Author: Kevin Roose
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: March 26, 2009
Page #: 324
Goodreads + Author's Website
As a sophomore at Brown University, Kevin Roose didn't have much contact with the Religious Right. Raised in a secular home by staunchly liberal parents, he fit right in with Brown's sweatshop-protesting, fair-trade coffee-drinking, God-ambivalent student body. So when he had a chance encounter with a group of students from Liberty University, a conservative Baptist university in Lynchburg, Virginia, he found himself staring across a massive culture gap. But rather than brush the Liberty students off, Roose decided to do something much bolder: he became one of them.
Liberty University is the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's proudest accomplishment - a 10,000-student conservative Christian training ground. At Liberty, students (who call themselves "Champions for Christ") take classes like Introduction to Youth Ministry and Evangelism 101. They hear from guest speakers like Mike Huckabee and Karl Rove, they pray before every class, and they follow a 46-page code of conduct called "The Liberty Way" that prohibits drinking, smoking, R-rated movies, contact with the opposite sex, and witchcraft. Armed with an open mind and a reporter's notebook, Roose dives into life at Bible Boot Camp with the goal of connecting with his evangelical peers by experiencing their world first-hand.
Roose's semester at Liberty takes him to church, class, and choir practice at Rev. Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church. He visits a support group for recovering masturbation addicts, goes to an evangelical hip-hop concert, and participates in a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach, where he learns how to convert bar-hopping co-eds to Christianity. Roose struggles with his own faith throughout, and in a twist that could only have been engineered by a higher power, he conducts what would turn out to be the last in-depth interview of Rev. Falwell's life. Hilarious and heartwarming, respectful and thought-provoking, Kevin Roose's embedded report from the front lines of the culture war will inspire and entertain believers and non-believers alike.
I wish that Kevin Roose had been a little more fair to himself when he said that his work wasn't exactly an ethnography. Enter an unknown land by yourself with the intent of researching and writing about your experiences among people who live and believe differently than you, trying to stay non-judgmental all the while? Certainly sounds like an ethnography to me.
I had read The Year of Living Biblically, written by Roose's mentor A.J. Jacobs, a few years earlier and can definitely see similarities in their experiences and writing styles. It's refreshing, not too stiff or clinical but instead personable and relatable, to everyone. Though liberal college-age students will probably understand a bit better where Roose is coming from, it really is a book for everybody. Though he enters Liberty University having only attended Brown University, his work has the marks of the journalist he is. He goes in with an open mind, and it pays off.
There were a few elements of his writing style that I did question though, and a few times I was wondering why he was writing the way he was. Though he does touch on some of the anti-LGBT opinions held by his classmates, he moves through them very quickly for someone with friends and family that identify with the LGBT community. I understand that those kinds of situations were uncomfortable for him, and he does discuss them a little bit, but I would have liked to see some more reflection on Roose's part.
This was Roose's first and last foray into religious non-fiction*, which I think is unfortunate. Still, The Unlikely Disciple is an insightful book for the saint and sinner alike.
*He currently writes about economics and Wall Street happenings. His next book, Young Money, will be out 2014