Interfaith Encounters in America

Interfaith Encounters in America

Interfaith Encounters in America

Interfaith Encounters in America

Synopsis

Kate McCarthy is an associate professor of Religious Studies and coordinator of the Women's Studies Program at California State University, Chico.

Excerpt

The volume of American conversations about religion has perhaps never been higher. Both the frequency and the stridency of references to religion in national discourse—from talk radio to popular films to media analyses—have been turned up high. Terrorist attacks keep us fixed on an abhorrent version of militant Islam. The Passion of the Christ and The Da Vinci Code make blockbuster material (and controversy) of the origins of Christianity. The best-selling Left Behind novels do the same for the apocalyptic visions at the other end of the New Testament. The 2004 presidential election, we are told, was decided by religiously driven moral values. A majority of Americans are reported to believe that religious differences are the biggest obstacle to world peace. But beneath all this noise are quieter conversations about what it means to be religious in America today—conversations among recent immigrants about how to adapt their practices to life in a new land; conversations among young people finding new meaning in religions rejected by their parents; conversations among the religiously unaffiliated about eclectic new spiritualities encountered in magazines, book groups, or online.

History tells us that this is nothing new. Americans have been talking about religion since the first European settlers arrived in the New World, and the discussion has always occurred at the strange intersection of freedom and passion. The Puritans who came to America seeking religious freedom had to reconcile their intense religious commitment both with the presence of non-Christian natives and almost immediate internal religious dissent. The framers of the Constitution built in the protection of . . .

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