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My Fundamentalist Education

A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood


Christine Rosen (View Bio)
Hardcover: Public Affairs, 2006.

My Fundamentalist Education

When Christine Rosen started kindergarten, her ABCs included the Apocalypse, the Bible, and Christ. At Keswick Christian School "the Bible was our textbook," God the guide. Christine learned creation science, dreamed of becoming a missionary to exotic countries, worried about the souls of Jews and Mormons, and experienced unusual methods of sex education. With the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of atheistic Russians looming, she also frequently prayed for rapture. At home, Florida life seemed happily to confirm several literal truths: the story of Moses, with its plagues that afflicted the Egyptians—from lice, to rivers of stinking dead fish, to hordes of frogs—might have been describing Christine's backyard.

MY FUNDAMENTALIST EDUCATION is an affectionate journey to Rosen's home, school, and small town, during a girlhood lived as the Lord intended, among the tropical flora and fauna of Florida, its televangelists, irascible elderly, and itinerant preachers. Christine Rosen and her sisters, Cathy and Cindy, uncover the not always godly but surely divine secrets of a hallelujah sisterhood.

A Washington Post Best Nonfiction Book of 2006

"In this poignant, unsparing, and funny memoir . . . she speaks with moving appreciation . . . she makes sharp observations about the experience of childhood and how young people learn about the world. " — Booklist

"The fundamentalists described by Christine Rosen in her closely observed memoir bear little resemblance to the extremists who have become the staple of the nightly newscasts. Still, the prospect of understanding how any kind of religious fundamentalism works—especially how it takes hold in a young mind—lends MY FUNDAMENTALIST EDUCATION an air of special relevance. Rosen, a straightforward and congenial narrator, guides us ably…. Affection and aversion seem to go everywhere hand in hand…. Yet the book remains powerful on its own terms…. [A blurring] lets her perfectly capture the indiscriminate ways a child can hunger for explanations about the world." — Leah Hager Cohen, The New York Times Book Review

"A warm, surprisingly entertaining glimpse of fundamentalism through a child’s eyes. " — Kirkus Reviews

"Subtle humor and ironically accurate descriptions." — Publishers Weekly

"Children are natural fundamentalists. After all, when you're 4 and learning something new from parents and teachers every day, you take pretty much everything on faith—that the sky is blue, that the Earth is round and that electronic bar-codes are the mark of the beast as prophesied in Revelation. This is the central theme of Christine Rosen's delightful and compelling MY FUNDAMENTALIST EDUCATION , a memoir of her first eight years of school at a fundamentalist Christian academy in Florida…. Readers disturbed by the ease with which children can absorb religious beliefs may be tempted to view Rosen's book as a survival story—one girl's escape from the clutches of fundamentalism. But to those of us who grew up in and around fundamentalism, the tale rings true in a way that is at once simpler and more profound than that. Rosen, now a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, didn't become a right-wing fanatic; nor did she break from the church in dramatic and rebellious fashion. She presents instead an account of what it's like to be immersed in fundamentalist ideas as a child, slowly sort out your own beliefs and eventually learn to balance faith and inquiry.... It's possible to survive and— yes—thrive with a fundamentalist background as long as it is tempered by a questioning spirit. In an all-too-short conclusion, Rosen reflects on those years as having given her a ‘feeling of warm, cradled comfort.’ She notes that she's left her fundamentalist education behind. She is married to a Jewish writer and no longer considers herself religious. But aside from a few concluding paragraphs, she doesn't explore how that upbringing shaped her views and personality today. That's unfortunate; the sketches of her girlhood are so beautifully crafted and evocative that they deserve a weightier coda. Even so, Rosen's memoir is an affectionate but uncompromising work that may be one of the best descriptions of faith through a child's eyes yet written." — Amy Sullivan, The Washington Post Book World

"Extremely engaging…. She looks back on her childhood with great fondness. That is a subtle strength of MY FUNDAMENTALIST EDUCATION. It would have been easy to write a mocking criticism of what to most Americans is the hothouse world of conservative Christian education. Instead the author simply tells how it seemed to her then. Any moments of humor, and there are more than a few, arise completely out of the situation. " — The Washington Times

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