A New Religious America [NOOK Book]

Overview

Why Understanding America's Religious Landscape Is the Most Important Challenge Facing Us Today

  • The 1990s saw the U.S. Navy commission its first Muslim chaplain and open its first mosque.
  • There are presently more than three hundred temples in Los Angeles, home to the greatest variety of Buddhists in the world.
  • There are more American Muslims than there are American ...
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A New Religious America

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Overview

Why Understanding America's Religious Landscape Is the Most Important Challenge Facing Us Today

  • The 1990s saw the U.S. Navy commission its first Muslim chaplain and open its first mosque.
  • There are presently more than three hundred temples in Los Angeles, home to the greatest variety of Buddhists in the world.
  • There are more American Muslims than there are American Episcopalians, Jews, or Presbyterians.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061750281
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 775,572
  • File size: 674 KB

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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First Chapter

A New Religious America

Chapter One

Introduction to a New America

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 architecturalsigns of a new religious America.

For ten years I have gone out 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 1900 and 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.
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