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"Religious Pluralism: America In The Year 2000"
Theme Article, Year 2000 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches

Yearbook: A Valuable Resource
Yearbook Theme is Religious Pluralism

February 18, 2000, NEW YORK CITY – What better way to introduce readers to America’s growing religious pluralism than through a series of "snapshots?" That essentially is what Dr. Diana L. Eck offers in the theme article for the Year 2000 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches -- a book brimming with resources for both research on and engagement with a diversity of faith communities.

Dr. Eck is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University. In "Religious Pluralism: America in the Year 2000," she illustrates the richness and complexity of an American phenomenon that is welcomed by some, feared or resisted by others. Among her "snapshots," each inviting fuller exploration:

Already home to Native American traditional spiritualities, America’s religious diversity increased through the inherent diversity of Protestant churches established in the colonies and with the 19th and 20th century immigration of Roman Catholics, Jews and persons who practiced Chinese religion, Islam and Sikhism. "It was not, however, until America’s immigration policy changed in 1965 that significant communities of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains settled in the United States," reports Dr. Eck.

"Pluralism is not just difference but engagement with our differences," Dr. Eck notes. New Muslim mosques and community centers; Hindu, Jain and Zoroastrian temples, and Buddhist monasteries are taking their place alongside Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. Is this phenomenon of architectural interest only, or are their members encountering each other in meaningful ways?

"Religious traditions are irreducible, and they tend to resist syncretistic amalgamation," Dr. Eck points out. And different faith traditions, and traditions within traditions, hold very different views of interreligious dialogue. So how can we engage our differences but keep our respective identities? How can we foster dialogue aimed not at achieving agreement but rather relationship, based on real give and take?

For many Americans, religious pluralism is threatening. The shadow of vandalism and violence perpetuated against religious groups, particularly minority or ethnic communities, falls across Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, mosques, synagogues and minority Christian churches alike. Our common life as communities is menaced by many forms of belligerence and discrimination, negative stereotypes, benign ignorance and willful misrepresentation.

"There are also many other controversies that engage our new religious differences across complex issues," Dr. Eck continues. "Can a turbaned Sikh work on a hard-hat job or wear his turban in the U.S. Army? Can a Sikh high school student carry the symbolic dagger of Sikh religious initiation to school? Will the Whirlpool Corporation in Nashville find a way for Muslim employees to meet their obligation for prayer?….Zoning boards, school boards, city and state judicial bodies have become the sites of interreligious encounter as new questions like these are posed."

Public awareness, community life and public policy are just beginning to catch up with the changes in our demography. For example, the Governor of the State of Kansas, in 1997, issued his first official proclamation on the Muslim observance of Ramadan. In it he called on Kansas citizens to recognize "the dedication and service of Muslims as an important part of the fabric of religious pluralism which enriches us all." President Clinton, in 1998, issued similar greetings on an important Sikh observance. Increasingly, public figures and heroes including astronauts, business leaders, scientists, engineers are identified as Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Hindu, Zoroastrian ….

Prepared by the National Council of Churches and published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn., the 408-page Yearbook is chock full of useful and fascinating facts, figures, maps, graphics and detailed listings related to American religious life, invaluable for church leaders, journalists, scholars, seminary and public libraries and others engaged in research or ministry.

The Year 2000 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches may be ordered by e-mail (yearbook@ncccusa.org); phone (888-870-3325); fax (212-870-2817); or mail (Yearbook Orders, National Council of Churches, Room 880, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115). Cost is $40 including shipping.

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