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Interfaith Encounters in America

Kate McCarthy

Publication Year: 2007

From its most cosmopolitan urban centers to the rural Midwest, the United States is experiencing a rising tide of religious interest. While terrorist attacks keep Americans fixed on an abhorrent vision of militant Islam, popular films such as The Passion of the Christ and The Da Vinci Code make blockbuster material of the origins of Christianity. The 2004 presidential election, we are told, was decided on the basis of religiously driven moral values. A majority of Americans are reported to believe that religious differences are the biggest obstacle to world peace. Beneath the superficial banter of the media and popular culture, however, 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 new land, conversations among young people who are 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. Interfaith Encounters in America takes a compelling look at these seldom acknowledged exchanges, showing how, despite their incompatibilities, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu Americans, among others, are using their beliefs to commit to the values of a pluralistic society rather than to widen existing divisions. Chapters survey the intellectual exchanges among scholars of philosophy, religion, and theology about how to make sense of conflicting claims, as well as the relevance and applicability of these ideas "on the ground" where real people with different religious identities intentionally unite for shared purposes that range from national public policy initiatives to small town community interfaith groups, from couples negotiating interfaith marriages to those exploring religious issues with strangers in online interfaith discussion groups. Written in engaging and accessible prose, this book provides an important reassessment of the problems, values, and goals of contemporary religion in the United States. It is essential reading for scholars of religion, sociology, and American studies, as well as anyone who is concerned with the purported impossibility of religious pluralism.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

... For research assistance I am grateful to Arin Cole and especially Rebecca Anker, who also transcribed and coded interviews and helped me through the editorial process. Stephanie Hamel gave me valuable insight into using grounded theory to get the most from interview data. ...

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pp. 1-13

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 ...

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Chapter 1: Theories of Religious Difference The “Experts” Map Interfaith Relations

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pp. 14-44

“The map is not the territory,” we learned a long time ago from general semantics. This has certainly become clear to many of us on long hikes when the topographical map and the trail in front of us seem to bear little relation to one another. But we carry our maps just the same. My goal in exploring interfaith encounters in the United States today is to get at the territory itself, the experience of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others ...

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Chapter 2: Strange Bedfellows Multifaith Activism in American Politics

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pp. 45-83

In the presidential election of 2004, Americans suddenly discovered color as a defining mark of their political identities—not black and white this time, but red and blue. From its use in network news graphics to represent Republican and Democratic voting patterns, “red state” and “blue state” quickly came to serve as shorthand for broad cultural divisions on everything from gay marriage and prayer in schools to fashion and music tastes.1 The instant ubiquity of red state/blue ...

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Chapter 3: When the Other Is Neighbor Community-Based Interfaith Work

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pp. 84-125

A “community” is a slippery thing to define. On the one hand, it has come to refer to any group of people with a common interest or identity— we hear of the “Asian American community,” the “pro-life community,” the “transgender community,” even, in a trade publication I spotted recently, the “event-planning community.” On the other hand, geographically defined communities—the towns and neighborhoods where we live—are often anonymous places where we know only a few people, ...

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Chapter 4: Intimate Others Interfaith Families Making a Space for Religious Difference

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pp. 126-168

Most interfaith work is a purposeful, intentional thing. Driven by intellectual passion, politics, or a commitment to community harmony, people of different religious identities find or create the structures that will allow them to explore their difference and find common purpose. But for interfaith couples, the work of...

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Chapter 5: Meeting the Other in Cyberspace Interfaith Dialogue Online

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pp. 169-197

The statistics are becoming familiar: 137 million American adults—more than two-thirds—are now online (Pew Internet 2005). Nine out of ten American school children have access to computers. More than four out of five households with computers also have Internet access. And clearly, one of the things people are doing with all that connectivity is learning ...

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pp. 198-210

This tour of several sites of interfaith encounter affirms that the pluralist impulse is alive and well in the United States, despite the twin threats of fundamentalism and the homogenizing commodification of culture. For every gesture of religious intolerance that so captures media attention, we can find countless instances of individuals and groups stepping across religious lines with curiosity and open hearts. ...


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pp. 211-215


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pp. 217-225


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pp. 227-233

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About the Author

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KATE McCARTHY is an associate professor of Religious Studies and ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813541358
E-ISBN-10: 0813541352
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813540290
Print-ISBN-10: 0813540291

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 1 graph
Publication Year: 2007