America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity

America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 416
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity
    Book Description:

    Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of other non-Western religions have become a significant presence in the United States in recent years. Yet many Americans continue to regard the United States as a Christian society. How are we adapting to the new diversity? Do we casually announce that we "respect" the faiths of non-Christians without understanding much about those faiths? Are we willing to do the hard work required to achieve genuine religious pluralism?

    Award-winning author Robert Wuthnow tackles these and other difficult questions surrounding religious diversity and does so with his characteristic rigor and style.America and the Challenges of Religious Diversitylooks not only at how we have adapted to diversity in the past, but at the ways rank-and-file Americans, clergy, and other community leaders are responding today. Drawing from a new national survey and hundreds of in-depth qualitative interviews, this book is the first systematic effort to assess how well the nation is meeting the current challenges of religious and cultural diversity.

    The results, Wuthnow argues, are both encouraging and sobering--encouraging because most Americans do recognize the right of diverse groups to worship freely, but sobering because few Americans have bothered to learn much about religions other than their own or to engage in constructive interreligious dialogue. Wuthnow contends that responses to religious diversity are fundamentally deeper than polite discussions about civil liberties and tolerance would suggest. Rather, he writes, religious diversity strikes us at the very core of our personal and national theologies. Only by understanding this important dimension of our culture will we be able to move toward a more reflective approach to religious pluralism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3724-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION Confronting Diversity
    (pp. 1-7)

    On Saturday, September 13, 1997, millions of Americans viewed the funeral of a diminutive Catholic nun who had served India’s neediest people for four decades. The internationally televised service was for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the colorful “Saint of the Gutters” who for years ranked among America’s “most admired women” and had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. The funeral followed by only a week that of Britain’s Princess Diana, whose tragic death in a speeding automobile pursued by paparazzi in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris evoked an extraordinary international outpouring of grief.

    Both of these...

  6. 1 A Special People in a Diverse World
    (pp. 8-36)

    A popular response to questions about religious diversity, both from rank-and-file Americans and from community leaders, is that the topic is essentially unworthy of serious reflection: either because religious diversity has not been part of one’s experience or because it is satisfactorily covered among our constitutional rights. Yet if one examines discussions of religion in the past, it becomes clear that diversity was seldom divorced from thinking about ourselves and our identity as a nation. Contributors to these discussions believed that America was a special place and that its distinctiveness was somehow related to a divine purpose. That purpose necessarily...

  7. 2 The New Diversity
    (pp. 37-74)

    Throughout most of the nation’s history, Americans of European descent viewed the adherents of religions other than Christianity from a distance. The distance was either geographic, as in the case of people living in the Middle East or Asia, or socioeconomic and cultural, as in the case of American Indians. Both kinds of distance inhibited interaction of the type that might have furthered genuine understanding. In comparison, the novel aspect of the new diversity that has come to characterize American religion in recent decades is that these older forms of distance no longer prevail. Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims now live...

  8. 3 The Significance of Religious Diversity
    (pp. 75-105)

    We Americans in the twenty-first century have become so accustomed to diversity that it may be difficult to understand exactly why the growing number of people who belong to religions other than Christianity or Judaism is culturally challenging. Americans of European ancestry can often think of stories about immigrants in their own family histories and conclude that the difficulties faced by recent immigrants are much the same. The melting pot will again prevail. Looking at our neighborhoods and communities, we may also think of religious diversity the same way we do restaurants and convenience stores: the more the better. Greater...

  9. 4 Embracing Diversity: Shopping in the Spiritual Marketplace
    (pp. 106-129)

    A common way of thinking about America’s religious diversity holds that there are Protestants here and Jews there, Catholics here and Hindus there, Mormons in one place and Muslims in another. Although this view of diversity follows naturally from the geographic patterning that characterized immigration a century ago, it fails to do justice to the complexity of religious life in the United States today. Americans can easily pick up a book about Hinduism one day, see a therapist who teaches them a form of Buddhist meditation another day, talk with a Muslim friend at work the same day, and still...

  10. 5 “Many Mansions”: Accepting Diversity
    (pp. 130-158)

    Were a map of American religion to be drawn, showing the various Christian denominations and confessional traditions as large centrally located blocks and the various other religions—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, among others—occupying smaller peripheral regions, a minority of the American population (perhaps as many as one-quarter) would have to be depicted as spiritual itinerants, moving easily across regions and perhaps heeding the call, as Martin Marty has suggested, to “pay no attention to boundaries” and “invent new responses.”¹ Fascinating as they may be, these spiritual shoppers migrate so readily among religious identities and spiritual practices that their...

  11. 6 “One Way”: Resisting Diversity
    (pp. 159-187)

    When they stop to think about people who follow religions other than Christianity, a substantial number of Americans say they have absolutely no doubt that only Christians will go to heaven. Comforted by neither the pluralist vision of the spiritual shopper nor the inclusive hopes of their more liberal-minded fellow Christians, these Americans firmly defend what they regard as an old-fashioned, exclusivist version of the gospel truth. They point to the false teachings of other religions and to the necessity to convert their friends and neighbors to Christianity. Martin Marty says they “turn tribal and exclusive within their boundaries.”¹


  12. 7 The Public’s Beliefs and Practices
    (pp. 188-229)

    I have suggested that spiritual shopping, Christian inclusivism, and Christian exclusivism are three ways of responding to the new religious and cultural diversity that now characterizes our society. These are not fixed choices that become stable features of a person’s identity in all situations. Indeed, I have suggested that people cobble together responses to religious diversity in ways that often leave them feeling ambivalent. A spiritual shopper may settle into a religious tradition that she accepts and in relation to which she behavesas ifit were true, even though she may have deep doubts and have repeatedly followed her...

  13. 8 How Congregations Manage Diversity
    (pp. 230-258)

    The growing presence of other religions in the United States creates a particularly challenging situation for American churches and the clergy who lead these churches. Whereas the average individual may be able to pick and choose, quietly deciding what his or her personal stance will be toward other religions, the Christian church is a public institution. It communicates messages about the sacred through its ministries and its mere presence. What it says and does in response to other religions is inescapably part of its witness, both to the wider community and to its own members. Faced with new neighbors who...

  14. 9 Negotiating Religiously Mixed Marriages
    (pp. 259-285)

    Few Opportunities for understanding the encounters among different religions and subcultures are as rich as those provided by Americans who have chosen to marry outside their religion. We have seen that spiritual shoppers seldom engage seriously with one of the world’s major religious traditions other than Christianity or Judaism. Other Americans typically decide to accept or resist religious diversity without spending much time thinking about it. We have also seen that clergy, even in religiously mixed neighborhoods, expend relatively little effort meeting and attempting to understand practitioners of other faiths. But people who marry outside their religious tradition have to...

  15. 10 How Pluralistic Should We Be?
    (pp. 286-314)

    The United States is a diverse society religiously, ethnically, and culturally. There is no question about the reality of this diversity or about the fact that it is increasing. But diversity and pluralism are not the same. We can be diverse without being truly pluralistic. Pluralism is our response to diversity—how we think about it, how we respond to it in our attitudes and lifestyles, and whether we choose to embrace it, ignore it, or merely cope with it.¹ Some Americans, as we have seen, believe we are already too diverse. They think we should stand up for our...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 315-350)
    (pp. 351-370)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 371-391)