This paper addresses religious pluralism as an academic, civic, and theological challenge. Looking at religious communities in their connections and interrelations is a critical academic challenge for students of religion who would gain insight into the dynamics of religious life and identities today. The encounter of people from different religious traditions in hometown America has reshaped the context of religious life, calling for attention and serious study. In short, the study of a complex city like Fremont, CA, might well be the study of today's Silk Road, today's convivencia. Religious pluralism is also a critical civic issue for citizens of increasingly diverse societies, raising fundamental questions about the nature of civic polity, the "we" of our civic life. And, to be sure, religious pluralism is a critical theological issue for people of faith, raising fundamental questions about one's own faith in relation to the religious other. Scholarly, civic, and theological issues have their own distinctive realms of discourse and require us to think carefully about the meaning of "voice" in our work. We cannot evade the question of voice in thinking theoretically about pluralism, for diversity is not only the characteristic of the worlds we study but of our own identities, our multiply-situated selves.
This article documents changes in Palestinian Christian identities during the Oslo Peace Process, 1993–2000. Drawing on a year of formal fieldwork in 1999–2000, and five years of experience living in the Occupied Territories during the first intifada (1987–1993), the author uses diaries, field notes, and life history interviews with activists from across the political spectrum to identify diverging interpretations of what it means to be both a Palestinian and a Christian in the face of unrelenting Israeli occupation, sharp demographic decline, a powerful Islamist movement, and the corresponding weakening of the secularnationalist milieu. The resulting portrayal depicts the emergence of three synchronic identity orientations within the generation of Christians who came of age during and after the first intifada. The first tendency perpetuates traditional secular-nationalism; the second advocates for a religio-communal revitalization similar to the Islamist one; the third expresses an apolitical piety resulting in an otherworldly "flight from the world." The emergence of these tendencies sheds new light not only on the Palestinian situation today, but also on identity formation processes, generally. The study also raises questions for the comparative analysis of majoritarian religious and ethnic revitalization and its impact on minorities within the modern nation-state.
This article examines an officially resolved, yet still controversial, debate over the right of Sikh students in Québec to carry kirpāns (or ceremonial daggers) as markers of religious identity to public school. It documents the ways in which conflicting Canadian and Québécois conceptions of secularism influenced how various non-Sikh participants in the debate responded to Sikh presentations of the kirpān. Yet, it also demonstrates how Sikh activists selectively engaged the competing discourses on secularism in ways that furthered their interests. Although Sikhs were forced to defer to dominant sensibilities in articulating their religious traditions, their alignment of those traditions with mainstream values helped to preserve their distinctive identity. At the same time, Sikh activists forced non-Sikhs to reevaluate the purpose of secularism, an issue of fundamental concern to national and regional identity. Thus, by analyzing the interplay of arguments in this case, this article illuminates the various ways in which debates over minority religious expression shape formations of the secular.
Class continues to be important in all aspects of life, but is largely ignored in contemporary religious studies. Despite some claims to the contrary, class matters in the study of religion, though not in the way past scholars have asserted. In this article, I propose an interdisciplinary, three-part definition of class useful for the study of religion. The first two parts affirm that class has and still plays an important role in creating and sustaining social, cultural, and religious distinctions. First, class has served as an externally ascribed marker placed upon particular groups by outsiders engaged in boundary demarcation. Second, class has historically been used as an aspect of individual and group identity. Third, I argue that class plays a role in determining religious preferences. Combining and extrapolating theories and concepts from several scholars, I argue that social class relates to religious preferences in that certain material circumstances make individuals and groups more or less "available" to explore certain religious options. I conclude by suggesting some directions for future research.
Outdoor adventure and other recreational practices can express, evoke, and reinforce religious perceptions and orientations to natural and social worlds. Some participants in them understand nature itself to be sacred in some way and believe that facilitating human connections to nature is the most important aspect of their chosen practice. Such activities can be construed by scholars as "nature religion," and profitably analyzed by comparing characteristics commonly associated with religion to the beliefs and practices of participants engaged in these activities. Here I introduce as "Aquatic Nature Religion" three case studies that explore the religious, or religion-resembling aspects, of surfing, fly fishing, and whitewater kayaking. These studies provocatively challenge conventional understandings of religion and pose anew the boundary question: Where does religion end and phenomena that are not religious begin?
This paper argues that whitewater paddling constitutes religious experience, that non-western terms often best describe this experience and that these two facts are related and have much to tell us about the nature of religious experience. That many paddlers articulate their experiences using Asian and/or indigenous religious terms suggests that this language is a form of opposition to existing norms of what constitutes religious experience. So, investigating the sport as an aquatic nature religion provides the opportunity to revisit existing categories. As a "lived religion," whitewater kayaking is a ritual practice of an embodied encounter with the sacred, and the sacred encounter is mediated through the body's performance in the water. This sacred encounter— with its risk and danger—illustrates Rudolph Otto's equation of the sacred with terrifying and unfathomable mystery and provides a counterpoint to norms of North American religiosity and related scholarship.
Fly fishers around the world frequently use terms such as religious, spiritual, sacred, divine, ritual, meditation, and conversion to describe their personal angling experiences. Further, drawing upon religious terminology, anglers will refer to rivers as their church and to nature as sacred. Often these latter pronouncements drive a concern for the conservation of these sacred spaces as evidenced by participation in both local and national conservation organizations. Informed by theoretical perspectives offered by religious studies, particularly "lived religion" and "religion and nature," I shall trace a few of the historical, material, and everyday elements of fly fishers and their subcultures, demonstrating along the way the insights that come by understanding fly fishing as a religious practice, which can, at times, drive an ethic of environmental conservation.
"Soul surfers" consider surfing to be a profoundly meaningful practice that brings physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits. They generally agree on where surfing initially developed, that it assumed a religious character, was suppressed for religious reasons, has been undergoing a revival, and enjoins reverence for and protection of nature. This subset of the global surfing community should be understood as a new religious movement—a globalizing, hybridized, and increasingly influential example of what I call aquatic nature religion. For these individuals, surfing is a religious form in which a specific sensual practice constitutes its sacred center, and the corresponding experiences are constructed in a way that leads to a belief in nature as powerful, transformative, healing, and sacred. I advance this argument by analyzing these experiences, as well as the myths, rites, symbols, terminology, technology, material culture, and ethical mores that are found within surfing subcultures.