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Roose’s biblical ruse leads to book

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Study for midterm. Check.

Finish paper. Check.

Publish book.


Three years into his time at Brown, Kevin Roose ‘09.5 has already written for national publications such as Esquire and SPIN. But Roose is heading into uncharted territory, even for him, with the release of his first book next Thursday.

Uncharted territory seems to be what Roose does best. “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University” chronicles the spring semester of 2007 that Roose, a Herald opinions columnist, spent attending Liberty University, a school he calls “the polar opposite of Brown.”

At the largest evangelical university in the world, which Roose calls “Bible boot camp,” he “operated at hyperspeed,” trying to do everything at once in an attempt to get a complete picture of the kinds of lives that its 10,000 students live every day.

Roose described a typical day at the Lynchburg, Va. university beginning with convocation – chapel – three times a week before students went to class. In his classes, Roose studied subjects including the Old and New Testaments, creationist biology and introduction to evangelism. After classes, he sang in the choir, played intramural sports and attended Wednesday night church, all before a 12 a.m. curfew – 12:30 on weekends.

“I was technically undercover,” Roose said. Though he made a goal to be honest and to not lie any more than he had to, students didn’t know or suspect that he was anything more than another transfer student. “Mostly they just assumed I was fleeing Brown,” he said.

The idea for the project came when Roose was interning for

A. J. Jacobs ’90 and the two visited Liberty founder Jerry Falwell’s famous church as part of Jacobs’ book, “The Year of Living Biblically.” There, Roose met some Liberty students and having heard about the university and its deeply restrictive rules, he wanted to see “whether it lived up to the hype.”

“I had never been exposed to Christian culture,” he said. Coming from the “ultimate secular family,” making the adjustment from Brown to Liberty, where drinking, smoking and R-rated movies are all forbidden, was not easy.

Many differences were obvious, like the way students spent Friday nights and the way they felt about gay marriage. Roose said there were similarities to be found too, though maybe not as obvious. He found that students at both Brown and Liberty are socially active and passionately follow their beliefs.

“My Brown friends and my Liberty friends would have a lot in common even though they would disagree about just about everything,” Roose said.

Roose, who had the opportunity to interview Jerry Falwell before his death in May 2007, said he was nervous to interview the man who was often seen as “a villain” in the secular world. They talked about what Falwell anticipated seeing in politics, but otherwise tried to keep the interview light.

“We know him for his outlandish public statements,” but Roose said he got to see Falwell as a pastor, grandfather and spiritual leader.

“This is not an expose,” Roose said. “It’s not pro-Liberty, but it’s not anti-Liberty.”

Though it was not Roose’s goal, such an immersion experience rarely leaves a person unchanged. Roose said he tries to pray everyday and can identify as a Christian. He still maintains friendships from Liberty and said his friends have been “really gracious” seeing their school as the subject for a book.

“The Unlikely Disciple” is the result of 500 pages of notes, about a year and a half of writing and countless revisions. “I know humility is a Christian virtue, but I’m proud of the way it turned out,” Roose said.

The book, published by Grand Central Publishing, has been available for pre-order online and will arrive in bookstores March 26.

For now, Roose’s next project is graduating. From there he says he’ll think about his next move, whether it leads to another book or freelancing.

“I’ll pray about it,” he said.

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