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It's midnight in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Roose is kneeling on his dorm room floor. No, he's not reeling from too much beer. He's praying. And at Liberty University, such behavior is fairly uneventful. The world's largest
evangelical college, with a 10,000-strong study body, Liberty is a training ground for the conservative Christian right, which until his death, was lorded over by the Reverend Jerry Falwell. So what happens when a fairly typical student from an Ivy League university tries a semester at Bible boot camp?
His Bible in hand, Roose embarked on a new life slated to last just one semester, with no pot smoking, no binge drinking, and no sex. He hewed to a rigorous new path of Bible study, choir practice, and prayer groups. But a month into his Southern sojourn, he discovers the worrisome part: he's feeling his own beliefs shift. Is it a great awakening? Maybe, maybe not.
A fresh, candid look at what goes on behind the closed doors of our nation's Christian colleges, The Unlikely Disciple is a revelation: a completely balanced memoir that shows us, with the aid of Roose's keen eye and generous spirit, that faith is a lot more complicated than it seems.
(Summer 2009 Selection)
Roose has a dry, age-appropriate sense of humor, but he carefully avoids any snark…Roose's "amateur ethnography" is most useful not for its quick glosses of political and doctrinal issues, but for its vivid, sunny and skeptical portrait of life among the saved.
The New York Times
In what could be described as religious gonzo journalism, Roose documents his experiences as a student for a semester at Liberty University, the largest Christian fundamentalist university in the United States. Coming from progressive Brown University, the author admits that the transition to Liberty, with its iron-clad attempts at controlling student behavior, came with much anxiety. He trains himself to control his foul language and even begins to pray and study the Bible regularly, much to the bewilderment of his liberal Quaker parents. He suffers his way through a course debunking evolution, but finds enjoyment in a Scripture class. Roose may be young-he's a 19-year-old college sophomore-but he writes like a seasoned veteran and obviously enjoys his work. He quickly makes friends at Liberty, but is naïvely stunned and not a little disgusted by their antigay rhetoric. School founder Rev. Jerry Falwell granted Roose an interview for the student newspaper shortly before the famous evangelical's death in May 2007. "Complicated" is how Roose describes Falwell, which is a good descriptor for his undercover student experience. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This highly readable, entertaining, and thought-provoking narrative offers an insider's account of fundamentalist Christian culture from an outsider's secular perspective. When he was a Brown University sophomore (he'll graduate this year with a degree in English literature but has already had work published in Esquire and Spin), Roose opted to spend a semester "abroad" in Lynchburg, VA, as a student at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell and now the world's largest evangelical university. Working undercover as an amateur journalist/ethnographer, Roose describes Liberty campus life as he experiences it, from faculty course lectures in creationism to abiding by the Liberty Way, a strict code of conduct that forbids "immoral" activities such as R-rated movies, student demonstrations, and physical contact beyond a three-second hug. As Roose reinvents himself for the role, he forms relationships with the Liberty students and faculty (including meeting and interviewing Falwell, who died in May 2007) that challenge his assumptions about fundamentalist Christian culture. Humorous anecdotes are interspersed with thoughtful analysis. Recommended for libraries of all types. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/5/08.]
Ivy League student spends three months immersed in an alien culture at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Instead of cavorting through the major European capitals for a semester like many students his age, Roose shocked family and friends by enrolling at one of the nation's most conservative Christian universities. After an attempt to interact honestly with his fundamentalist peers was met with awkward silence and resistance, Roose decided to go undercover, pretending to be a recently converted evangelical Christian in order to write about the reality of life on campus. To improve the ruse, he added his voice to the 300-strong Thomas Road Baptist Church choir, joined weekly Bible studies and one-on-one prayer sessions with his dorm buddies, and even traveled to Daytona Beach during spring break to evangelize on the frontlines. Reared in a liberal Quaker home, Roose had to develop a new body of knowledge, from Young Earth creationism to the trials and triumphs of "witnessing" for Jesus. Participation in this hyper-religious community of young people led him to identify more with his friends at Liberty, blurring the line between the writing project and his own faith. Therein lay the danger of his experiment: Roose lost much of his objectivity by drawing too close to the group he studied. Throughout the semester, he noted the progress of the transformation, but he chose to dwell on its positive aspects, such as an increasing sense of connection to God and the cherished realization that not all fundamentalist Christians are hate-mongering hypocrites. The climax of his semester was his interview of Falwell just days before his death. The author's complex emotions about the interview andFalwell's death signaled that, like it or not, his semester at Liberty had altered Roose's way of thinking-though perhaps not permanently, as he was still a teenager at the time and would soon return to the uber-liberal embrace of Brown University. Problematic but engaging participant observation.
From the Publisher
"Hallelujah for Kevin Roose. This is a remarkable book. He takes us on a fascinating, funny, nuanced journey that doesn't condescend or make glib judgments. It's just what the culture wars need. If I didn't already have kids, I'd adopt Kevin."
A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Year Of Living Biblically"
What happens when a Brown undergrad goes undercover at Liberty University? If he's a writer as insightful and open-minded as Kevin Roose, he ends up learning as much about himself as he does about the evangelical Christians he lives with. The Unlikely Disciple provides a funny, compassionate, and revealing look at Jerry Falwell's 'Bible Boot Camp,' and the surprisingly diverse band of true believers who make it their home."
Tom Perrotta, New York Times bestselling author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher"
Kevin Roose has produced a textured, intelligent, even sympathetic, account of his semester at Liberty University. He eschews caricature and the cheap shot in favor of keen observation and trenchant analysis. THE UNLIKELY DISCIPLE is a book of uncommon wisdom and insight. I recommend it with enthusiasm."
The Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer, Episcopal Priest and Professor of American Religious History at Barnard College, Columbia University"
[Kevin] tells his story entertainingly...level-headed, nuanced, keenly observant."
Kevin Roose is a delightful writer, and this is a humane book. Read it and I predict you'll have less paranoia, more exposure to 'the other,' and a larger dose of Roose's generous and hopeful faith."
Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian, A Generous Orthodoxy, and Everything Must Change"
Keenly observed, funny, and compassionate. Kevin Roose parachutes us into a seldom-glimpsed and little understood pocket of America, then guides us through a story of religion and country more resonant than any of us could have imagined."
Robert Kurson, New York Times bestselling author of Shadow Divers and Crashing Through"
This is a brilliant book. Absolutely brilliant. Roose's wisdom, humanity, and love kept me going. And I laughed. A lot."
Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church and bestselling author of Velvet Elvis and Sex God