Why Islam Needs Stephen Colbert

Quick question: When you think of Buddhism, whose name comes to mind?

What about Islam?

A few nights ago, I spoke at the University of North Alabama on an interfaith panel that included a rabbi (Micah Greenstein of Memphis, Tennessee), an imam (Sheikh Ossama Bahloul of Murfreesboro, Tennessee) and a Protestant minister (Bishop William Willimon of Birmingham, Alabama).

During the spirited dinner conversation that preceded the event a group of us got to talking about the important role that high-profile public figures can play in breaking down religious stereotypes.

At the local level, for example, getting to know your town's rabbi can undercut prejudices you may have toward Jews. Having dinner with your Muslim neighbor can debunk stereotypes about Islam. At the national level, though, public figures control the conversation.

One reason Buddhists are accepted more often than they are feared in the United States is that when we think of Buddhism we think of the Dalai Lama and his trademark smile.

When we think of Islam, however, many of us think of Osama Bin Laden and his AK-47.

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Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World,"