On Works of the Imagination

A Critical Examination of Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One


  • Leslie Dorrough Smith Avila University




Stephen Prothero, perennialism, world religions, methodology


Stephen Prothero's book aims to combat the perennialist philosophy, the claim that all religions share a common, essential core that is fundamentally good. Prothero asserts that this perspective is problematic because it is factually false, undercuts true religious and cultural diversity, and fails to diagnose the dynamics behind large-scale cultural phenomena. Yet in his attempt to discredit perennialism Prothero provides the reader a portrayal of religion that is perennialist in nature: he portrays religion as a "sacred" and "transcendent" essence; he asserts that unpopular religious phenomena are political rather than religious; and he locates unifying similarities across a wide variety of religious phenomena in a way that is methodologically problematic. This essay asserts that Prothero's failure to critically consider the political significance of the category of "difference" and the corresponding larger conversation on the politics of essentialism is to blame for his flawed methodological model.

Author Biography

  • Leslie Dorrough Smith, Avila University

    Visiting Assistant Professor Department of Religious Studies


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———. 2000. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.

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———. 2006. Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11th. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Prothero, Stephen. 2010. God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World—And Why Their Differences Matter. New York: HarperOne.

Smith, Jonathan Z. 1988. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Smith, Leslie E. 2008. “What’s in a Name?: Scholarship and the Pathology of Conservative Protestantism.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 20:191-21.






How to Cite

Smith, L. (2011). On Works of the Imagination: A Critical Examination of Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 40(2), 14-19. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsor.v40i2.003