American Religions and the Family

American Religions and the Family: How Faith Traditions Cope with Modernization and Democracy

Don S. Browning
David A. Clairmont
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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    American Religions and the Family
    Book Description:

    Religions respond to capitalism, democracy, industrialization, feminism, individualism, and the phenomenon of globalization in a variety of ways. Some religions conform to these challenges, if not capitulate to them; some critique or resist them, and some work to transform the modern societies they inhabit.

    In this unique collection of critical essays, scholars of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Native American thought explore the tension between modernization and the family, sexuality, and marriage traditions of major religions in America. Contributors examine how various belief systems have confronted changing attitudes regarding the meaning and purpose of sex, the definition of marriage, the responsibility of fathers, and the status of children. They also discuss how family law in America is beginning to acknowledge certain religious traditions and how comparative religious ethics can explain and evaluate diverse family customs.

    Studies concerning the impact of religious thought and behavior on American society have never been more timely or important. Recent global events cannot be fully understood without comprehending how belief systems function and the many ways they can be employed to the benefit and detriment of societies. Responding to this critical need, American Religions and the Family presents a comprehensive portrait of religious cultures in America and offers secular society a pathway for appreciating religious tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51082-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Don S. Browning and David A. Clairmont
    • CHAPTER 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-19)

      Over the last several decades Americans have been involved in a momentous debate about the well-being of families. While religion has played a significant part in this debate, most Americans still perceive it as a narrow dispute between the Christian religious right and the secular left. This national conversation is often acrimonious. We are familiar with the contentious topics such as abortion, homosexuality, and out-of-wedlock births, but many other topics also are being discussed and deserve closer attention. What is more important is that other religious voices, not just those of Protestant evangelicals and Roman Catholics, for instance, are entering...

    • CHAPTER 2 Immigrant American Religions and the Family: New Diversity and Conservatism
      (pp. 20-34)

      The United States is once again a land of immigrants. The twentieth century’s final decade surpassed its first, the historical high, in total legal admissions to the country. At the turn of the twenty-first century the number of foreign-born residents and their children—what immigration scholars call the first and second immigrant generations—stood at the highest level ever, fifty-six million people, or one in five U.S. residents, a figure “likely to rise in the future as recent immigrants form families.”¹

      Since the relaxation of immigration restrictions in the 1960s, the ethnic face of America has diversified significantly. During the...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Cultural Contradictions of Mainline Family Ideology and Practice
      (pp. 37-55)

      The last half-century has witnessed dramatic changes in American family life, marked by—among other things—increases in divorce, illegitimacy, and women’s labor force participation and by declines in fertility. Family scholars from across the ideological spectrum argue that the United States is succumbing to the logic of what might be called family modernization, where the family is weakening as an institution in the face of social structural and cultural developments associated with late modernity (Bumpass 1990; Popenoe 1988). At the social structural level the family modernization perspective holds that the expansion of the market and the state means that...

    • CHAPTER 4 Evangelicals, Family, and Modernity
      (pp. 56-69)

      For many evangelicals family defines their sense of separation from—and of belonging to—the modern world. Indeed, if the rhetoric of groups like Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, and Concerned Women for America is any indication, to be evangelical in American society today is to be “profamily.” Though that term is sometimes ill defined, it has proved itself to be an immensely useful badge of evangelical identity, allowing conservative Protestants to proclaim their rejection of mainstream American society and at the same time to emphatically embrace the values of the heartland.

      It was not always thus, of course....

    • CHAPTER 5 Native American Families and Religion
      (pp. 70-86)

      When speaking of the importance of self-government and self-determination for Native American peoples, the noted Indian law expert Felix Cohen used this striking metaphor: “For us, the Indian tribe is the miners’ canary and when it flutters and droops we know that the poison gasses of intolerance threaten all other minorities in our land. And who of us is not a member of some minority?” (1960:313–14).

      The same metaphor can be fruitfully applied to the essential issue of the relationships among civil law, religions, and family in the United States. As Cohen insightfully points out, the liberty of one...

    • CHAPTER 6 Marriage, Family, and the Modern Catholic Mind
      (pp. 87-103)

      In 1965 the bishops of Vatican II opened the groundbreaking document “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” with an empathetic understanding of the “joy and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of the modern age.¹ Gaudium et Spes, as the document is also known, exemplifies the standard methodology of contemporary Catholic magisterial documents in that it begins with an analysis of what might be called “the situation” before turning to theological reflection. However, in this document the analysis is more inductive and historically conscious than in most church documents and paves the way for a more thorough engagement...

    • CHAPTER 7 Generative Approaches to Modernity, Discrimination, and Black Families
      (pp. 104-123)

      African American discourse about rationality in public life and modernization occurs within the context of profound suspicion about the capacity of “right reason” to form and guide the moral will, particularly in relation to acknowledging the equal dignity of all people. When blacks saw that Thomas Jefferson, father of the American Enlightenment, had trouble with practicing racial equality, they knew that the ordinary whites with whom they had to deal were unlikely to be more virtuous than the nation’s most “enlightened” public leaders.

      To the extent that modernization offered promise of a break with a racist status quo, it was...

    • CHAPTER 8 Latter-day Saint Marriage and Family Life in Modern America
      (pp. 124-150)

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormon) is considered by its adherents to embody all the doctrines and authority that were present in the church that Christ established (Matthew 16:18–19) but that subsequently were lost through an apostasy that took hold after the original apostles were martyred. Latter-day Saints consider their faith to be a modern restoration of ancient truths and practices accomplished through modern revelation given by the Lord to modern prophets.

      While in some ways Mormonism appears to be an exceedingly modern American faith that adopts the latest technologies to assist in its efforts,...

    • CHAPTER 9 What Is a Jewish Family? The Radicalization of Rabbinic Discourse
      (pp. 151-167)

      Although no one can gainsay the fluidity of family life over the long course of Jewish history and in the many social and cultural environments inhabited by Jews, several fundamental assumptions about what constitutes a Jewish family and what ought to be sanctioned and encouraged by Jewish religious institutions have remained relatively stable at least since the emergence of rabbinic Judaism about two thousand years ago—until our own time. Since the last decades of the twentieth century, changing social patterns within the American Jewish community have prompted a reconsideration of profound questions concerning the nature of the Jewish family—...

    • CHAPTER 10 Confucian “Familism” in America
      (pp. 168-184)

      Wong Chin Foo was an educated spokesperson for Chinese Americans in the late nineteenth century, traveling around the country and giving about eighty lectures in major cities. He was described by Harper’s Weekly as an “intelligent, cultured gentleman, who speaks English with ease and vivacity, and has the power of interesting his audiences.” Having seen first hand how Chinese were murdered, robbed, and discriminated against, he resolutely refused to be lured into any Christian denominations, inviting instead “the Christians of America to come to Confucius.”¹ Wong knew he was not really inviting Americans to convert to a Chinese religion. His...

    • CHAPTER 11 Family Life and Spiritual Kinship in American Buddhist Communities
      (pp. 185-196)

      One of the most quoted summaries of Buddhism’s growth in countries beyond its Indian birthplace is Michael Carrithers’s remark: “No Buddhism without the Sangha and no Sangha without the Discipline.”¹ For Carrithers Buddhism’s growth and survival in countries beyond India required and was predicated upon the establishment of the sangha (spiritual community), and its implementation, as the basis for Buddha’s spiritual family. Early in Buddhist history the original Buddhist sangha, initially conceived as consisting only of monks, was expanded to include nuns and then lay followers of both genders, thus rather quickly including all Buddha’s disciples and being identified as...

    • CHAPTER 12 Hindu Family in America
      (pp. 197-210)

      The Hindu couple, in traditional wedding finery of silk and gold, sat with the Brahmin priest before the sacred fire in Houston. He chanted each Sanskrit verse of the marriage ritual and then gave a brief explanation in English. After chanting one verse about the traditional duties of the Hindu wife and husband, he looked up at the young professionals and said, “But you’re in America now, so you’ll do whatever you want.” Observers laughed, some more nervously than others, because he brushed right past tensions in Hindu families between traditional and modern, Indian parents and their American children, religious...

    • CHAPTER 13 Islam and the Family in North America
      (pp. 211-224)

      Few topics are higher on the agenda for careful reflection and consideration by American Muslims than the nature and importance of the family. From the time of Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century C.E., family has provided the cornerstone of Muslim society, shaped both in terms of the prescripts of the Qur’an and by the many cultures to which the religion of Islam spread.

      Muslims in America look on the family as the bulwark of their existence in this Western (secular) society, the unit through which they filter, accept, or reject various elements of American society that they see as...

    • CHAPTER 14 Religion and Modernity in American Family Law
      (pp. 227-243)

      The religious interest in families and the law governing them is pervasive, touching on virtually every aspect of the constitution of the family, the terms of family relationships, and the distribution of authority and responsibility within the family. My intention in this chapter is to review, from the perspective of someone who is not closely tied to a faith community, the relationship of religion and modernity in American family law. In fact, that role cannot be discharged within a brief essay. Accordingly, I will address only a few major points of connection between faith-based norms and practices and legal norms...

    • CHAPTER 15 Comparative Religion, Ethics, and American Family Life: Concluding Questions and Future Directions
      (pp. 244-258)

      The interactions between families in their diverse forms and the inherited religious texts and rituals used to guide them through the challenges of modernity present a fruitful and timely subject for scholarship in religion. The complexities of modern family life complement and challenge the received wisdom about the American religions. The essays in this book offer portrayals of intricate family realities that are deeply affected by the normative influence of religious traditions. They also describe the internal tensions and adaptive strategies that these traditions have preserved and imparted during their histories.

      How diverse religions, families, and the wider society address...

    (pp. 259-262)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 263-278)