Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism

Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism

Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism

Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism

Synopsis

Religious pluralism is everywhere in today's politics. Increased immigration flows, the collapse of communism, and the globalization of communications technologies have all fostered a wider variety of religious beliefs, practices, and organizations within and across democratic societies. This is true in both the United States and Europe, where growing and diverse minority communities are transforming the political landscape. As a result, controversies over such things as headscarves and depictions of Mohammed are unsettling a largely secular Europe, while a Christian majority in the United States faces familiar questions about church-state relations amid unprecedented religious diversity. Far from receding into the background, religious language pervades arguments around established issues such as abortion and capital punishment, and new ones such as stem cell research and same-sex marriage.

Excerpt

Thomas Banchoff

A new religious pluralism is shaking up Atlantic democracies. In the United States, controversies surrounding the “under God” clause of the Pledge of Allegiance and the display of the Ten Commandments are part of a long-running constitutional struggle. But such controversies are now also colored by the concerns of Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious citizens who reject monotheism. In France, the recent ban on headscarves and other prominent religious symbols in public schools is a dramatic reaffirmation of the tradition of laïcité—the exclusion of religion from the public sphere. At the same time, it is a political response to greater religious diversity and to the growth of Islam in particular. In the United Kingdom, controversy surrounding the blasphemy laws is part of an old debate about the institutional prerogatives of the Church of England. But it also raises questions about whether and how to protect the sensibilities of minority faith traditions.

These and other controversies are occasions to rethink the relationship between religion and politics in Atlantic democracies. Entrenched arguments center on whether religion is increasing or decreasing as a social and political force. This familiar secularization debate should not deflect attention from a striking development of the last several decades: the emergence of a more diverse religious landscape with new political implications. In both Western Europe and North America, that diversity encompasses dominant Christian and long-established Jewish groups, a growing Muslim population, and increasing adherents of non-Abrahamic traditions, ranging from Hinduism and Buddhism to New Age spiritualities. Religious diversity is nothing new. But it has increased in scope since the 1980s and 1990s, sparking greater interaction among religious groups and . . .

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