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A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood

A-MyFundamentalistEducationSeeking the best education for their children, Christine Rosen’s father and stepmother enrolled her and her sister in the Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg, Florida. After three pledges of allegiance (to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible), the students engaged in a typical curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic. At the same time they were indoctrinated to a literal reading of the Bible and encouraged to proselytize. Rosen, whose biological mother floated in and out of her life, latched on to the fundamentalist foundation. But a summer spent at science camp stirred up elemental questions for Rosen, leading her away from Keswick and toward a more natural, personal evolution.
Public Affairs. 231 pages. $24. ISBN: 1586482580

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"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

Atlanta Journal-Const 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Many authors who write about their childhoods do so with the obvious hindsight of adult logic and analysis, sprinkled with snippets of memory. Rosen … shows a talent for reversing this formula. She remains locked in a continual state of childhood reverie; freshly remembered hurts and humiliations fill these pages with an unexpected urgency." Elaine Margolin

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It would have been easy to write a mocking criticism of what to many 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." Roger K. Miller

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Rosen never really questions the discrepancies between her family’s values and Keswick’s. … Were she more reflective, her story might have had broader resonance." Leah Hager Cohen

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3 of 5 Stars
"Even when she grows impatient enough to escape, her tone remains more nostalgic than embittered, as if she is looking back on a lost love that changed her in ways she could never erase." Dale Singer

Providence Journal 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s hard to see how the book will bridge any gaps between fundamentalists and the rest of America. Even with Rosen’s deft prose, they cannot honestly meet. At least not here." Ellen Wernecke

Wall Street Journal 2 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Rosen is a vivid writer with an enviable memory for the revealing detail. But what she remembers about her Keswick years suggests that her biggest objection to fundamentalism and fundamentalists was less moral and theological than aesthetic." Alan Pell Crawford

Critical Summary

Though no longer a fundamentalist, Christine Rosen manages to spin a tale of her childhood that is mostly free of animosity. Critics appreciate her open-mindedness and vivid prose, as well as the insight she gives into a child’s predisposition to believe. Some reviewers cited a lack of context (how fundamentalism compares to other tenants in Christianity) and an inadequate explanation of how her upbringing affects her today. A few also fault My Fundamentalist Education for not furthering the debate between faith and evolution, but the criticism sputters like ideological rabble rousing. Rosen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of Preaching Eugenics, intended to write a personal story of her childhood, a feat most reviewers feel she’s accomplished.

Recently Reviewed

Spirit and Flesh Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church | James M. Ault, Jr. (2004): 4 of 5 Stars Selection Jan/Feb 2005. Ault spent more than two years in the Jerry Falwell-inspired Shawmut River Baptist Church in Massachusetts, engaging in Bible studies, attending services, and developing relationships with the founder and church members. Ault offers a balanced look; he says the church’s "influence as a moral community penetrated even to my most habitual actions and influenced me permanently for the better."