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New Religious America: How a Christian Country Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation

New Religious America: How a Christian Country Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation

by Diana L. Eck

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"The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world," Diana Eck writes in this eye-opening, de Toqueville-style guide to the religious realities of America today. Among her many observations, she notes that:
  • The 1990s saw the U.S. Navy commission its first Muslim chaplain and open the first mosque
  • Los Angeles is the most complex Buddhist


"The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world," Diana Eck writes in this eye-opening, de Toqueville-style guide to the religious realities of America today. Among her many observations, she notes that:

  • The 1990s saw the U.S. Navy commission its first Muslim chaplain and open the first mosque
  • Los Angeles is the most complex Buddhist city in the world
  • There are more Muslim Americans than there are Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or Jews

Especially since the Immigration Act of 1965 and the subsequent economy based on foreign-born labor, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrains, Jews, and CAtholics of all kinds have arrived from all over the world, building lives in the urban, suburban, and rural communities of every region in the United States.

Eck reveals how the world's religions are no longer on the other side of the world but right in our neighborhoods. This new religious diversity is becoming mor eimportant than racial ethnic, or nationalistic ties, and will be a source of great social and cultural strength.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com editor
America has become the most religiously diverse nation in the world, says author Diana L. Eck. Since the Immigration Act of 1965 eliminated quotas based on national origins -- which traditionally favored Judeo-Christian Europeans -- there has been an influx of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, and Zoroastrians, as well as new varieties of Catholics and Jews from all over the world. Many of these “new arrival” religions are unknown to most Americans. Here is a groundbreaking look at how all of these different faiths are thriving -- and interacting -- in the country today.
Harvey Cox
A highly readable book. . . Diana Eck is an immensely well informed guide.
James Carroll
Vivid writing. . . Diana Eck shows the way toward this nation's future.
Karen Armstrong
There cannot be a wiser or more authoritative guide. . . rich, exciting, and illuminating.
Steve Rabey
This is more than a stuffy study. It's an ambitious survey that celebrates the country's growing religious diversity.
Bill Moyers
This is a book I recommend to everyone I see.
Alan Wolfe
Diana Eck is the country's best guide to America's new pluralism.
Wall Street Journal
[An] intelligent introduction to religious life outside American churches and synagogues.
Los Angeles Times
A New Religious America challenges all Americans to embrace the astonishing religious diversity that now animates the nation.
This picture of religious pluralism is. . . highly recommended.
Religious News Service
A thought-provoking analysis of trends that will shape the United States for years to come.
Library Journal
America has always been a fundamentally Christian or "Judaeo-Christian" country with a few atheists and agnostics included. We're a secular, pluralist polity within that framework or so the received opinion goes. But in this wide-ranging book, Eck (religious studies, Harvard) shows us that this received opinion is erroneous. The framework is now, and in fact has always been, much broader. Eck discusses the history in America of three religious traditions with large numbers of adherents: Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Islam, she shows, arrived with African slaves. Buddhism and Hinduism came early as well, with the first Asian immigrants to the West Coast. These faiths are growing rapidly because of recent changes in our immigration laws and political turmoil in much of Asia, and thus our sense of religious pluralism needs to broaden. Well written and thorough, this volume will appeal especially to scholars, but casual readers will find much to enlighten them. Warmly recommended for both academic and public libraries. James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Lauren Winner
“A thoroughly researched and lovingly written ethnography that tells us just what the subtitle promises.”
“This excellent overview of America’s exploding religious diversity doubles as an impassioned call to action.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.29(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The huge white dome of a mosque with its minarets rises from the cornfields just outside Toledo, Ohio. You can see it as you drive by on the interstate highway. A great Hindu temple with elephants carved in relief at the doorway stands on a hillside in the western suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee. A Cambodian Buddhist temple and monastery with a hint of a Southeast Asian roofline is set in the farmlands south of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In suburban Fremont, California, flags fly from the golden domes of a new Sikh gurdwara on Hillside Terrace, now renamed Gurdwara Road. The religious landscape of America has changed radically in the past thirty years, but most of us have not yet begun to see the dimensions and scope of that change, so gradual has it been and yet so colossal. It began with the "new immigration," spurred by the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, as people from all over the world came to America and have become citizens. With them have come the religious traditions of the world-Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Zoroastrian, African, and Afro-Caribbean. The people of these living traditions of faith have moved into American neighborhoods, tentatively at first, their altars and prayer rooms in storefronts and office buildings, basements and garages, recreation rooms and coat closets, nearly invisible to the rest of us. But in the past decade, we have begun to see their visible presence. Not all of us have seen the Toledo mosque or the Nashville temple, but we will see places like them, if we keep our eyes open, even in our own communities. They are the architectural signs of a new religious America.

For ten years I have goneout looking for the religious neighbors of a new America. As a scholar, I have done the social equivalent of calling up and inviting myself, a stranger, to dinner. I have celebrated the Sikh New Year's festival of Baisakhi with a community in Fairfax County, Virginia. I have feasted at the Vietnamese Buddhist "Mother's Day" in a temple in Olympia, Washington, and I have delivered an impromptu speech on the occasion of Lord Ram's Birthday at a new Hindu temple in Troy, Michigan. I have been received with hospitality, invited to dinner, welcomed into homes, shown scrapbooks of family weddings, and asked to return for a sacred thread ceremony or a feast day. In the early 19gos I mapped out an ambitious plan of research that I called the Pluralism Project, enlisting my students as hometown researchers in an effort to document these remarkable changes, to investigate the striking new religious landscape of our cities, and to think about what this change will mean for all of us, now faced with the challenge of creating a cohesive society out of all this diversity.

Our first challenge in America today is simply to open our eyes to these changes, to discover America anew, and to explore the many ways in which the new immigration has changed the religious landscape of our cities and towns, our neighborhoods and schools. For many of us, this is real news. We know, of course, that immigration has been a contentious issue in the past few decades. Today the percentage of foreign-born Americans is greater than ever before, even than during the peak of immigration one hundred years ago. The fastest growing groups are Hispanics and Asians. Between 1900and 1999 the Asian population grew 43 percent nationwide to some 10.8 million, and the Hispanic population grew 38.8 percent to 31.3 million, making it almost as large as the black population. The questions posed by immigration are now on the front burner of virtually every civic institution from schools and zoning boards to hospitals and the workplace.

How many customs and languages can we accommodate? How much diversity is simply too much? And for whom? We know that the term multiculturalism has crept into our vocabulary and that this term has created such a blaze of controversy that some people mistake it for a political platform rather than a social reality. But for all this discussion about immigration, language, and culture, we Americans have not yet really thought about it in terms of religion. We are surprised to discover the religious changes America has been undergoing.

We are surprised to find that there are more Muslim Americans than Episcopalians, more Muslims than members of the Presbyterian Church USA, and as many Muslims as there are Jews-that is, about six million. We are astonished to learn that Los Angeles is the most complex Buddhist city in the world, with a Buddhist population spanning the whole range of the Asian Buddhist world from Sri Lanka to Korea, along with a multitude of native-born American Buddhists. Nationwide, this whole spectrum of Buddhists may number about four million. We know that many of our internists, surgeons, and nurses are of Indian origin, but we have not stopped to consider that they too have a religious life, that they might pause in the morning for few minutes' prayer at an altar in the family room of their home, that they might bring fruits and flowers to the local Shiva-Vishnu temple on the weekend and be part of a diverse Hindu population of more than a million. We are well aware of Latino immigration from Mexico and Central America and of the large Spanishspeaking population of our cities, and yet we may not recognize what a profound impact this is having on American Christianity; both Catholic and Protestant, from hymnody to festivals.

Historians tell us that America has always been a land of many religions, and this is true. A vast, textured pluralism was already present in the lifeways of the Native peoples-even before the European settlers came to these shores. The wide diversity of Native religious practices continues today, from the Piscataway of Maryland to the Blackfeet of Montana. The people who came across the Atlantic... A New Religious America. Copyright © by Diana Eck. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Steve Rabey
“This is more than a stuffy study. It’s an ambitious survey that celebrates the country’s growing religious diversity.”
Bill Moyers
“This is a book I recommend to everyone I see.
Karen Armstrong
“There cannot be a wiser or more authoritative guide...rich, exciting, and illuminating.”
Harvey Cox
“A highly readable book...Diana Eck is an immensely well informed guide.”
Alan Wolfe
“Diana Eck is the country’s best guide to America’s new pluralism.”
James Carroll
“Vivid writing…Diana Eck shows the way toward this nation’s future.”
Lauren Winner
“A thoroughly researched and lovingly written ethnography that tells us just what the subtitle promises.”

Meet the Author

Diana L. Eck is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University and is Master of Lowell House and Director of The Pluralism Project. As a Christian, she has also been involved in the United Methodist Church, the World Council of Churches, and the life of Harvard Divinity School. Her book Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras won the prestigious Grawemeyer Book Award. In 1998, President Clinton awarded her the National Humanities Medal for the work of The Pluralism Project in the investigation of America's religious diversity.

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