For this week's online essay, go read Stephen Prothero's Belief Unbracketed: A Case for the Religion Scholar to Reveal More of Where He or She Is Coming From, posted at the Harvard Divinity School website. Hint: it's short, twenty modern paragraphs (that's about five 18th-century paragraphs; we're less patient than our ancestors). Prothero, of course, is the author of American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (2003), a penetrating work of religious cultural history that I read about half of two years ago over Christmas vacation and that I fully intend to finish someday. And I was just getting to the good part ...
Prothero has also set up a blog. Of course, it's more like a personal advertisement than an actual walking, talking blog. I guess when you get famous enough, you don't blog: you hire someone to blog for you. Or maybe it's just that once you write a couple of books, life becomes a never-ending exercise in book promotion. One ceases to be simply a person with a name and becomes a walking blurb whose name cannot be mentioned without being paired with the most recent publication: "Stephen Prothero is the Chair of the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books, most recently American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003) and Religious Literacy: What Americans Need to Know (HarperSanFrancisco, forthcoming in February 2007)." [This from the "About" tab on his blog.]
Well, perhaps I'm being unfair. Anyone who writes a book or two tends to display them rather prominently on their right sidebar. I guess I'm just amused by a "blog" with no posts and no comments. Did I mention he writes fine books? He's got a new one coming out in a couple of weeks, entitled Religious Literacy. Click here to buy it. (If you can't promote your own books, promote someone else's.)
Now, about that essay ... Prothero critiques "bracketing": "For more than a century, scholars of religion have been distinguishing themselves from theologians by attempting to bracket questions of truth, morality, and causality—all in the name of better understanding religious phenomena." After ten short paragraphs, he concludes, "If we really want to resuscitate religion as a moral enterprise, make bracketing a temporary strategy rather than an eternal imperative."