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Religious Pluralism in America

Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Religious Pluralism in America
    Book Description:

    Religious toleration is enshrined as an ideal in our Constitution, but religious diversity has had a complicated history in the United States. Although Americans have taken justifiable pride in the rich array of religious faiths that help define our nation, for two centuries we have been grappling with the question of how we can coexist.In this ambitious reappraisal of American religious history, William Hutchison chronicles the country's struggle to fulfill the promise of its founding ideals. In 1800 the United States was an overwhelmingly Protestant nation. Over the next two centuries, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others would emerge to challenge the Protestant mainstream. Although their demands were often met with resistance, Hutchison demonstrates that as a result of these conflicts we have expanded our understanding of what it means to be a religiously diverse country. No longer satisfied with mere legal toleration, we now expect that all religious groups will share in creating our national agenda.This book offers a groundbreaking and timely history of our efforts to become one nation under multiple gods.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12957-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Religious Pluralism as a Work in Progress
    (pp. 1-10)

    The terms diversity and pluralism, as applied to religion and to American society generally, have surged in prominence and common usage over the past several decades. Both terms come into play when we consider Asian religions and others that are relatively new to the American scene, or when we note the increased visibility of black, pentecostal, and other elements in long-established American faiths.Pluralism,understood as the acceptance and encouragement of diversity, is a fighting word for participants in contemporary culture wars, and a key concept for those who write about them. Social critics, mainly but not exclusively conservative, worry...

  5. 1 “Here Are No Disputes”: Reputation and Realities in the New Republic
    (pp. 11-29)

    In the course of their nearly two centuries of existence, Great Britain’s colonies in North America gained wide, increasing, and mostly admiring notice for both diversity and pluralism. This reputation rested largely upon much-advertised demographic and cultural diversities in parts of Pennsylvania and other mid-Atlantic regions, but in the late colonial and early national eras it was common to extend the observation to “the Americans” generally. When an immigrant agronomist and writer named Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, in the 1780s, used broad strokes of that kind in characterizing the new society and (along with much else) its religious life,...

  6. 2 Just Behave Yourself: Pluralism as Selective Tolerance
    (pp. 30-58)

    How did mainline Americans, those we would not call either outsiders or dissenters, respond to this extensive diversification in the first half of the nineteenth century? I think it is already evident that my initial, perhaps too flippant, answer would be: “Not very well.” But we need to probe further. Why was this so, considering the society’s multiple and worldfamous commitments to religious and other freedoms?

    G. M.Young, the mid-twentieth-century historian of Victorian British culture, offered a simple-sounding explanation of his own approach to complexities in the writing of social history. The rule he always tried to observe, he wrote,...

  7. 3 Marching to Zion: The Protestant Establishment as a Unifying Force
    (pp. 59-83)

    A funny thing happened on the way to the twentieth century: the Americans, who were noted for overthrowing religious establishments, and were delighted with themselves for having done so, developed a very effective religious establishment of their own. This extraconstitutional arrangement constituted a brake upon pluralism even while at some points nurturing and promoting it. As a brake it bore a cousinlike resemblance to such strident and often violent movements as nativism; but the Protestant establishment was larger, more powerful, and significantly more benign.

    European observers recognized that the Americans had not disestablished religion after all. Alexis de Tocqueville’s analysis...

  8. 4 “Repentance for Our Social Sins”: Adjustments Within the Establishment
    (pp. 84-110)

    The post–Civil War era in the United States deserves its reputation as a time of unusually rapid social change. Immigration proceeded at a lesser rate than before, relative to total population; but new forms and degrees of diversity were introduced as people swarmed in from southern, central, and eastern areas of Europe. And in other elements of national development, industrialization and urbanization in particular, rates of growth showed marked increases over those of the early part of the century. Taken together, the three phenomena of industrial, urban, and demographic change, playing upon and stimulating one another, produced serious challenges...

  9. 5 In (Partway) from the Margins: Pluralism as Inclusion
    (pp. 111-138)

    For seventeen days in September 1893 a pathbreaking World’s Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago as part of a great world’s fair, the Columbian Exposition. During one of the sessions of this extraordinary interfaith gathering, the poet and reformer Julia Ward Howe reacted testily to the views of the preceding speaker, one Professor Wilkinson. Wilkinson, a Baptist minister who taught at the new University of Chicago, had denied the possibility of even partial truths in non-Christian religions, and Howe asserted that she could “never agree with any person, no matter who, who enunciates such principles.” Christ’s sacrifice, she asserted,...

  10. 6 Surviving a While Longer: The Establishment Under Stress in the Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 139-169)

    In the 1880s, when Josiah Strong presented his mostly optimistic ideas about the future of “our country,” neither he nor most of his readers felt any doubt about just who it was that our referred to. Whatever alien masses might now have to be counted in the census (and Strong, despite his worries about immigrants, was not for sending them back to Europe), America was the property, bought and paid for, of those popularly known as Anglo-Saxons—the people of northern European Protestant stock. And in spite of the serious threats Strong associated with Catholicism, Mormonism, alcohol, and tobacco, the...

  11. 7 “Don’t Change Your Name”: Early Assaults on the Melting Pot Ideal
    (pp. 170-195)

    Shelley Berman, like Bill Cosby and other standup comics who flourished after the Second World War, frequently used autobiographical humor to make serious points. One of Berman’s monologues in the 1950s reproduced, in slightly altered form, his immigrant father’s reaction when young Shelley, years before, had telephoned across Chicago to ask for some parental funding. The younger man wanted to go east to drama school; and he had telephoned, rather than paying a visit, because he feared the reaction would be nearviolent. It was. As far as his father was concerned, Shelley’s priorities were all wrong, and the hardworking Berman...

  12. 8 Protestant-Catholic-Jew: New Mainstream, Gropings Toward a New Pluralism
    (pp. 196-218)

    In many areas of American intellectual and theological history, World War I looks very much like a watershed. From the firing of the guns of August in 1914 to the machinations of Versailles five years later, the war experience awakened, shocked, and terrified. It changed minds and hearts. With respect to interreligious relations, however, this profound national experience was not so much a watershed as a window. That is, the impressive joint efforts of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews during the war years displayed what had been happening, over a number of decades, to intergroup relations and the traditional Protestant hegemony....

  13. 9 Whose America Is It Anyway? The Sixties and After
    (pp. 219-240)

    At an open meeting of President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Council on Race, held in Annandale, Virginia, in December 1997, the discussion, according to aWashington Postwriter, suddenly “turned raw.” A man named Robert Hoy grabbed the microphone to complain that “there’s no one up there [in Washington] that’s talking about the white people. We don’t want to be a minority IN OUR OWN COUNTRY.” (I’ve added the emphasis, but quite possibly it was present in the spoken form.) During a further shouting match after Hoy had been ousted from the meeting, he defended his intervention by warning that whites...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 241-256)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-262)
  16. Index
    (pp. 263-276)