation. In Islam, however, the problem is not sin, but pride. And the solution is not salvation, but submission. For Jews, the problem is exile, and the solution is returning to God. For Buddhism, the problem is suffering. Viewing the religions in this way was very eye-opening for me, and I greatly enjoyed it.

The biggest flaw of the book is the way that Prothero deals with Atheism, in an extra ninth chapter. He makes the classic "Atheism is a religion" argument, filled with all of that "just as dogmatic" nonsense that I've heard a thousand times before. It's garbage, and the entire chapter was a very frustrating read, as Prothero made dozens of silly claims and pulled some of the most controversial quotes from various New Atheist books out of context to demonize atheism. I've read the books that Prothero references as the work of the New Atheists, and I found his descriptions of those books and their central themes wholly innaccurate. Since I was relying on this book to give me information about 7 religions with which I was somewhat unfamiliar, seeing Prothero make so many incorrect statements made me wonder if I was learning incorrect information elsewhere. Nearly every other chapter deals fairly and even-handedly with the details of religious positions, but the atheism chapter is full of bias, a clear attack on a viewpont. The book would be much stronger to simply have chapter 9 removed.

Otherwise, an excellent and highly informative book. If you're not religious or you were raised within a single religion without having much exposure to others, this book will provide a great deal of insight into the unknown world of other religious beliefs.
Profile Image for Paul.
692 reviews67 followers
June 4, 2019
I found Stephen Prothero's book on the eight great religious traditions utterly convincing – for the argument his book opposes.

Although, to be fair, the book's argument is more nuanced than the title, subtitle and even the author's own introduction claims it is.

OK, this review is getting off the rails a bit. Let me set aside the snark and say, first, that as an easy-to-read sketch of the eight most influential world religions – the three western monotheisms, four eastern humanisms and African Yoruba religion – God Is Not One is really good. My main complaint is that I'd have rathered Prothero tackled 10 religions by adding Jainism and Sikhism and reduced each chapter to a more manageable 20 pages each; as it is, the chapters feel a smidge long, especially the one on Yoruba religion, which devolves into a dictionary-like recitation of various divinities and their traits.

That said, I learned a lot about the eight religions with which I'm least familiar, and found his treatment of the two with which I am familiar (Christianity and Judaism) to be fair, if somewhat oversimplified, which is to be expected. His ninth chapter on atheism is also well done.

Sandwiching those nine chapters are an introduction and conclusion that argue, as you might expect from the title and subtitle, that the world's religions are too different to be considered "different paths up the same mountain" that is preferred by many liberal pluralists. As I said up top, the nine chapters essentially disprove the introduction and conclusion. I found much more uniting the aims and assumptions of the religions than dividing them. They all identify a broadly similar problem in the world – call it sin, death, chaos or suffering – and identify a problem to fix it that universally includes an ethical imperative to treat others better. Whether they believe in one god or many or none, whether they identify a concrete afterlife or not, they all believe that human flourishing is important, and that their tradition is the best way to attain it. In that sense, I found Prothero's book making a compelling case for the argument he rejects.

But in his conclusion, Prothero hedges around that case anyway. He acknowledges the similarities but argues we should not paper over the differences. I can get on board with that, as should anyone. Dialogue between people of different faiths only works if we respect each other enough to acknowledge what makes those faiths different. But dialogue also only works if we respect each other enough to recognize what makes our traditions similar.
Profile Image for Ганна Кузьо.
Author 1 book52 followers
July 14, 2022
Важко оцінювати таку книгу, бо я профан у цій галузі, тож моя оцінка стосується того, що мені було цікаво, але не весь час й іноді складно. Хоча я розумію, що безліч інформації й так вкоротили та спростили.

Не знаю, чи це найкраща книга на тему релігієзнавства. Тут мова про найбільш впливові релігії, ази - вчення, догмати, традиції, вплив на суспільство, різні течії тощо.

Як виросла в християнській сім’ї, тож про християнство знаю чимало, трохи про юдаїзм, все решта було новим. На початку книги є цитата, яка наштовхує на розширення світогляду: Гадати, що ди��кусія про великі релігії починається з християнства, — означає не тільки демонструвати обмеженість знань, а й виказувати свій вік. Можливо, XIX-XX ст справді належали християнству. Але XXI століття — це століття ісламу." Проте те саме християнство зараз дуже видозмінюється внаслідок експансії на схід та південь. Зараз це вже не релігія Європи, а релігія Азії.

Цікаво, наскільки релігії є різними. Юдаїзм, іслам та християнство звісно мають паралелі, а от ніші релігії принципово інакші. От, на приклад, одна з особливих ознак буддійської традиції - акцент не на вірі, а на досвіді. А от особливістю даосизму є те, що блукання — радше можливість, аніж покарання, на відміну від західних монотеїстичних релігій де блукання світом є карою — тим, що чекає на тебе, як��о відкусиш яблука (Адам і Єва) або вб’єш брата (Каїн).

Підсумую, що для новачків у релігієзнавстві ця книга цікава, пізнавальна й досить легко читається.
Profile Image for David .
1,240 reviews155 followers
September 23, 2010
Prothero gives us an easy-to-read primer on the most eight influential religions in the world today. He orders them according to their influence, putting Islam first. Some could argue with the religions included or the order, and Prothero briefly addresses such objections.

This book would be helpful for those interested in world religions and how these religions influence the world. Islam and Christianity are obvious and come first, together holding over half of the world population as adherents. Confucianism and Hinduism are next, due to their great influence in the emerging economies of China and India. Buddhism (5th) and Daoism (8th) also are influential both in the west and east. I especially found the chapter on Yoruba (African) religion helpful as such religions are usually all lumped together as "primitive" religions in textbooks. Prothero shows the uniqueness of Yoruba religion and its influence. Of course, Judaism gets a place due to its influence in the world. Some could say Judaism, as the parent of both Christianity and Islam, should rank higher. Finally, Prothero includes a brief chapter on atheism.

One qualm I had, reading as a Christian, was that the Christian chapter seemed to focus more on the history of Christianity than on its beliefs. Perhaps this was the best way to account for Christianity's wild diversity, speaking of Catholicism, the Reformation, 19th century evangelicalism, 20th century Pentecostalism, Mormonism and so on. But it seemed that the other chapters focused more on what adherents believe and do. A good chunk of the Judaism chapter was filled with stories from the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament). As far as this informs Christian theology, some of this could have been included in the Christian chapter. In other words, there should have been more on the roots of Christianity than on its later history (more on New Testament, less on Constantine).

What I most appreciate about Protheros' book is that he takes religion seriously. Many have argued that deep down all religions are the same, different paths up the same mountain to the same goal. Prothero rightly says that this too is to take a faith position, rather than a neutral position. Further, it does not take the individual religions seriously as focusing on different problems and answering different questions. It sounds humble to say all faiths are the same, but from what position of knowledge does the person who states that stand? What right does a person have to tell a Christian and a Muslim they are both wrong, for both their religions are really the same? It sounds humble, but it is equally as, for lack of a better term, arrogant as holding to the truth of one particular religion. Prothero does well in noting this.

At the same time, throughout the book Prothero appears to hold to some form of the same pluralism. Each chapter is subtitled with "the way of", hinting at the fact that each religion is a valid way to something. Prothero writes as an agnostic of sorts, where others have claimed that all religions are at their core the same, Prothero seems to say "I don't know." He shows they are all different, with real disagreements that cannot be ignored, and leaves it at that. He admirably reminds us that when it comes to religious dialogue a good dose of humility is needed. But the question remains, which is up to each of us to answer, is there metaphysical, truth for everybody, in any of these religions? Where they differ, is one correct and another not (is there one God or many, for example)? Obviously Prothero is not responsible to give us an answer to such questions, and it was not the purpose of his book to do so. Yet such questions will remain for adherents of these religions. Is sincerity in your beliefs enough, or is there something more?

Overall, this is a great read and I recommend it for anyone interested in world religions. Prothero provides good information, reminding us that the religions of the world have real differences that matter and encouraging us to be humble as we dialogue with other religions.
Profile Image for Serhii M.
13 reviews2 followers
March 24, 2023
Давно мені хотілось дізнатись більше про головні світові релігії, і ця книжка повинна була закрити цю потребу. В принципі вона свою функцію виконала. Автор працює(-вав) викладачем релігієзнавства, багато спілкувався з представниками різних релігій, був в багатьох країнах... Тому в книзі досить доступно і відносно детально описані різні особливості релігій, та їх багаточисленних розгалужень. Головне подано було все неупереджено, поки... Поки в кінці справа не дійшла до атеїзму. І тут автора понесло. Він почав демонізувати атеїстів, 90% тексту приділивши декільком радикальним, провокативним атеїстам, до яких автор явно відчуває неприязнь. Спекуляції, пересмикування, постійний сарказм (який не зустрічався жодного разу за всі попередні розділи). Коротше кажучи "5 з 5" до цього розділу перетворилися на 3 з 5.
Profile Image for Heather.
293 reviews14 followers
February 11, 2016
I wish I hadn't wasted my time.

I picked up this book because of this particular bit in the description: "Stephen Prothero argues that persistent attempts to portray all religions as different paths to the same God overlook the distinct problem that each tradition seeks to solve." Religious belief intrigues me and I was interested in learning more about belief systems that I knew little about; particularly Confucianism, Daoism, and Yoruba Religion.

Prothero doesn't waste time taking swipes at atheists. There is more than one just in the introduction. But I tried to ignore them and stay focused on the main reason I was reading (listening) to this book. I also tried to grab onto Prothero's claim that he wasn't going to separate the bad aspects of any religion and its adherents, even going so far as to use a classroom discussion about Hitler's Christianity as proof. Unfortunately, what I found in the chapters that followed did not live up to this "promise." Prothero spoke neutrally / respectfully about the less savory aspects of the religions he covered (a chapter per religion). But at the end he tossed in a chapter about atheists and, without irony, let his contempt show. At one point he even referred to the passionate debates of people like Hitchens as something like "spittle from the mouths of angry old men." In this same chapter Prothero called the 9-11 hijackers "Qur'an quoting terrorists," obviously letting Islam off the hook & going against what he said he wasn't going to do. Let me be clear, I'm a proponent of representing a person or group accurately: using definitions and explanations the adherents would confirm and hold up as fair and representative. I do not have a chip on my shoulder that insists that all Muslims be painted with the same brush. But Prothero's hypocrisy is so blatant it's pathetic. It's not fair to paint religious adherents and passionate and dedicated while describing atheists as militant and arrogant. If he were actually as open-minded and accepting of the various belief systems as he seems to portray himself as being, then his chapter about atheists wouldn't have been so obviously dismissive. It would have been as even handed and dispassionate as the other chapters were. It would have fairly represented things like the atheist's opposition to circumcision, etc. But, instead, Prothero insisted on making a straw man of atheism and then reveled in his opportunity to bitch about its "practitioners."

(Side note: I brushed aside my disagreement with calling atheism a religion as Prothero was using a wide, all encompassing, definition that labeled the philosophical realm of things like Daoism and Confusionism religion. So whatever.)

In addition to my beef with Prothero's obvious disdain for atheists, I also found it difficult to stay interested. He included superfluous pop culture materials that were not relevant to a basic understanding of the religion being discussed at the time. For example, in the chapter about Daoism he actually lists book title after book title. Dao of Cooking. Dao of Reading. Dao of Dying. Dao of Horses. Dao of Dogs. Dao of Cats. Dao of... FOR THE LOVE, STOP LISTING BOOK TITLES, DAMN IT. He was also incredibly repetitive. He explained bat mitzvah twice within less than a minute. Many times I considered turning it off and returning the audio to the library. But I pushed on, determined to hear out what he had to say about how each religion is different and how we do a disservice by lumping them all together.

I know a fair amount about the Abrahamic religions as well as Hinduism and Buddhism. I didn't learn anything new in those chapters. In retrospect, I wish I had fast forwarded through them. The chapters on Confucianism and Daoism were opaque and difficult to understand. But I think I did gain a little insight. The silver lining in this book was the Chapter on Yoruba Religion. It fascinated me. It didn't save me the regret of having read the book, however.
Profile Image for Al Bità.
377 reviews39 followers
July 28, 2010
This is an interesting take on comparative religions which introduces the reader into eight 'great religions', in order: Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba, Judaism and Daoism. By 'great' the author means those which he considers most influential in the modern world. Sometimes this also means those with the largest numbers, but this is not necessarily always the case. Prothero himself admits much is missing from his choices — some examples: Shinto, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Wicca, Baha'i, Sikhism, and even such new movements as Rastafarianism and Scientology.

Prothero writes in a friendly, easy-to-read way and speaks eloquently of each of his chosen religions. Part of the fun is that as each of these is described, one is sorely tempted to become like Woody Allen's Zelig and literally transform oneself into each of them. This works in two ways: first, by concentrating on how each religion goes to resolve the problems it sees for humanity and its role in the world; and secondly by making many cross-references between all eight where they seem to complement if not echo one another. The latter, however, is not to be taken as meaning that the author sees them as all the same underneath. Indeed, the main thrust of the work is to argue against codifying them as such. Prothero argues that each religion presents its own unique and different approach. As the title of the book suggests, each religion shows a different path to different gods, and that these differences are significant.

The chapter titles provide a simplified, usually one-worded description of these ways: Submission (Islam); Salvation (Christianity); Propriety (Confucianism); Devotion (Hinduism); Awakening (Buddhism); Connection (Yoruba); Exile and Return (Judaism); and Flourishing (Daoism). In the process, 'religion' becomes redefined more as representing a way of life, a way of living one's life, which is reflected in the rich diversity of interpretations each religion provides. It is interesting that this also implies that one does not even need to believe in the actual existence of a god or gods for each specified pathway to influence the way you live your life.

And here, perhaps, is the problem. The existence of a vast, complex variety of religious experiences and influences is an obvious aspect of humanity. But the redefinition of religion in this way makes the author argue that Atheism is also a religion. He includes what he calls a brief coda on Atheism (aka the Way of Reason) but only to speak of it pejoratively — basically because some Atheists call for the abolition of all religions — and Prothero finds religions far too interesting in themselves. He sees them as humanity's ways of being human, even though he does seem to acknowledge that some see the great religions as having the task of transporting and transforming us, essentially because they seem to argue that the world is not our home, and that being human is not our true calling. (An Atheist would argue the opposite: the world is our home, and being human is our true calling.)

While acknowledging the real diversity of religions, Prothero still argues that if there is one thing shared across his great religions it is a humbling belief that, if there really is a god or goddess worthy of the name, He, She or It must surely know more than we do about the things that mater most. I'm not sure where that places Prothers on the question of whether god exist or not, but given the fact that everything that we 'know' about these 'gods' has been created by men and written down by men, nothing in this work is a very convincing argument for their actual existence at all.
Profile Image for Glen Engel-Cox.
Author 4 books51 followers
November 24, 2014
A few weeks ago I read an interview with the author of this book and that intrigued me enough to make this the first purchase through Apple's iBooks application on my iPhone. During this last weekend's dive trip, and I had enough free time to spend educating (and re-educating) myself on the world's greatest religions. Prothero is a religious studies professor, and this book comes across as a basic college 101 survey course, albeit one that does have a thesis: that it is a mistake for people to claim that all religions are basically the same. Through chapters on Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Yoruba, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, and Daoism, Prothero challenges you to question your perceptions of what you think religion is, what people want from it and what they believe that get from it, and how that works in a world where any two people who meet on the street will very likely have incredibly different viewpoints, even if they grew up in the same time and same place. (I hold this truth to be self-evident, given recent experiences reconnecting to family and high school friends on Facebook.)

This is no self-help book. The goal here is not to provide a menu of religions so you can choose one to feast on for the rest of your life. Instead, it's the classic college assignment of compare/contrast, and in every case Prothero does a great job of doing so, and doing so in the context of each religion. That is, he uses the terms of the religion itself when doing the contrasting, rather than always comparing with his own upbringing.

Prothero does insert himself in the book, and it is better for it. It's important to know that he was raised in the Christian tradition, but also to know that he's attended Seders and has friends and colleagues in all these fields. His goal, beyond the thesis, is that by understanding the beliefs (or non-beliefs, as the case may be) of others, you are better suited to get along with them, and it certainly seems like he is a model example of this.

I come away from this book with as many questions as I went in, albeit ones that are different and more nuanced, more than likely. For one, I'm not sure that it is entirely possible that all these religions can co-exist peaceably, at least not under traditions that proselytize and seek converts, or where zealots seek to modify others' behavior based on their religious convictions. In this sense I do side with the New Atheists who feel that by allowing religion to enter the public, political realm is a clear and present danger. But Prothero is spot on to point to New Atheists being as starkly fundamentalist as the worst of any of the extreme wings of any of the religions, and that's enough to give anyone pause about their statements and goals.

This was the first book that I have read completely on my iPhone, and I very much enjoyed the experience. I didn't use the ability to make notes on the text outside of marking one typo, but I'm looking forward to taking advantage of that feature in the future. One time I did "lose my place" in the book, but finding where I was again was as easy as with the paper version.
Profile Image for Margaret Sankey.
Author 9 books203 followers
April 23, 2012
The other reviews of this book are hilarious and make me wonder if anyone read the book at all--"comparative religion makes me see that we're all about love!". Prothero's point, aided by cogent summaries of the world's major diaspora religions, is that while there is some overlap about goodness and an ideal world, there are specific reasons why religions emerged the way they did for very different purposes (his sports analogy is a good one--most sports have a score-keeping system, but runs are very different than goals or crossing a finish line), obscuring the real and often hostile fissures between them. Interfaith dialogue is great, but at the bedrock of each faith are things that work deliberately to keep them from conglomerating into one wave of peace and love, no matter how good the cookies and intentions are.
Profile Image for Justin Tapp.
641 reviews65 followers
October 14, 2017
God is Not One: The Eight Ancient Religions that Run the World
The author (a Boston U. professor) is making what is, apparently, a radical statement in modern American academia-- all religions are not the same. The goal of the book is to provide a simple summary of major religions; stating the primary problem posed and solved in each religion.
He is primarily mindful of New Atheists who label all religionss as equally harmful, but also is concerned about those advocating simple solutions to religious-based conflicts who ignore the irreconcilable differences between religions. He criticizes ideas of religious unity as a "rabbit hole." Religion "matters" because it moves cultures, voting, economies (see Mecca tourism), art, charity, justice, and wars. He would also critique evangelists in these religious who do not recognize the drastically different world views. While all religions inquire about the human condition, they don't ask the same questions. Evangelical Christians, for example, may think salvation is the goal of each religion and have a hard time understanding that Confucianism and Buddhism do not believe in sin or have an idea of salvation. All religions converge in their ethics but diverge in their theology. Religion is a force for "good and evil", nevermind that these terms are problematic when approached from worldviews that don't necessarily hold to a concept of good and evil.

I've only really studied two religions in-depth, so I found this book informative. I found his description of Christianity, including the fundamental problem and solution, as largely correct. Shortly after finishing this book, I learned I would be moving to the Asia-Pacific and I attended a course presenting the anthropology and political economy of SE Asia; this book provided some helpful filler material on Confucianism, Buddhism, Brahmans, and Muslims and gave me some questions to ask in class. The below are a basic summary of my notes on each religion as presented in the book:

Yoruba, The Way of Connection:
I probably learned the most about the Yoruba religion that started in West Africa (25 million adherents) and was imported in the slave trade into the Caribbean and South America, where it syncretized with Catholicism. In Yoruba, the goal is to flourish "here and now," to get the (pantheistic) Orishas to intervene on your behalf. Yorubas adopted Saint veneration from the Catholic church and pray to the saints like they do orishas.

Islam, The Way of Submission:
The author begins with Islam because "the 21st century belongs to Islam." Sin is not the problem; there is no original sin in Islam. "Pride" is the problem. Individual peace, Salam, is the goal. Belief is not the way, submission is the way. Islam has much on war and the ethics of waging war, in contrast to the Christian New Testament which ignores war. Islam also does not separate the secular and sacred, there is a religious state and this cannot be forgotten when looking at various conflicts in the Islamic world. 15 percent of Islam is Shi'ia, but there are also Sufis who are also remarkable. Sufis "crave" Allah and not Islam, per se.

Christianity, The Way of Salvation:
The Nicean Creed begins with "we believe," and henceforth orthodox belief has been more important to Christian sects than orthopraxy. Prothero describes Christianity as the "rescue religion," and explains the central problem of original sin with how salvation is obtained through Christ alone. He describes the Gospel succinctly well. There are 2.2 billion Christians speaking 300,000 languages. The religion is increasingly "browning" as 63% of Christians are non-white (elsewhere I've seen that the median Christian is a West African female). Christians don't identify personally with doctrine much, most Christians cannot recite creeds. Prothero gives a brief overview of the history of evangelicalism with an eye to modern movements. Pentacostalism is pushing Christian growth worldwide from West Africa to unexpected places like Sweden. He includes Mormonism as an American sect (despite it being absolutely incompatible with orthodox Christianity, but where else can you put it?).

Confucianism, The Way of Propriety:
The yin and yang. Confucianism mixes easily with other Chinese religions. China does not officially recognize confuscionism, but it definitely influences the culture. One tenet is the idea of self-improvement through education; Confucious was a polymath. It is also about "doing the right thing, properly." Confucianism has experienced a revival in China with a rise in interest with reading the ancient works. Confucians refer to the "5 classics." But Confucianism is difficult to redeem on feminist grounds, although Prothero notes academic attempts to do just that. Apparently looking at the original writings/teachings gives evidence of looking unfavorably upon women.

Hinduism, The Way of Devotion:
Shiva or Ganesha. Brahma Shiva and Vishnu. There is a paradise, but no sin to be saved from. The aim of Hinduism it to create and sustain a stable social order. Prothero explains Vedic deities and polytheism. Moksha--emancipation and release-- is the end of the process of reincarnation and endless wandering, it can only be done through excessively good deeds. Brahma cannot be learned or attained through good works, it can only be experienced. There are very different schools of philosophical Hindu thought, including one that says Moksha comes from the grace of God or a spiritual being. The author walks through the histories of these schools of thought. There is a lot on goddesses, the act of sex, and a whole lot of other information.

Buddhism, The Way of Awakening:
Buddhism says we can solve the human problem without God. Buddhists seek to overcome suffering. There are 175 million Buddhists in China competing with the Confucianists for influence. There are four noble truths and the eightfold path. The author walks through various schools of Buddhist thought; these become popular in trends and then fade from popularity. Some are similar to other religions.

Judaism, The Way of Exile and Return:
It is supposedly a story and Commandments to remember. Unlike Christians, Jews don't have Creeds, councils, excommunication, etc (although the second temple history recorded in the New Testament certainly shows that they did before 70AD). Prothero examines reform schools of Judaic thought versus orthodox schools, etc.

Daoism, The Way of Flourishing:
Daoism is focused on the "Here and now," and also influences most Chinese in some way. It is popularized in West by the writings of Jack Keroac, Bruce Lee and martial arts, etc. It does not hope for or fear an afterlife. It's originator is Lao Tzu. It is about "reversals," letting go rather than striving. It still has a trend of seeking immortality, and there is some Daoist deity.

A Brief Coda on Atheism, The Way of Reason:
Atheists represent 9% of Western Europe, 1% of Americans. They evangelize with the same vigor that they criticize evangelical Christians for evangelising with. Prothero gives the same critique of New Atheists that others have rightly given, namely their rudeness, logical fallacies, and contradictions. Most alarming to the author is the "aping dogmatism." Humanist manifestors have norms, creeds, doctrines, and clearly excommunicate (particularly publicly on the internet) those who deviate. Atheists instead worship men- Darwin, Payne, Russell, etc. But they also borrow from Western ethics which are based on religion, which is a problem most New Atheists conveniently ignore.

The book's conclusion:
You have to acknowledge and understand the diversity of religions. Not all religions are the same good or the same danger. People are different, cultures and worldviews are different, and we deal with it because we are enriched by it. Religion also helps explain irrational behavior that economists can't describe or predict.
Profile Image for Alina Starovoit.
42 reviews4 followers
July 27, 2022
Писала довгий відгук в нотатках, але зрештою охолола й забила) Варта прочитання, принаймні моє знання про релігії, і, відповідно, культури світу, виявилося дуже обмеженим.
Profile Image for Hulttio.
140 reviews39 followers
May 17, 2022
“𝑪𝒉𝒓𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒂𝒏, 𝑱𝒆𝒘, 𝑴𝒖𝒔𝒍𝒊𝒎, 𝒔𝒉𝒂𝒎𝒂𝒏, 𝒁𝒐𝒓𝒐𝒂𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒊𝒂𝒏, 𝒔𝒕𝒐𝒏𝒆, 𝒈𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒅, 𝒎𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒕𝒂𝒊𝒏, 𝒓𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒓, 𝒆𝒂𝒄𝒉 𝒉𝒂𝒔 𝒂 𝒔𝒆𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒕 𝒘𝒂𝒚 𝒐𝒇 𝒃𝒆𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒚𝒔𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒚, 𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒒𝒖𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒆 𝒋𝒖𝒅𝒈𝒆𝒅.” – 𝖱𝗎𝗆𝗂


Prothero’s book is quite tempting from its title and cover, and ever since I saw its cover in a library I have been excited to read it. Once I started, it managed to sweep me into it pretty easily – at least for the first few parts. Prothero’s main idea in this book is to deconstruct the notion that all religions are really one and the same, or that they are merely different paths up the same mountain. Rather, every religion identifies a different ‘problem’ relating to humanity and human life, and every religion proposes a different solution to this problem. Not only that, but every religion emphasizes different religious dimensions. No matter what your religious background is, you are likely to encounter some fascinating ideas and concepts in this book.

Though some share similarities, e.g. Confucianism and Daoism, Prothero reminds us that they want to achieve different goals. I find this an interesting framework, to be sure, even if I am not fully convinced. I do not think all religions are essentially the same, but Prothero could have done more work supporting his argument in this book than he has. At times he seems to contradict his main argument and even highlight the similarities between religions, without qualifying them. This book, at its heart, is an informal introduction to the important tenets and views of the world’s eight major religions: Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religion, Judaism, and Daoism (with a bonus chapter on Atheism). I learned a lot about each and appreciated the depth of research (there are a healthy amount of footnotes). However, I did it find it frustrating at times that Prothero nonetheless seems to approach each religion from a heavily Christianity-influenced perspective; he makes a lot of comparisons and references to Christian notions or American pop culture that may be confusing and possibly outdated.

Some chapters were stronger than others. The chapter on Islam dissects the main ideas and practices of Islam really well, but the one on Christianity felt a bit diluted in comparison. Though I did find that Prothero did a good job of dissuading readers of Christian backgrounds from some misconceptions about Islam and comparing it to their own foundational beliefs. For example:
‘Still, I was discouraged to read so much of liars, evildoers, hypocrites, unbelievers, and idolaters [in the Quran]. I must admit, though, that something in me found all this God-fearing refreshing. In the modern West there is so much cheap chatter about befriending God that the prospect of fearing God seems almost illicit. What German theologian Rudolf Otto once referred to as the mysterium tremendum has been squeezed out of divinity and with it the prophetic possibility of punishment for those who glory in injustice.’

Prothero decides to enumerate the many different branches of Christianity, which left me wanting to know more about some of the doctrinal/theological issues in greater detail, rather than just the thousands of different denominations and their surface-level disagreements. The organization on the Hinduism chapter was quite solid, but the Buddhism chapter following it felt a bit more compressed. What was especially interesting was the coda on Atheism, which takes a strong stance against the ‘New Atheists’, whom Prothero, citing many others, calls just as dogmatic as their religious enemies. We would do better to emphasize other strands of ‘gentler’ modern atheism, he suggests.

All in all, this book would serve as a decent primer for someone looking to dive into the world’s greatest religions, and anyone who is curious about Prothero’s particular ‘problem/solution’ framework to religion. I find the latter interesting, but still do not think that this book is especially successful in its claimed position. That is not to say it hasn’t been useful – I have a lot of highlights and learned a lot, and I have reconstituted my TBR with some of the religious texts Prothero references here. And I would be glad to read more of Prothero’s works in the future. He has an engaging writing style and seems like he would be a fun guy to have a long conversation with.
6 reviews
April 12, 2023
This took me years to get through. No particular reason for the fits and starts. Its greatest asset is that is shows the folly of the pluralists insistence that all religions are equal or the same. They are all roads that lead to the same telos/God. This is simply untrue. The truth claims and problems each religion aims to solve are unique to themselves. To say otherwise is at best idealism, at worst intellectual dishonesty.

Prothero does a fine job of giving an overview - though at times it feels op ed rather than objective - but in the most playful and enjoyable of ways. I do appreciate the comparisons of various tenants of one religion in another - though it feels self refuting of earlier statements of uniqueness - as if he's lumping certain things together. Other times it's a useful tool for a point of reference.

His coda on atheism is well written and showcases how even the most vitriolic against religion are themselves "accidentally religious." Though some are honest enough to admit this - other loathe the comparison. He points out the contradictions of it - and rightly explains that there is something within humans that are built to worship, built to believe in something greater than themselves. I affirm this.

If you need a studied, yet casual crash course of world religions and their distinctives from a "pro-religion" source (not picking a side but enjoys them) - this is a good book. And again - the honesty to say they are not all equal, that they do not all lead to the same end, is truthful and much needed.
May 26, 2023
Дуже слабка і неповно-оптимістична оповідка про типу відмінності релігій світу, які насправді дуже схожі, оскільки походять з однієї точки🤡 Дуже мало про негативний бік релігій - в основному все якось надто гарно і добре, без якихось різких негативних відмінностей. Лише ненароком зачеплена тема пронизливої мізогінії і знелюднення жінок у всіх релігіях(ну не дивно, бо автор чоловік). Неадкватним, як для професора релігієзнавства вважаю не включити праматерів всіх релігій - зороастризм та «язичницькі» напрямки вірувань різних народів світу, від яких і пішли всі ці монотеїстичні патріархальні релігії знищення особистості та поклоніння чоловіку «на небі».
А розділ про атеїзм - просто щось. По суті - це просто засирання атеїзму, без жодної доказової бази. «Атеїсти неадекватні і бризкають слиною на релігійних» - ось це все розкриття розділу. Геніально, якщо чесно:/ Але швидкий, неглибокий курс релігієзнавства в університеті був значно корисніший ніж ця книга.
Profile Image for Britany.
66 reviews2 followers
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January 17, 2022
The TLDR of 8 world religions—9 if you include the authors segment on Atheism as the “religion of anti-religion.”

Religions covered: Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba, Judaism and Taoism.

I found that this was highly educational for such a broad, ambitious and relatively short book. It focuses on the 8 religions differences, and why they matter, through the lense of sociopolitical schemas. This book is a great launch pad for anyone interested in gaining brief yet succinct insights on leading world religions.
Profile Image for Iona.
Author 1 book30 followers
February 1, 2021
Nicely written and concisely put together—a great introduction to religion. I feel the author falls off on professionalism and puts too much of his own opinion in the atheism portion, but thankfully that was a brief coda.
Profile Image for Chad.
251 reviews40 followers
August 10, 2013
To begin with, the bizarre coda about atheism that many reviewers have cited as the reason for a low rating does, to be sure, leave one with a bad taste in the mouth. For all his seeming knowledge of the religions he explains, he doesn't appear to have a firm grasp on what atheism is. After carefully reading the coda, I think I can see where Prothero is coming from, but he does a poor job in writing an objective account of what atheism, represents. More on that later in the review. Anyway, yes, its tone is distasteful, and in general, I agree with the backlash against it, but minus that last chapter, I'm giving the book, on the whole, a 4-star review. Why?

Well, being raised Christian, I can testify to the staggering lack of awareness in America concerning anything outside the various Christian-centric denominational bubbles. The reason Fox News pundits and far right-wingers can get away with labeling Islam as a violent terror-obsessed belief system is that most middle-Americans have never actually met a Muslim. Other, eastern, religions fare better in American awareness, but Confucianism and Hindu and Buddhism still exist in the minds of Americans as flakey New Age stereotypes as opposed to ancient traditional religious beliefs.

What Prothero does, very effectively, is efficiently explain the broad-stroke details of what he calls the "Great Religions": Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Buddhism, Yoruba, Judaism, and Daoism. Are these just superficial portraits of very complex belief systems? Absolutely, but as a primer, it works. Prothero puts each religion into historical context, tries to describe their nuances and internal conflicts, and highlights each religion's central 'problem' and its goals for solutions to that problem.

Are these exhaustive explanations? Of course not, and Prothero never pretends they are. But if the average American were to read God Is Not One, they'd know volumes more afterwards than they did before. And as the author notes, this won't necessarily solve all the world's religious-based conflicts, but it would go along way toward creating more productive dialogues, where you can discuss someone else's beliefs based on what they're actually about, and not on what you've been told they're about.

And what about that Atheist coda? Well, Prothero makes some valid points about the sometimes antagonistic intensity of what he calls "New Atheists". The Richard Dawkins's and Christopher Hitchens's of the world who sometimes seem out for blood when discussing their distaste for people of faith. The problem with this chapter, however, is Prothero's dismissive, almost contemptuous tone when talking about them. He is careful to include a small section about what he calls "Friendly Atheists", so I understand that he recognizes the validity of the atheist worldview. But he spends most of the chapter lambasting Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett and company, and calling them hypocrites, and claiming that if you are too vocal in your atheist beliefs, then you too are religious. Again, if I squint, I can see the point the author is trying to make. But as an atheist, I felt very strongly that Prothero was misrepresenting my beliefs, and his misrepresentations are given weight by the mostly fair-minded and thorough analyses of the rest of the book.

If you'd like a quick read that gives a quick, but informative explanation of several major world religions, God Is Not One is a great book.

If you'd like a quick explanation of atheism, skip this book's coda, and email me instead.
Profile Image for Joel Wentz.
1,002 reviews60 followers
February 20, 2017
This book does not quite live up to its promise, particularly in the subtitle, but it still serves as a tremendous 'intro' to the religions of the world.

Prothero seems like a brilliant teacher, and his writing is clear, compact, and breezy. For a subject as potentially unwieldy as 'world religions,' this book is surprisingly easy to understand. The reader gains a "zoomed out" view of the major belief systems that influence world cultures, and for someone who is interested in the subject, without much prior education or exposure, this is probably the best book they could pick up.

However, and other reviews seem to note this, for someone who is already well-versed in that material, this will be repetitive reading. If you already respect the differences in religions and beliefs, you probably aren't the audience Prothero wrote this book for, and you could just as easily pass up on reading it.

I will say that a few chapters stand out - the inclusion of 'Confucianism' as a religion, as well as the chapter on 'Yoruba' and the coda on Atheism were stand-out sections. Similarly, the way Prothero structured the book - by organizing the chapters in order of "greatness" - was thought-provoking. However, while he does provide a thoughtful explanation of these religions and their traditions, he never quite gets to the 2nd half of the subtitle: "Why these differences matter." This might necessitate it's own book, but I still wish he would not have promised a discussion of it in the title.

So, all this to say, if you are relatively unaware of the meaningful differences in the major world religions (or cultures, for that matter) then you will gain much from this book. If you are already fluent in this area of scholarship, you can easily pass this one up.
Profile Image for Mayuri.
284 reviews9 followers
August 3, 2016
Yikes. Fuzzy logic and bad facts. First and foremost, no one ever said all religions are the same. As a hindu, the religion where this thought originated, I will be quick to point out all PATHS lead to God. This is not a fuzzy warm-hearted feeling that we have, it's a true belief that all paths, even the ones that are not very savory filled with not very good people will lead us in our ultimate quest to be one with God, that not just every religion, but every PATH, every life, every cycle of reincarnation leads us closer to our ultimate goal. This is a reflection of how every person's path to god is different, not a platitude.

That being said, OF COURSE there are differences and conflict among religions, and I just don't get his point, I guess. This book is also filled with non-context quotes, and mixing up what was done in the name of government and what was done in the name of religion, sarcastic quips like "I see what you're trying to do here" as if a Hindu leader from a religion that preaches ultimate tolerance saying another's beliefs are valid as his is some kind of trick? Another example "...in the world's first example of xenotransplantaion...", or the fact that Emmerson mistaking Buddhism and Hinduism is simply our own damn fault for being too diverse. The disrespect he gives, not only hinduism (apparently we are a religion of spicy foods and CrrRAZY! stories ~_~) but ALL religions.

In the end though, he never really disproves his thesis that god is not one, just emphasizes that religions have different values and that atrocities are committed in the name of religion, which in my opinion isn't really the same thing. His casual omitting or mistaking details makes me think of this not as a well-researched reminder that our differences often define us, and our cultural values show through in our religions, but an atheist, sorry, "religiously confused" rant about how religion ruins the world. I found this book incredibly condescending and more than a little xenophobic.
Profile Image for Jawanza.
Author 3 books27 followers
March 19, 2020
This book sets out to prove that the eight major religions are more dissimilar than similar. It fails in that effort. To the contrary, it shows how all of the major religions identify a broadly similar problem in the world – call it sin, death, ego, or suffering – and identify a problem to fix it that universally includes an ethical imperative to treat others better. It is the most well-researched and well-written book on comparative religion I have read. Each chapter is presented in a first person narrative, as if the author participated in every religious tradition in order to offer the most authentic treatment possible. He deals fairly and even-handedly with each religion, not showing any bias towards anyone of them. What distinguishes it from other books on comparative religion is the chapter on the Yoruba Religion which details not just the religion of the Yoruba people in Nigeria, but the Yoruba-derived traditions such as Candomble and Santaria. The amount of detail is exquisite throughout the book, making it useful for academics, yet his conversational writing style makes it accessible for non-academics. I came away with a more nuanced understanding and respect for all of the major religions.
Profile Image for Sistermagpie.
681 reviews4 followers
October 22, 2010
I saw the author of this book interviews on TV, wanted to read it, and promptly forgot his name and the name of the book. But I finally tracked it down--go me!

God is Not One challenges an idea that's become synonymous with religious tolerance, the idea that all religions are just "the same" underneath. It's not about saying one religion is better than another, but looking at how each of the 8 most popular religions approach the problem of life and what solutions they offer. For instance, submission in Islam, salvation in Christianity, etc.

The book covers Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hindu, Yoruba, Buddhism, Judaism and Daosim, giving an introduction and a brief history of each one. It also ends with a brief note on atheism. At first I thought it was going to just focus on the angry New Atheists like Dawkins et al., but in fact the author stands up for the quieter, often female, voices in atheism who don't believe religion or the religious are stupid, or that they are the ones who know the truth.

I enjoyed reading about all of them!
Profile Image for Laurie.
220 reviews44 followers
July 15, 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, found it measured, respectful, fascinating, and satisfying---until I came to the chapter on atheism. There I was bitterly disappointed. Prothero spends the majority of his coverage of atheism on the "New Atheists"---Hitchens, Dawkins, et. al., with all their bombastic diatribes and argumentative ways. He shows very little effort and even less interest (or respect) for the more average atheist, the one who, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, "has not yet been convinced by the evidence."

I loved the other chapters, and learned so much, especially about Daoism and Yoruba. But then he had to ruin it by declaring that atheism fit the definition of religion---please. It seemed he let the others define themselves, to a degree, but his disdain for atheism was abundantly clear.
Profile Image for Matthias.
26 reviews
December 19, 2015
Prothero's thesis that religions are not different paths to the same goal, but systems that address different problems by offering different solutions is compelling. Unfortunately, this book is not a defense of its own thesis. Rather, it's a survey of Prothero's somewhat arbitrary selection of the most influential religions in the world, and not a very good one either. His introduction to each religion does little to inform a newcomer to religious study about its particular beliefs and practices. It's a wasted opportunity.
Profile Image for Kiel Shrefler.
18 reviews4 followers
September 14, 2021
Well-researched book that presents a general overview of the world's eight major religions with specific examples of how they work. You are guaranteed to learn something from this book! I recommend it for anybody who is interested in culture, religion, philosophy, or just curious as to what other belief systems entail.
945 reviews53 followers
June 9, 2019
This is an excellent book for lining up the eight major religions (in terms of numbers and influence, the latter a more subjective assessment) and setting out their basic components. Obviously, it's not going to be a book that goes into much detail on these religions, and there are bound to be some generalities that a reader might quibble with, especially if he is a member of one of these religions. But without such a compilation who can even easily name the eight religions?


Prothero lists them as Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religion, Judaism, and Daoism. His book is an argument against the idea that all religions are basically alike, differing only in minor details. And it's also a criticism of the so called "new atheists" who in condemning the malevolent practices of "religion", lump all beliefs and practices together. They grossly distort the many complex and cultural differences that exist among the religions of the world.

That is not to say, though, that these many religions are always exclusive of one another. Their beliefs and practices often overlap in odd ways. Many examples could be given, but one that caught my attention had to do with Hinduis. Hindu temples and scriptures are miles away from the transcendental God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, those three religions which all sprang out of the Middle East and share parts of the same scripture. Its deities are more like humans, recalling the humanity of Jesus, and an underlying notion that the gods need us as much as we need them.


As to Prothero's question of why their differences are important, it's a matter of "running the world" to the extent that religious beliefs and practices, often ritual ones, influence the behavior of the people in that society. It may result in violence and bloodshed, witness the many religious wars throughout history, often between members of the same religion (Catholics and Protestants, Shiites and Sunnis). Religious people influence elections, back powerful rulers, spend money to drive their goals, and often have ethical conflicts with science and its research.

Prothero examines the popular metaphor that the great religions are but different paths up the same mountain, and thinks it is mostly wishful thinking, an attempt at harmony. True, to extend this metaphor its proponents admit that there are disagreements in the "foothills" of the mountain, but they are surpassed early on. Not so, Prothero argues, there are disagreements all the way up the mountain, and even includes skeptics who see no common mountain at all.
Many religions have similar ethical views, the "golden rule", for example, is often cited as a commonality, but even here different emphases are placed on it. If there's one thing that all religions have in common, it's that something is wrong with humanity. It too often acts in self-destructive ways, and religions try to set out guidelines to overcome human shortcomings, and they vary widely.

To repeat some of my initial comments, Prothero does not examine in depth the beliefs and practices of eight different religions, but what he does well is to give a good introductory corrective to the oversimplification of religion, in its various forms, either by its adherents or by its opponents.
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