Interview: Kevin Roose, author of The Unlikely Disciple

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

By Jessica Naudziunas

Kevin Roose

Kevin Roose

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University is Kevin Roose’s first book. He’s only 21 years old, yet he’s managed to land a spot with a major publishing company, collect tons of press from big names like A.J. Jacobs and Tom Perrotta, and continue to learn full-time as an English major at Brown University.

In 2007, Roose decided to add more flavor to his life, but you won’t hear any tales of quaffing cheap beer in Eastern Europe. You won’t really hear tales of any beer, actually, as he recounts the semester he spent at the late Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Christian place of higher learning, Liberty University. Roose went as an undercover secularist to figure out what makes those Christian kids tick.

He came and went and is back at Brown, but you’ll find he left the place not soured by the religious right, but softened by the different kinds of people you meet in life—and why you should find a way to in the least understand them, and at the best accept them.

I conducted an audio interview with Roose for SMITH on the Brown University campus. Listen to it by clicking play, and read an excerpt from the book below.

From the preface of The Unlikely Disciple:

The Unlikely Disciple

The Unlikely Disciple

It’s midnight at Liberty University, and I’m kneeling on the floor of my dorm room, praying.

This is not a particularly unusual event. Any night of the week, a quick stroll through Liberty’s campus would reveal hundreds of students in the same position, making the same kind of divine appeal. At this school, we pray for everything: good grades, a winning football season, religious revival in America, chicken fingers in the dining hall. Our God is a workhorse God, and as the Bible instructs, we petition Him without ceasing. Put it this way: if prayers emitted light, you’d see us from space.

Our Chancellor, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, always tells us that prayer is the key to a productive Christian life. And, well, he should know. In 1971, Reverend Falwell felt God calling him to start a Christian college in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. He answered the call, and over the next thirty-six years, while organizing the Moral Majority, shepherding one of America’s largest mega-churches, and establishing himself as the father of the Religious Right, he found time to transform that Christian college into what it is today: the world’s largest evangelical university, a 10,000-student training ground for America’s conservative Christian youth. “Bible Boot Camp,” he calls it.

It’s a tongue-in-cheek name, but a fairly accurate one. Like a West Point drill sergeant, Reverend Falwell prides himself on discipline. His field manual, a 46-page code of conduct called “The Liberty Way,” governs every aspect of our lives and dispenses concrete punishments when we veer off-course. Such as:

  • Possession and/or use of tobacco: 6 reprimands + $25 fine
  • Improper personal contact (anything beyond hand-holding): 4 reprimands + $10 fine
  • Attendance at, possession or viewing of, an R-rated movie: 12 reprimands + $50 fine
  • Spending the night with a person of the opposite sex: 30 reprimands + $500 fine + 30 hours community service

Reverend Falwell envisioned Liberty as a Christian safe haven where young evangelicals could get a college education without being exposed to binge-drinking, pot-smoking, sexual experimentation, and all the other trappings of secular co-ed culture. His plan was to make it the evangelical equivalent of Notre Dame or Brigham Young, a university where every student would be trained in the liberal arts, fortified in the evangelical faith, and sent out into the world as a “Champion for Christ.”


BUY a copy of The Unlikely Disciple

VISIT Kevin Roose’s website

And a special thanks to John McGarry, who helped with audio production at Brown.

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2 responses

  1. Kevin Roose: The Blog » Blog Archive » Going home (plus, more media!) says:

    [...] SMITH Magazine’s Memoirville project just posted a radio-style audio interview, in which I talk to Jessica Naudziunas about the motives, misadventures, and lessons from my [...]

  2. Gary DeArment says:

    Dear Kevin, Saw your presentation on Cspan from the bookstore in Providence tonight. I know you will here the same thing I’m going to say to you over and over and will probably ignor it but here goes anyway. You really picked an easy prey when it comes to the matter of being personally related to the Infinite Personal Creator God of the Universe. Sorry fellow intellectual but you can’t put up a ‘Strawman’ then push it over and walk away like you are the ‘cock of the walk’ pardon the pun. Follow the directions when it comes to cooking in God’s kitchen. Falwel and Liberty are only one little perspective to consider. Remember God is who He is and will reveal Himself to you when you do it His way. The only way to scientific concerning a personal relationship with Him is to enter by His directions. Christ is only the beginning but where you must begin. You will not end up being a conservative evangelical probably but don’t think you can twik off with some sufface investigation at some right wing xtian college and be done with this matter. Check out some investigators who were in the athiest or agnostic camp who really wanted the truth.C.S. Lewis or C.M.Joad, etc. etc. It takes a lot more faith and intellectual integrity to look at being an unbeliever than being personally related to God. But remember whether you decide to let Him turn you around or not He’s the only game in town and going against the universe will only get you splinters. G. DeArment, former student of Colo.University and now a teacher in Atlantic, Ia.

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