America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity / Edition 1

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Overview

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 Diversity looks 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.

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Editorial Reviews

The American Interest
The great virtue of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity lies in its careful depiction of the state of American Christianity today. Wuthnow's narrative is endlessly subtle and informative.
— Clifford Orwin
Washington Post
Wuthnow has conducted careful research, including thousands of interviews, to find out how ordinary American Christians deal in their day-to-day lives with this new religious diversity: how they think about non-Christians; what sort of encounters they have with them, from workplace chatter to interfaith services and even intermarriage; and how they and their pastors deal with such theologically troubling issues as whether non-Christians can be saved or whether Christians should make active efforts to convert them.
Religious Studies Review
Wuthnow's book is a clear exposition of the state of belief and practice with regards to views on religious diversity in America, and an impassioned call for increasing religious tolerance.
— Albert Wu
New York Times Book Review - Gary Rosen
As Robert Wuthnow amply documents, the United States is (on the whole) an open and welcoming country, ready to extend the full benefits of citizenship to strangers who could expect second-class status in much of the rest of the world.
Christianity Today - Mark A. Noll
All of Robert Wuthnow's formidable skills as the nation's leading 'public sociologist' are prominently displayed in this disciplined, accessible study.
America - John A. Coleman
This is a supple, nuanced and thoughtful book, among Wuthnow's best.
The American Interest - Clifford Orwin
The great virtue of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity lies in its careful depiction of the state of American Christianity today. Wuthnow's narrative is endlessly subtle and informative.
Christian Century - Fred Kniss
Wuthnow is one of the best and most prolific sociologists of religion on the contemporary scene. His work often sets the agenda not only for other scholars, but also for religious leaders and practitioners concerned with making their faith relevant to social issues. . . . In the end [of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity], Wuthnow calls for a strategy of 'reflective pluralism.' Reflective pluralism will overcome the reluctance to acknowledge significant differences between religions.
Catholic Library World - Patrick J. Hayes
His book marks a major contribution to the study of American religion, both for its lucid arguments, its broad canvassing of the relevant literature, and its research methodology.
Perspectives on Politics - Mark E. Button
A wide-ranging and insightful study into how Americans are responding to dramatic increases in religious and cultural diversity.
Religious Studies Review - Albert Wu
Wuthnow's book is a clear exposition of the state of belief and practice with regards to views on religious diversity in America, and an impassioned call for increasing religious tolerance.
"Washington Post rlotte Allen

Wuthnow has conducted careful research, including thousands of interviews, to find out how ordinary American Christians deal in their day-to-day lives with this new religious diversity: how they think about non-Christians; what sort of encounters they have with them, from workplace chatter to interfaith services and even intermarriage; and how they and their pastors deal with such theologically troubling issues as whether non-Christians can be saved or whether Christians should make active efforts to convert them.
From the Publisher

Winner of the 2007 Mirra Komarovsky Best Book Award, Eastern Sociological Society

Finalist for the 2006 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in Analytical-Descriptive Studies, American Academy of Religion

Finalist for the 2006 Book Award in Christianity and Culture, Christianity Today

"As Robert Wuthnow amply documents, the United States is (on the whole) an open and welcoming country, ready to extend the full benefits of citizenship to strangers who could expect second-class status in much of the rest of the world."--Gary Rosen, New York Times Book Review

"With . . . America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity, Wuthnow zeros in on one of the most significant issues facing the country today."--Heather Grennan Gary,Publishers Weekly

"All of Robert Wuthnow's formidable skills as the nation's leading 'public sociologist' are prominently displayed in this disciplined, accessible study."--Mark A. Noll, Christianity Today

"This is a supple, nuanced and thoughtful book, among Wuthnow's best."--John A. Coleman, America

"The great virtue of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity lies in its careful depiction of the state of American Christianity today. Wuthnow's narrative is endlessly subtle and informative."--Clifford Orwin, The American Interest

"Wuthnow has conducted careful research, including thousands of interviews, to find out how ordinary American Christians deal in their day-to-day lives with this new religious diversity: how they think about non-Christians; what sort of encounters they have with them, from workplace chatter to interfaith services and even intermarriage; and how they and their pastors deal with such theologically troubling issues as whether non-Christians can be saved or whether Christians should make active efforts to convert them."--Charlotte Allen,Washington Post

"Wuthnow is one of the best and most prolific sociologists of religion on the contemporary scene. His work often sets the agenda not only for other scholars, but also for religious leaders and practitioners concerned with making their faith relevant to social issues. . . . In the end [of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity], Wuthnow calls for a strategy of 'reflective pluralism.' Reflective pluralism will overcome the reluctance to acknowledge significant differences between religions."--Fred Kniss, Christian Century

"Another commendable study from prolific sociologist Robert Wuthnow, this comprehensive assessment of US religious self-understanding demonstrates how religious diversity is challenging the privileged notion of the US as a 'Christian' nation. . . . Since Americans believe in the right of groups to worship freely but are not motivated to learn about or interact with diverse believers, Wuthnow advocates a proactive 'reflective pluralism' for creating a more hospitable national ethos."--Choice

"His book marks a major contribution to the study of American religion, both for its lucid arguments, its broad canvassing of the relevant literature, and its research methodology."--Patrick J. Hayes, Catholic Library World
"A wide-ranging and insightful study into how Americans are responding to dramatic increases in religious and cultural diversity."--Mark E. Button, Perspectives on Politics

"Wuthnow's book is a clear exposition of the state of belief and practice with regards to views on religious diversity in America, and an impassioned call for increasing religious tolerance."--Albert Wu, Religious Studies Review

New York Times Book Review
As Robert Wuthnow amply documents, the United States is (on the whole) an open and welcoming country, ready to extend the full benefits of citizenship to strangers who could expect second-class status in much of the rest of the world.
— Gary Rosen
Christianity Today
All of Robert Wuthnow's formidable skills as the nation's leading 'public sociologist' are prominently displayed in this disciplined, accessible study.
— Mark A. Noll
America
This is a supple, nuanced and thoughtful book, among Wuthnow's best.
— John A. Coleman
Christian Century
Wuthnow is one of the best and most prolific sociologists of religion on the contemporary scene. His work often sets the agenda not only for other scholars, but also for religious leaders and practitioners concerned with making their faith relevant to social issues. . . . In the end [of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity], Wuthnow calls for a strategy of 'reflective pluralism.' Reflective pluralism will overcome the reluctance to acknowledge significant differences between religions.
— Fred Kniss
Choice
Another commendable study from prolific sociologist Robert Wuthnow, this comprehensive assessment of US religious self-understanding demonstrates how religious diversity is challenging the privileged notion of the US as a 'Christian' nation. . . . Since Americans believe in the right of groups to worship freely but are not motivated to learn about or interact with diverse believers, Wuthnow advocates a proactive 'reflective pluralism' for creating a more hospitable national ethos.
Catholic Library World
His book marks a major contribution to the study of American religion, both for its lucid arguments, its broad canvassing of the relevant literature, and its research methodology.
— Patrick J. Hayes
Perspectives on Politics
A wide-ranging and insightful study into how Americans are responding to dramatic increases in religious and cultural diversity.
— Mark E. Button
Gary Rosen
Wuthnow's meticulous study, based on a national survey and hundreds of interviews, provides reassuring answers, even though the author himself, for peculiar reasons of his own, seems to think otherwise.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
How have changes in the non-Judeo-Christian population affected the Christian United States, and in this pluralistic society, has that population found acceptance in the melting pot of Christianity? Drawing on his own research, Wuthnow (sociology, Princeton Univ.; Restructuring of American Religion) concludes that religious diversity is a mid-20th-century phenomenon and takes the reader on a journey through the history of religious traditions, practice, and ideals in America. Wuthnow then groups present-day beliefs and practices in the United States into three orientations: "Spiritual Shopping" (smorgasbord religion), "Christian Inclusivism" (Christian but respectful of other beliefs), and "Christian Exclusivism" (wherein there is only one way of thinking: Believe in the Bible or you won't go to Heaven). A religion and diversity survey further distinguishes the three orientations and presents a futurist view of the nation. Wuthnow sees the United States as a religiously, ethnically, and culturally diverse society and lists some of the challenges ahead for Christians in homogeneous enclaves who must reconcile themselves to the notion of the religious melting pot. This thought-provoking text is recommended for larger religious collections.-L. Kriz, West Des Moines P.L., IA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691134116
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/2/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. His previous books include "After the Baby Boomers", "Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society" (both Princeton); "Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist"; and "Loose Connections: Joining Together in America's Fragmented Communities".

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Read an Excerpt

America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity


By Robert Wuthnow

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2005 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-691-11976-7


Introduction

CONFRONTING DIVERSITY

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 events conveyed messages about religious diversity. The 15,000 mourners who packed Netaji stadium for Mother Teresa's funeral included representatives of the world's major faiths: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Catholics, and other Christians. The assembled dignitaries eulogized Mother Teresa's life of compassion, calling it an ideal to which the followers of all religions could aspire. Her words, "I see God in every human being," were repeated like a mantra, as if to affirm the impression, so vividly communicated by religious leaders in a kaleidoscope of traditional robes laying garlands around her casket, that all faiths worship the same God. The religious messages accompanying Diana's death were more ambiguous. Journalists conscientiously included the quiet Islamic burial of her companion, Dodi Al-Fayed, in their coverage, but for a time rumors also circulated that an interfaith romance of such high-profile possibilities had simply been too much, causing some black conspiracy to forever halt it from maturing.

In the following weeks, neither event was remembered especially for its images of religious diversity. Public attention moved on, looking back occasionally to the sad faces of Diana's young sons, William and Harry, or to new revelations about the clouded circumstances of her hasty departure from the Ritz hotel. It moved on, remembering Mother Teresa's goodness, savoring the thought that humans can indeed aspire to noble achievements, but including questions about public welfare policy and whether charity can be successful in alleviating the suffering of the world's poor. And yet it would have been hard to watch either event without absorbing the message that the larger world, the world that encompasses so many different beliefs and faiths, is becoming smaller, crowding in on itself, forcing a new awareness of its diversity.

These are but two examples illustrating how common exposure to the leaders and followers of non-Western religions has become. News coverage from around the world includes images of religious leaders, adherents, and their places of worship. The nation's expansive economic and military activities render these images more newsworthy than they would have been in the past. Apart from media, exposure to the world's religions comes increasingly through first-hand encounters. During the last third of the twentieth century, approximately twenty-two million immigrants came to the United States. Like the surge of immigration that occurred between 1890 and 1920, most of these immigrants came from countries in which Christians are the dominant religion. Yet, in contrast to that earlier period, the recent immigration included millions of people from countries in which Christians are only a small minority. Thus, in little more than a generation, the United States has witnessed an unprecedented increase in the diversity of major religious traditions represented among its population. More Americans belong to religions outside of the Christian tradition than ever before. The new immigrants include large numbers of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and followers of other traditions and spiritual practices. Their presence greatly increases the likelihood of personal interaction across these religious lines.

Recent immigrants and their descendants generally do not live isolated from other Americans in homogeneous enclaves. They frequently work in middle-class occupations and live in the same neighborhoods as other Americans do. Their mosques, temples, and meditation centers are often located in close proximity to churches and synagogues. The typical American, therefore, can more readily encounter people of other religions as neighbors, friends, and coworkers.

Diversity is always challenging, whether it is manifest in language differences or in modes of dress, eating, and socializing. Seeing people with different habits and lifestyles makes it harder to practice our own unreflectively. When religion is involved, these challenges are multiplied. Religious differences are instantiated in dress, food, holidays, and family rituals; they also reflect historic teachings and deeply held patterns of belief and practice. These beliefs and practices may be personal and private, but they cannot easily be divorced from questions about truth and morality. Believing that one's faith is correct and behaving in ways that reflect this belief may well be different in the presence of diversity than in its absence.

How have we responded to the religious diversity that increasingly characterizes our neighborhoods, schools, and places of work? Has it sunk into our awareness that the temple or mosque down the street is not just another church? Does it matter that our coworkers have radically different ideas of the sacred than we do? Or do we perceive these ideas as so different from our own? Are our views of America affected by having neighbors whose beliefs and lifestyles may run counter to our own? Does it bother us to read about hate crimes directed at Muslims or Hindus?

Historic interpretations of Christian teachings encourage Christians to practice the acceptance and love exhibited by Mother Teresa. Stories about Jesus' willingness to violate social boundaries separating Jews and Gentiles exemplify how Christianity may encourage openness to racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Yet Christianity has also taught that only by accepting Jesus as their savior can believers overcome sinfulness and gain divine redemption. According to some interpretations of this teaching, the followers of other religions must convert to Christianity if they are to know God.

Throughout America's history, our sense of who we are has been profoundly influenced by our religious beliefs and practices. Christianity's claim to be the unique representative of divine truth has been one of these influences. We have thought of ourselves as a chosen people, a city on a hill, and a new Israel. We have considered ourselves defenders of the faith, a God-fearing people, and a Christian nation. At present, we remain one of the most religiously committed of all nations, at least if religious commitment is measured in numbers professing belief in God and attending services at houses of worship. Our identity is still marked by this fact. Many Americans take for granted that we are a Christian society, even if they implicitly make a place in this notion for Jews and unbelievers. Others take pride in our national accomplishments, our democratic traditions, and our extensive voluntary associations, assuming that these reflect Christian values.

If our understanding of what it means to be American reflects our religious heritage, our collective identity is also influenced by how we think about religious diversity. Until recently, we were able to think of ourselves as a Christian civilization, divided by the historic cleavages separating Protestants from Catholics and, among Protestants, Methodists from Baptists, Presbyterians from Episcopalians, Congregationalists from Quakers, and so on. We were a diverse nation because of the national origins from which the various denominational groups had come and because of racial, ethnic, and regional divisions in which religious disunity was embedded. We took pride in this diversity. It seemed like a mark of distinction.

We clearly do have a long history of religious diversity. This history has affected our laws, encouraging us to avoid governmental intrusion in religious affairs that might lead to an establishment of one tradition in favor of others. And it has taught us a kind of civic decorum that discourages blatant expressions of racist, ethnocentric, and nativist ideas. Yet it will not do, now in the face of new diversity, simply to rewrite our nation's history as a story of diversity and pluralism.

The reality of large numbers of Americans who are Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Hindus, and followers of other non-Western religions poses a new challenge to American self-understandings. When Christian leaders and their followers think about it, they will have more trouble knowing what exactly to think about their neighbors who belong to these other religions than they ever did simply thinking about the differences between Methodists and Baptists or Protestants and Catholics. That is, if they stop to think about it.

But the truth is, we know very little at this point about how ordinary Americans are responding to religious diversity. And, for that matter, we know little more about how religious leaders are dealing with diversity. We do know, for example, that religious leaders occasionally form interfaith alliances that include representatives of the world's major religious traditions, and we know that other leaders are sometimes quoted in newspapers as saying that the followers of a particular religion other than their own are condemned to hell. Such headlines, however, seldom tell us much about how things are going in local communities or what people really believe and think.

To examine how we are responding to religious diversity and the cultural challenges that go with it, I draw on the results of a three-year research project that included more than three hundred in-depth personal interviews and a new national survey. Most of the interviews were conducted in fourteen metropolitan areas, selected to represent the several regions of the country as well as larger and smaller cities with varying experiences of immigration and diversity. The cities were New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., in the East; Charlotte, Atlanta, and Houston in the South; Columbus, Saint Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago in the Midwest; and Denver, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Portland in the West.

In any part of the country, including cities like these, it is possible for people to go about their daily lives without thinking about religion or religious diversity. To increase the chances of finding people who had thought about these issues, I selected a Muslim mosque, a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple or meditation center, and (for purposes of comparison) a Jewish synagogue in each city, taking care to choose ones belonging to different traditions and varying in size and location. I then identified a church in the immediate vicinity of each of these fifty-six organizations-often right next door or across the street and never more than a few blocks away. Interviews were then conducted with the pastors at each of these churches and with at least one of the members. Interviews were also conducted with the religious leaders at forty of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish organizations, and with forty of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist members. These interviews were supplemented with thirty-two interviews conducted among people who were either Christians married to non-Christians or non-Christians married to Christians and with forty interviews conducted among people who were eclectic in their religious beliefs and practices. Forty-five interviews were also conducted with local and national leaders experienced in dealing with interreligious issues through work in law and government, public education, chaplaincies, theological education, and interfaith organizations.

The survey-which I will refer to as the Religion and Diversity Survey-was conducted with a national sample of 2,910 adults, selected to be representative of the adult population of the United States. It was conducted by telephone and each set of questions lasted approximately thirty-five minutes. Each person in the survey was asked questions about his or her contacts with people of religions other than Christianity, attitudes toward these religions, personal religious beliefs and practices, and a variety of other social and demographic characteristics. After the survey, we contacted two hundred of the respondents who were church members and asked them twenty to thirty minutes of open-ended questions about their beliefs and the activities of their churches. We also contacted the pastors at fifty of their churches to find out from them what their churches had been doing vis-{{agrave}}-vis followers of other faiths.

To put this contemporary evidence in historical perspective, I examined hundreds of primary and secondary documents from the past, ranging from books and letters to journal articles and statements issued by religious organizations. The historical material provides information with which to see how Americans at key moments in the past, beginning with the first European explorers and settlers and moving through subsequent phases of American history, made sense of the religious diversity with which they were confronted.

In sorting through the historical and contemporary material, I have focused on the following questions: How have Americans been able to maintain their conviction that Christianity is uniquely true and that theirs is a special nation with a distinctive (even divine) destiny? How has this been possible, given our frequent and now increasing encounters with other religions? And as we do face increasing diversity, how are our beliefs and identities changing to accommodate this diversity?

Behind these empirical questions is an important normative concern: How well are we managing to face the new challenges of religious and cultural diversity? Are we merely managing in the sense of making do, muddling our way by avoiding the issues whenever possible and responding superficially whenever we must? Or are we managing better than that? Are we taking advantage of the opportunities that diversity provides and moving toward a more mature pluralism than we have known in the past?

These are, in my view, among the most serious questions we currently face as a nation. In our public discourse about religion we seem to be a society of schizophrenics. On the one hand, we say casually that we are tolerant and have respect for people whose religious traditions happen to be different from our own. On the other hand, we continue to speak as if our nation is (or should be) a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, and characterized by public references to the trappings of this tradition. That kind of schizophrenia encourages behavior that no well-meaning people would want if they stopped to think about it for very long. It allows the most open-minded among us to get by without taking religion very seriously at all. It permits religious hate crimes to occur without much public attention or outcry. The members of new minority religions experience little in the way of genuine understanding. The churchgoing majority seldom hear anything to shake up their comforting convictions. The situation is rife with misunderstanding and, as such, holds little to prevent outbreaks of religious conflict and bigotry. It is little wonder that many Americans retreat into their private worlds whenever spirituality is mentioned. It is just easier to do that than to confront the hard questions about religious truth and our national identity.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity by Robert Wuthnow Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Tables ix
Preface xi
Introduction Confronting Diversity 1
Chapter 1: A Special People in a Diverse World 8
First Encounters 10
Toward a New Nation 14
From Missions to Comparative Religion 19
The Tripartite Settlement 30
Beyond Christian America? 34
Chapter 2: The New Diversity 37
American Hindus 38
American Buddhists 47
American Muslims 56
Living among Christians 63
Pluralism or Coexistence? 73
Chapter 3: The Signi .cance of Religious Diversity 75
A Threat to Democracy? 78
Fairness and Decency 84
Challenges to American Values 88
Religion as Moral Order 95
Chapter 4: Embracing Diversity: Shopping in the Spiritual Marketplace 106
Trev Granger's Story 108
Becoming a Spiritual Shopper 110
The Shopping Mentality 119
Toward a New Consciousness? 126
Chapter 5: "Many Mansions": Accepting Diversity 130
Sandra Michaelson: Beauty in Every Religion 133
Coming to Terms with Diversity 135
How to Be an Inclusive Christian 143
Envisioning an Inclusive Society 153
Chapter 6: "One Way" : Resisting Diversity 159
Trisha Mobley: "It Is Written" 160
The Road to Resistance 163
Maintaining an Exclusivist Worldview 173
The Social Implications of Christian Exclusivism 183
Chapter 7: The Public's Beliefs and Practices 188
Beliefs about Religious Truth 190
Views of America 198
The Impact of Non-Western Religions 201
Social and Cultural Factors 208
Interreligious Contact and Attitudes 212
Interreligious Programs 220
Conclusions 228
Chapter 8: How Congregations Manage Diversity 230
What Churches Are Doing 233
The Role of Theology 237
Strategies of Avoidance 244
Strategies of Engagement 247
The Imprint of Pluralism 253
Beyond Insularity? 255
Chapter 9: Negotiating Religiously Mixed Marriages 259
Falling in Love 260
Negotiating with Religious Authorities 264
The Parsing of Practices 270
Disaggregating Religious Identities 276
The Normalization of Diversity 278
From Religion to Culture 281
Chapter 10: How Pluralistic Should We Be? 286
Reflective Pluralism 287
The Case for Cooperation 292
An Effort to Promote Understanding 295
Multiple Models 299
Why Interreligious Efforts Fail 301
How Interreligious Efforts Succeed 303
What Else Needs to Be Done 305
Extrapolating to Other Kinds of Diversity 306
The Challenges Ahead 308
Notes 315
Selected Bibliography 351
Index 371
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