Out of Many Faiths | Reflections & Notes

Eboo Patel. Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity & The American Promise. Princeton University Press, 2018. (215 pages)

There is but one destiny … left for us, and that is to make ourselves, and be made by others a part of the American people in every sense of the word. – Frederick Douglass


This was an insightful and thoughtful read. Considering religious diversity and pluralism from a Muslim perspective is not only the right approach but extremely helpful in framing a larger history. Perhaps most laudable are the commentaries at the end that both substantiate and argue with Patel’s ideas, a “conversation” in a book. Those authors made for a well-rounded read, one that included not only religious imagination and philosophy, but history, anthropology, and demography, all factors in our contemporary context.

While Patel makes a compelling argument for the benefits and virtues of a “pragmatic pluralism,” I was [mildly] disappointed with the precision by which he recounted theological principles, and historical events. In academic circles, ethical principles lose their authority when predicated on misleading or inaccurate data. So it should be true with popular-level books as well. As I comment below inline with the notes, there is a Jewish-Christian coherence that simply does not exist with Islam. To draw a moral equivalence is understandable, but not supportable. Second, the genesis and theology of Islam is a complicated history (as it is with many other religions). While I am not one to be discourteous to another religion, I believe a commitment to the pursuit of good historical science and anthropological theology is essential, regardless of its conclusions. To that end, it is important to read Rodney Stark and Karen Armstrong, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Reza Aslan, and many others, for a thoughtful debate on the history and practice of Islam. Patel’s painting of Islam is, understandably positive, but it is also–understandably–lacking in intricate nuance.

Perhaps most critical to understand about this read is that Patel promotes an idea about the future of religious life in America that is fundamentally predicated on the capitalist “free market” of ideas that is unique to the American religious scene. America has no state religion, nor a state church. As such, various sects and creeds have full access to the populace to vie for attention and attendees. If democracy and capitalism (which includes the “free market”) are no longer sustainable, what emerges in the coming years economically and politically will no doubt form the framework in which religious expressions take place.

Finally, I offer a twist on the motto of our diverse country. Robert Jones’s prophetic observation that due to the changing demographics and heightened divisions currently influencing our body politic, we may become “E pluribus duo,” a grim alternative to Patel’s ultimate aim of realizing “E pluribus unum.” However, it may be more accurate to say that all of this is predicated upon one unifying theory of the freedom and sovereignty of humanity, the common bond we all share as sentient and soulful beings. It is from that common view that we can even begin to think of a diversity of expressions. In the words of Huston Smith, “In descending to finitude, the singularity of the Infinite splays into multiplicity–the One becomes the many.” I am persuaded that this fundamental Christian idea was and still is the pillar of our religiously diverse nation. In other words, “E unum pluribus,” out of one, many.


Introduction | Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor

The Fraying of E pluribus unum and the Bonds of Empathetic Citizenship

…empathetic citizenship–the openness to see value in others different from oneself and the concomitant responsibility for bridging those differences to create an interdependent whole… (xii)

Expanding the American Civic Religious Narrative

In this volume, we turn to what has been foundational to our national identity, emblazoned in our initiating documents as the freedom of religion and the establishment of a government embracing our people’s many faiths and traditions. (xiii)

Building a Community of Communities

…the new pluralism…can and must be accomplished through the hard work of moving from the facts of diversity to lived pluralism,… (xvi)

First, and perhaps most important as a building block of unity, is the recognition by differing doctrinal groups of some similarities in their circumstances of life–the threats, the dreams, the obstacles, and the opportunities desired for their children, for example–even when there are distinct differences in beliefs or practices. (xvi)

Rabbi Prinz, by invoking as the core meaning of neighbor, “our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity,” implored us all to reach across the aisle to find that worthy soul in others. (xvii)

When…we listen to the stories of everyday people, adding to the inspiration from larger, heroic myths, something revelatory occurs. For the somewhat unexpected part of forging that pragmatic pluralism in dialogue and storytelling is that it serves to strengthen one’s own understanding of self-identity, even as it signals how interdependent we are with other groups and traditions. (xix)

The Power of Expressive Symbolism: Uniting and Dividing

1 Religious Diversity and the American Promise

One religious communion, it was argued, made one political community. – Michael Walzer, What It Means to Be an American

A few paragraphs later, he writes, “The great exception to this rule is the United States.” The American Founders set for themselves the remarkable task of building a religiously diverse democracy, an experiment never before tried at such a scale in human history. (3)

| What will it take for the American experiment to thrive in the twenty-first century? (3)

Of all the various forms of diversity that we speak of these days (race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, and so on), religious diversity may be the one that the Founders came closest to getting right. These (generally) wealthy, (loosely) Christian, (presumably) straight, (most assuredly) white male slaveholders managed to create a constitutional system that protected freedom of religion, barred the federal government from establishing a single church, prevented religious tests for those running for political office, and penned more than a few poetic lines about building a religiously diverse democracy. (4)

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.  We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace. – Barack Obama’s Inaugural address, January 21, 2009

In many ways the United States has lived out this vision. We are the most religiously devout nation in the West, and the most religiously diverse country in the world, at a time of religious tension, conflict, and crisis. How do we affirm and extend the ethic that welcoming religiously diverse people, nurturing positive relations among them, and facilitating their contributions to the nation is part of the definition of America? Responding to that question is the task of this book. (7)

cf. Keith Ellison, an African American attorney from Minnesota, and the first Muslim elected to Congress.

cf. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, Muslim Cool

In this way, the tensions and conversations taking place within the Muslim community in America mirror some of the tensions and conversations taking place within the wider national community. Just as America has to deal with legacies of discrimination against a variety of minority groups, so does Islam have its own marginalized minorities who are now demanding recognition. Just as America is struggling to deal with its internal ethnic and racial diversity, so are Muslims. Just as ethnic and racial differences in America are linked with class differences, so it is with Muslims. Just as there is a fraught authenticity dialogue taking place within America, so American Muslims are negotiating their own authenticity tensions. Just as high-profile terror attacks by Muslims and Islamophobic discrimination against Muslims have completed the “who is a real American” dialogue across America, so has it complicated the “who is a real Muslim” dialogue within American Islam. And matters are made all the more interesting by the fact that, until quite recently, a common way for immigrant Muslims to prove their Islamic authenticity was to distance themselves from American cultural patterns. These Muslims now find themselves in a moment in which some of their fellow Americans think that exhibiting open prejudice toward Muslims is a way of displaying patriotism. (11)

Neither Pagan nor Mahamedan nor Jew ought to be excluded form the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion. – John Locke

It is interesting to note that this is not the first time that Muslims have played a role in debates about what it means to be an American. (12)

As they set about creating a new government in the United States, the American Founders, Protestants all, frequently referred to the adherents of Islam as they contemplated the proper scope of religious freedom and individual rights among the nation’s present and potential inhabitants. … [They] chose Muslims as the test case for the demarcation of the theoretical boundaries of their toleration for all believers. – Denise Spellberg, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an

The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and previleges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment. – George Washington, “The bosom of America,” 1783

And why is keeping the faith with this ideal, and affirming and extending the laws and policies that protect it, a compelling interest? Because a democracy requires the contributions of its citizens. Unlike in a totalitarian system, where all activity is directed by the state, in a democracy it is ordinary citizens who start businesses, practice medicine, teach school, direct plays, coach baseball, write novels, and give blood. “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. Prejudice and discrimination are not only violations of the identities of directly affected groups; they also hurt society as a whole by acting as an impediment to those groups’ participation on these various fronts. Simply put, people who feel excluded are less likely to want, or be able, to contribute. (14)

Faith communities in which people worship together are arguably the single most important repository of social capital in America. … Churches provide an important incubator for civic skills, civic norms, community interests and civic recruitment. – Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone

If American democracy depends on the vibrancy of our civic life, and if our civic life depends at least in part on the contributions of religious communities, then it would seem self-evident that facilitating such participation is a compelling interest for American democracy. This should behoove us to commit to the following:

  • Guard against religious preference and establishment and continue the American ideal of free exercise for all faith communities.
  • Develop a national narrative that is inclusive of our new social reality of high levels of religious diversity.
  • Reduce prejudice and openly welcome the myriad contributions of multiple communities (civic, professional, cultural, and so on).
  • Facilitate positive relations between diverse religious communities, guarding against conflict and strengthening social cohesion.
  • Encourage particular religious communities to harmonize their distinctive traditions with national ideals such as civic participation and pluralism. (15)

What Makes Religious Diversity Distinct–and Difficult

…diversity includes both the differences we like and those we don’t;… (16)

How can we be sure that a Catholic American would give her loyalty to the arrangements underlying American democracy (free and fair elections, nonestablishment of religion, and so forth) rather than the arrangements promulgated by, say, the Vatican? More concretely, how do we know that she will be loyal to the American president over the pope? [John] Rawls was also concerned that particular religious groups, if they achieved majority status and attained enough political power, could seek to impose their comprehensive doctrine. Finally, he was concerned about people, especially elected leaders and government officials, offering religious reasons as the justification for public policy. … Rawl’s famous solution for this challenge was the concept of “public reason.” Simply put, it is the idea that citizens and officials ought to offer reasons whose core values are generally shared by the whole population rather than just those who subscribe to a particular religion. (16)

| The second key challenge relating to religious diversity is the challenge of the fundamental differences between various religions. (17)

cf. Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One

A single glance at an international newspaper will show that conflict between different religious communities is all too real, making it a third hazard of religious diversity. (17)

People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’–that is, to  pull in like a turtle. – Robert Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diveristy and Community in the 21st Century

Finally, there is the challenge that diversity poses to the continuity of religious identity. (18)

cf. Christian Smith, Soul Searching

Modernity pluralizes. – Peter Berger, The Heretical Imperative

Most human beings throughout most of human history, Berger pointed out, had lived within physical, sociological, or psychological bubbles. This enveloping homogeneity had served as a “plausibility structure,” allowing for only a small number of possible identities and creating an environment where these identities were continually strengthened and affirmed. (19)

The Nation and Its Religious Communities

Diversity, [Diana Eck] emphasizes, is simply the fact of people with different identities, backgrounds, and worldviews living in close quarters. … Pluralism, in Eck’s definition, is the energetic engagement of difference toward positive ends. Diversity, in other words, is simply a demographic fact; pluralism is a hard-won achievement. (20)

I define pluralism as an ethic that has three main parts: respect for different identities, relationships between diverse communities, and a commitment to the common good. (20)

The ideal of a connected society contrasts with an idea of integration-through-assimilation by orienting us towards becoming a community of communities. … A Connected society is one in which people can enjoy the bonds of solidarity and community but are equally engaged in the ‘bridging’ work of bringing diverse communities into positive relations while also individually forming personally valuable relationships across boundaries of difference. – Danielle Allen, “Toward a Connected Society”

…a friend of mine likes to say that dealing with diversity is not rocket science; it’s harder. Whether we call it achieving pluralism or building the connected society, in this precarious moment we need to do hard work in three key realms: law and policy, civil society,… and civil religion. (22)

To be part of a tradition…is to knowingly enter into an ongoing conversation, a conversation that precedes one’s birth and continues on after one’s death. – Philip Gorski, American Covenant

The ultimate foundation of a free society is the binding tie of cohesive sentiment. Such a sentiment is fostered by all those agencies of the mind and spirit which may serve to gather up the traditions of a people, transmit them from generation to generation, and thereby create the continuity of a treasured common life which constitutes a civizliation. We live by symbols. – Justice Felix Frankfurter

I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?'” – Alasdair MacIntyre

One final note on this subject. [Philip] Gorski claims that the religious dimensions of American civil religion are drawn from the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically the Old and New Testaments. While I am grateful to Gorski for his clear writing on the importance of civil religion, I must disagree with his limiting our civil religion tradition to symbols and vocabularies drawn from two religions. This is especially the case given the fact that the very term Judeo-Christian is a civic invention of the 1930s whose purpose was to expand the national community to include the numbers of Jews and Catholics. The phrase has become so woven into our civil religion that people regularly project it back to the beginning of the nation. I offer the details of this story in the pages to come. For right now, the key question is, If religious language and symbols play a significant role in American civil religion, and if America is getting more religiously diverse, then how will other religious vocabularies and experiences be incorporated into our evolving civil religion? (25)

[via: This paragraph was challenging for me–admittedly as someone who has steeped in “Judeo-Christian” thinking for decades–but more so on its own terms. First, Patel offers no actual counter-argument for the historical claim that “the religious dimensions of American civil religion are drawn from the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically the Old and New Testaments.” Patel’s demurral is based on a perceived exclusion of other faiths, and a contemporary and future limitation of only two-faiths into the next iteration of American civil religion. Neither one of those arguments refutes the historical claim. As understood by de Tocqueville and others, the centrality of the American “Church” as part and parcel to how our democracy works ought to be seriously considered. Last, the emergence of terminology does not negate prior existence. In other words, Christianity has always been linked to Judaism, even if history has proved that Christianity has rejected and been hostile to Judaism. The historical link is undeniable.]

Religious Communities and Their Nation

I believe it is in the compelling interests of both particular religious groups and the broader nation for communities to harmonize their tradition with the highest ideals of the country. … Democracy is not a spectator sport. (26)

| By harmonize I do not mean repeat or duplicate; I mean contribute in a manner that sounds good and improves the song. In The One and the Many, Martin E Marty emphasizes that American civil religion welcomes what he (crediting Johannes Althusius) calls symbiotes: new stories, or new interpretations of old stories and central symbols, by minority groups who take care to make their interpretations feel continuous with the core narrative of the larger nation while broadening and extending that narrative. (26)

This is how a diverse society advances and expands. (27)

You overcome story with story. You break the spell of myth with another myth. – Martin Marty

If the challenge of the diverse society is to embrace its differences and maintain a common life, the challenge of the particular religious community is to embrace the nation’s common life while maintaining its difference. (27)

In American civil religion we do not deify a position so much as we sacralize a discourse, including the inevitable tensions, as long as said discourse follows certain norms and observes basic parameters. (28)

[Democracy] takes for granted that reasonable people will differ in their conceptions of piety, in their groudns for hope, in their ultimate concerns, and in their speculations about salvation. Yet it holds that people who differ on such matters can stille xchange reasons with one another intelligibly, cooperate in crafting political arrangements that promote justice and decency in ther relations with one another, and do both of these things without compromising their integrity. – Jeffrey Stout

Campuses as Models of Religious Pluralism

You have a choice whenever you encounter something from another tradition, Eboo. You can look for the differences, or you can find the resonances. I advise you to find the resonances. – dad

2 Cordoba House

Sharia literally means “path to the watering place,” but it is more colloquially understood as “Islamic law.” While this conjures up images of Taliban brutality, much of what is covered in Sharia are straightforward matters regarding prayer and communal life. Furthermore, like the law of any religious tradition or nation, it is by no means fixed but rather requires interpretation and adaptation for various times and places. (37)

While prejudice against minority religious communities is certainly part of the history of New York City and the United States, so (40) is another story: standing up for religious tolerance and pluralism. (41)

The stark contrast between the views expressed by Mayor Bloomberg and those held by the likes of Speaker Gingrich illustrates two poles in the debate on the presence of Muslims in the United States. Whereas Gingrich and others spoke of American identity as inherently Judeo-Christian, Bloomberg spoke of American identity as essentially plural. Whereas Gingrich and others were part of a movement that overtly attempted to discriminate against and spread prejudice toward a minority religious group, Bloomberg sought to protect that community. Whereas Gingrich and others wanted government to be a party to their prejudice, Bloomberg insisted that government should refrain from interfering in religion (41) and if anything, should be sensitive to the needs of minority groups. Whereas Gingrich and others largely ignored constitutional questions, Bloomberg highlighted just how essential freedom of religion is to America’s foundational governing document. Whereas Gingrich and others linked all Muslims and the tradition of Islam with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Bloomberg insisted that the worst actions of a fringe minority could never be viewed as the responsibility of the larger community. Whereas Gingrich and others invoked American history, symbols, and sacredness to advocate barring Muslims from establishing Cordoba House, Bloomberg invoked history, symbols, and sacredness in defense of welcoming Cordoba House. Whereas Gingrich and others believed Muslims and their institutions were a threat to American democracy, Bloomberg insisted that they were a contribution. Whereas Bloomberg connected the prejudice he faced as a Jewish American growing up to his solidarity with the Muslims attempting to build Cordoba House, Gingrich seemed blind to the fact that his wife Callista’s Catholic faith (Gingrich had attended Mass with her for a decade and converted in March 2009) was once subject to a form of discrimination that paralleled the very Islamophobia he was peddling. (42)

Will minority religious communities be able to establish and express themselves freely? Will their various contributions to the common life of the nation be welcomed and accepted? Will movements that seek to spread prejudice and discriminate against such groups gain power and hold sway? Will government remain neutral, go out of its way to protect minority groups, or side with nativist movements that seek to mar-(42)ginalize them? What role will constitutional interpretation play? Will the self-understanding of America as a Judeo-Christian nation shift as other religious communities, and communities of those who are not religious, grow in numbers and influence? If such a shift occurs, how will we know it is happening, and what things (symbols, policies, narratives, and so on) will actually change? In what ways will minority religious communities themselves change as they plant themselves in American soil? will the groups that are making America increasingly diverse religiously, some of which are at each other’s throats elsewhere on the planet, relate positively to one another here in the United States, or will they carry conflicts from elsewhere with them? (43)

America’s promise is to guarantee equal rights for all identities. This framework of rights facilitates the contributions o these many communities to this single country. That is America’s genius. The idea is simple: people whose nation gives them dignity will build up that society. When we say we are an immigrant nation, we mean more than just that various religious and ethnic groups settled here in America, bringing with them their Hebrew prayers and Hindu changes. We are recognizing the fact that the institutions they build benefited not just their own communities but also the common good of this country. (43)

3 The Islamophobia Industry in the White House

When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans ont he basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it undermines the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it. – John McCain

The Anti-Muslim Narrative

I speak here of the scholarship of cognitive bias developed by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, captures in Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. The book highlights how human beings use mental shortcuts, which Kahneman and Tversky call “heuristics,” to come to quick judgments about the people around them. These include

  • the representation heuristic, wherein a particular image or stereotype represents an abstract category such as “gays” or “muslims” in people’s minds;
  • availability bias, wherein people make judgments based on the ease with which they are able to access the information available;
  • priming, wherein our brains are “primed” to identify further examples that are like the initial ones that are given (for example, when they are given the set “red, yellow, and blue,” people are likely to think “purple, green, and orange,” not “one, two, three”0;
  • confirmation bias, wherein people actively seek information that confirms their existing theories, notions, or stereotypes; (48)
  • framing, wherein the manner in which a question is stated or a decision is framed greatly affects the choices people tend to make;
  • automatic search for causality, wherein people seek a cause-and-effect explanation, often rendered in an easily digestible story, for a particular phenomenon, even when none exists. (49)

[via: In this section, Patel provides some statistics (on page 51), which he calls “facts,” which I found ironic, given that psychologically, facts only exacerbate bias.]

Anti-Muslim Policy

cf. Olga Khazan, “The Dark Minds of the ‘Alt-Right,'” Atlantic, August 17, 2017.

Anti-Muslim Civil Society

Banning the Muslim Contribution

Discrimination against an identity group in a democratic society is not just a violation of their dignity, it is a barrier to their contribution. (60)

Interfaith Resistance

This is surely the first time a court has ruled that a president acted out of bigotry. – Eric Posner, Judges v. Trump: Be Careful What You Wish For

cf. Noah Feldman, “Court Essentially Says Trump Lied about Travel Ban”

cf. Vikki Ortiz Healy, “The Story Behind the Viral Photo of Muslim and Jewish Children Protesting at O’Hare”

If one day Muslim American swill be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim. – Jonathan Greenblatt, president of the Anti-Defamation League

4 Toward an Interfaith America

…it is hard to imagine just how rampant and focused anti-Catholic sentiment was in the United States for, literally, centuries. Moreover, it is remarkable how much the underlying logic of anti-Catholic arguments shares with anti-Muslim sentiments today. (66)

| As with rhetoric about Islam today, anti-Catholic movements of the past claimed Catholicism was a political system that inherently produced totalitarian arrangements that were inimical to democratic life and American ideas of freedom. (66)

Judeo-Christian America

As civil religion, however, Judeo-Christian is genius. It expands the national narrative in a manner that dignifies previously marginalized occupants, and it makes the process feel not like the civic invention it is but like the rediscovery of a great sacred truth. The NCCJ (National Conference of Christian and Jews), therefore, was not advancing a national fiction but rather bringing to earth a lost piece of the Kingdom.

Beyond Judeo-Christian

It is a supreme irony that some of the very people who were dignified as Americans by the civic invention Judeo-Christian are now wielding it as a bludgeon to denationalize others. (72)

So if the ugliness can be buried and the resonances lifted up between the first two of the three great monotheisms such that they can somehow be talked about as a single civilization (one whose primary purpose these days seems to be to exclude adherents of the third_, why not attempt a different combination? The chief obstacle, [Richard Bulliet] claims, is “a historical master narrative rooted in fourteen centuries of fear and polemic, and, of course, the current conviction among many Westerners that there is something ‘wrong’ with Islam.” (73)

[via: There are coherent historical and theological consistencies however, between and within Judaism and Christianity that are not found within Islam. Minimally, we can state that Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew, and lived and taught within a fully Jewish framework. The history behind the emergence of Islam through Mohammed is more about conflict than it is about coherence.]

cf. Anand Giridharadas, The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas

cf. Sharon Otterman, “Obscuring a Muslim Name, and an American’s Sacrifice”

cf. Cindy Boren, “The Iconic Moment Muhammad Ali Lit Olympic Flame in Atlanta Almost Didn’t Happen”

5 The American Ummah in the Era of Islamophobia

The central argument of this essay is that the defining dynamic of America is diversity. (78)

As it was with Jews in The Chosen, so it is with Muslims now. (80)

A consequence of attempting to keep an identity pure through social control is that a set of people will declare themselves deviants and leave. A consequence of powerful outsiders attacking an identity is that people with even the slimmest connection to that identity will feel offended, find that once-small part of themselves growing in personal significance, then seek to reconnect with that identity, often by playing some role of value for that identity community. (83)

For the time being, let us call the Ansari types “social Muslims” and the people who start mosques “traditional Muslims.” (84)

The most significant distinctions between social Muslims and traditional Muslims are about sources of authority, the spaces they (84) tend to occupy, and the topics on which they most frequently focus. Traditional Muslims derive their authority from knowledge of sacred sources and vocal emphasis on personal piety. Social Muslims derive their authority from their ability to create positive impressions about Muslims for the broader society. The individual who gives a sermon during Friday prayers at the mosque, or some other kind of internal Muslim space, is likely to be a traditional Muslim. (85)

In my mind, the most interesting part of the “social Muslim” category is that it is, in large part at least, created by Islamophobia. (85)

But creating a discourse requires both people willing to speak and people interested in listening, and in our time, the desire by the growing number of social Muslims to speak up as Muslims is matched by the growing interest in stories about Muslims. In other words, the second way in which Islamophobia created the “social Muslim” category is by supplying it a stage and an audience. (85)

Muslims, in other words, have become a totem in the current chapter of the American culture wars, a symbol that signals, above all, a tribal belonging… (86)

Linda Sarsour, co-organizer of the National Womens March and one of TIME Magazines 100 Most Influential People raises her fist as shes walks to the stage as the keynote speaker at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Healths inaugural commencement ceremony June 1, 2017 at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

We in this room together must commit to never being bystanders to poverty, lack of jobs and healthcare, sexism, violence, discrimination, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. We will stand up, we will speak truth to power no matter the consequences, we will demand change, we will center those most directly impacted because they, we, who are closest to the pain are also closest to the solution. Linda Sarsour

…people who wanted to establish their City on a Hill on the Winthrop model of purity found that they needed to invoke the Kennedy/Reagan/Obama “city of diversity” in order to have a place. And once you invoke diversity as a value that gives you a place in the larger city, it is hard to turn around and deny a place to people (gay Muslims, Shia Muslims, non-hijabi female Muslims, less-observant-than-you Muslims) who demand a similar safety in your neighborhood based on that same value. (91)


cf. The Constitution of Medina (Wikipedia; Oxford)

For centuries, Islamic civilization harmonized indigenous forms of cultural expression with the universal norms of its sacred law. It struck a balance between temporal beauty and ageless truth and fanned a brilliant peacock’s tail of unity in diversity from the heart of China to the shores of the Atlantic. Islamic jurisprudence helped facilitate this creative genius. {In history, Islam showed itself to be culturally friendly and, in that regard, has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but—having no color of their own—reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow. In China, Islam looked Chinese; in Mali, it looked African.} Sustained cultural relevance to distinct peoples, diverse places, and different times underlay Islam’s long success as a global civilization. ** – Dr. Umar Abd-Allah, “Islam and the Cultural Imperative”

[via: It is a curiosity that Patel cut out {the bracketed portion}, and put it at the end **.]

7 Postscript: Potluck Nation

The genius of this nation is not in how it vanquishes minority religions but rather in how it welcomes their contributions. (108)

cf. Hasan Minhaj, Homecoming King, 2017

[via: cf. vialogue’s Homecoming King | Reflections]

We live in a nation that offers those terms to all peoples. And we have a history replete with instances in which, when the terms of equality and dignity are not freely given, they have been taken. That is how people become American. That is how this nation became America. (109)


8 The Challenge of Pluralism after the End of White Christian America | Robert P. Jones

…when astute European observes such as Ma Weber from Germany, Alexis de Tocqueville from France, and G. K. Chesterton from England (114) … came to the United States to see for themselves exactly how the Americans were pulling off this unlikely feat. Each concluded, in different ways, that the key was a flourishing civil society, which formed character and fostered high levels of civic participation through voluntary organizations, not least of which was a dizzying array of churches and other religious organizations. (114)

For the first one hundred years of the republic, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were such a dominant cultural force and demographic reality that the practical impact of the establishment and growth of other religious groups was negligible. They posed a threat neither to the cultural fabric nor to political power. (114)

These past lessons and achievements, however, are only partially instructive for our more complicated present, for at least two reasons. First, even a cursory glance at the achievements of religious pluralism in America reveals that the acceptance of religious diversity has always been entangled with perceptions of race. In the past, the American solution has been to finesse the issue of race by broadening the definition of whiteness, rather than to deal with the problem of racism head on. But Patel’s test case of Muslim integration into the American religious fabric shows the difficulty of dusting off this strategy for the present. In America, while the historical elasticity of whiteness clearly reveals it to be a social construct, it remains at least partially connected to lighter skin tone. (115)

Second, virtually every previous strategy for accepting religious diversity relied on the melting pot idea. In the great American stew, cultural and even ethnic differences literally dissolved and evaporated, leaving a reduction that was palatable to white Protestant tastes. (115)

If we’re going to chart a course for a new kind of religious diversity, we’ll have to move beyond the tread-worn strategies of finessing racial identity and melting pot conformity. (115)

America’s Struggle with Pluralism: More about Displacement than Diversity


The year 1993 was the last in which white Protestants constituted a majority (51 percent) of the public. Today, white Protestants account for only 30 percent of Americans. Most notably, if one considers all white Christian groups combined–Protestant, Catholic, and nondenominational–we have just recently crossed a significant milestone: over the last decade, demographically speaking, the country has shifted from a majority white Christian country to a minority white Christian country–from 54 percent in 2008 to 43 percent in 2016, a drop of 11 percentage points. (116_


When I talk about these engines, I typically talk about “the three Ds”: demographic change, declining birth rates, and disaffiliation. (117)


America’s 1 percent Muslim population is significantly lower than France’s 8.8 percent, the United Kingdom’s 6.3 percent, or Germany’s 6.1 percent. And while the Muslim population is growing in the U.S., its growth rate is about one-third of the growth rate in Europe. It will likely be 2050 before Muslim Americans overtake Jewish Americans as the largest non-Christian religious group. (120)

Today anxieties and resistance stem not primarily from increasing diversity but rather from a sense of displacement among significant numbers of white Christians as they realize they no longer enjoy majority status. (120)

White Christian displacement as America’s undisputed dominant group is significant for two reasons. First, ti undermines a core (12) American strategy for dealing with religious diversity: expecting conformity toward a strong majority group. Second, and perhaps more importantly, many white Christin groups have experienced these declines as an existential threat, fueling visceral emotions such as anxiety, alarm, and anger. The resulting mentality among white Christians of hunkered-down defensiveness, rather than open-handed generosity, may be the biggest barrier to dealing with the challenges of religious and ethnic diversity that lie before us today. It is less a practical problem than a problem of civic, or even theological, imagination and faith. (121)

Partisan Erosion of a Shared Sense of American Identity

Recent survey data provides troubling evidence that amid the shockwaves from these demographic and religious transformations, our two political parties are reorienting themselves away from the more familiar liberal versus conservative alignment and toward new poles of cultural pluralism versus monism. In other words, like so many other issues in American public life, religious pluralism has now been prominently installed as a totem, marking partisan tribal territory. (121)

If this realignment continues unabated, left out of this binary opposition will be a not insignificant number of whites who are both wary of white Christian nationalism and weary of feeling discounted in the marketplace of identity politics. And our great national motto will have devolved from a praiseworthy E pluribus unum to a paranoid E pluribus duo. (124)

The Challenge of our Day

In my family’s dining room is an antique table from the 1940s with six chairs. But one of the chairs is constructed differently from the rest. It is broader than the other chairs, and it is the only one with armrests. Sometimes called “the captain’s chair,” it was designed for the head of the table. Historically, that chair was meant to architecturally reinforce hierarchical family relationships, with the father occupying that throne-like seat, from which he could control the flow of the meal and the topics of conversation. (124)

| If we imagine America gathered around a dining-room table, until very recently, white Christians, and particularly white Protestants, felt like they owned the table and were entitled to the patriarch’s position. Others might be invited to pull up a chair, either as subordinate family members or as guests, but the power relationships and expectations were understood by all. If we are going to make progress toward fulfilling our nation’s promise of religious liberty for all, we have to be clear about the problem. The chief impediment for pluralism today is not that we have run out of chairs. Rather, it is that many white Christians have been reluctant to relinquish the privileged seat of power. (125)

America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theolgical lucidity in the Declaration of Independence. .. .It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just.  – G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America

For religious minority groups and religiously unaffiliated Americans, the decentering of a single religio-racial majority undermines melting pot solutions in at least two ways. First, the absence of a clear target culture to serve as an assimilation telos makes this demand, if not nonsensical, at least confusing. Second, the retreat of a (126) single dominant culture means there is no longer a dispenser of rewards and punishments for assimilation. (127)

In this new environment, the idea of civil religion feels less like a reinforcement of Christian values and more like a threat to white Protestant particularity. Returning to Chesterton’s observations may provide a way beyond the civil religion dilemma. (127)

Chesterton’s civic creedalism is generally consistent with the vision Patel lays out, and its recovery helps address some of the areas where Patel’s proposal may run into difficulty. (128)

Second, a civic creedalism would resonate more deeply with America’s burgeoning group of religiously unaffiliated Americans, who at 24 percent of the country already exceed the size of the largest religious groups in the country. (128)

Third, a civic creedalism may provide a solution to two problems that Patel identifies with the civil religion solution. The first (128) problem is that American civil religion historically was drawn explicitly from Protestant Christianity, which was then later expanded to include more broadly “the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically the Old and New Testaments” (25).

I would argue, however, that the creative invention of Judeo-Christian represents the outer boundary for the civil religion tradition. … In this light, the wisdom of a civic creedalism seems all the more promising, as the foundation rests on affirmation all Americans can make in their own first languages, and none are asked to translate more than others. (129)

The second problem a civic creedalism might solve is that it lowers the conflict for religious communities between the universal and particular. (129)

If the challenge of the diverse society is to embrace tis differences and maintain a common life, the challenge of the particular religious community is to embrace the nation’s common life while maintaining its difference. – Michael Walzer

…the creative intellectual task…of every generation involves moral bricolage. – Jeffrey Stout, Ethics After Babel


So we listen to new voices, we add some symbols and deemphasize others, elevate these stories and demote those, and reinterpret the whole narrative so that we continue being America, or rather, become a better America. (24)

Such a model will sound much less like a harmonized chorus and much more like an extended cultural argument. To many civic-minded Republicans who worry about social cohesion, that may sound insufficient. But if the argument is lively, engaged, and coherent, it may prove that a return to our founding civic creedalism is enough, after all, to create one out of many. (132)

9 Hope without a Common Good | John Inazu

Patel’s essay departs from my arguments in two related ways. First, he is too optimistic about what we as citizens of this country hold in common with one another. Second, he neglects the current shortcomings of the legal protections that we need in order to live together in spite of our differences. (133)

Authentic relationships across differences recognize rather than ignore the limits to our unity. (134)

Patel’s Optimism for America

Collapsing the distinction between religious holy days and other important days will lead quickly to either an unworkable system of individualized accommodations or a generic policy that grants everyone a set number of absences. But the alternative of maintaining the distinction between religious and nonreligious justifications may start to look like unjustly favoring religion in the eyes of the nonbeliever. (137)

[via: But isn’t this the point, that there is always a tension? I’m wondering if The Way of Jesus (as I am currently constructing it in my head) could be the way forward through this?]

The state’s territory becomes consecrated ground, its history a sacred duty to maintain, its flag something to die for. None of this has much to do with the secular; these are matters of faith, not reason. – Paul Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty

The cross has a broadly-understood ancillary meaning as a symbol of military service, sacrifice, and death; it is displayed along with numerous purely secular symbols in an overall context that reinforces its secular message; (139) and it is historically significant. As a result, the specter of government endorsement of religion or favoring a religion is not apparent, let alone obvious and primary. – (cf. John D. Inazu, Liberty’s Refuge)

My Pessimism about the Law

Assembly is the only one of these that cannot be exercised by a single individual–it is inherently relational.  It reflects the reality that most of us form our identities and beliefs in groups. And its inclusion in the First Amendment (142) means that we cannot fully comprehend our civil liberties without understanding their relational dimension. (143)

Indeed, something is lost when we parse assembly as either speech or association, as our current doctrine does: we miss the inherent connection between a group’s existence, its practices, and its message. Treating speech and association separately favors a constitutional analysis that underestimates if not dismiss important First Amendment values like dissent, the fostering of beliefs, the shaping of identity, and informal interactions. These developments leave a gap in our constitutional analysis of claims to group autonomy. And that hole is even more evident now for religious groups, which, as I suggested earlier, find themselves without meaningful religious liberty protections and facing an uphill climb to reclaim those protections. (144)

The Challenges and Opportunities for Islam

[Patel] observes that the September 11, 2011, attacks were “perpetrated by people who called themselves Muslim,” but “in reality, the only descriptor that fits is terrorist” (44). That doesn’t seem quite right to me. Labeling the 9/11 attackers as terrorists does not negate their self-understanding as faithful Muslims. Nor can we ignore the unique challenges in contemporary global politics posed by violence perpetrated in the name of Islam. To be sure, religious adherents of many stripes have committed untold atrocities in the name of faith. But today, militant strands of Islam are slaughtering their neighbors in horrific numbers. It is not enough to insist that these more violent interpreters of a religious tradition simply fall outside it. (146)

Optimism and Hope

We will still need to find a modest unity–the minimal agreement that allows us to live with each other across our disagreements. That modest unity cannot be taken for granted. It must be explained, narrated–and, ultimately, believed. (149)

“Lest we think that only words divided us in past times, we might remember that Puritans executed Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century, race riots and labor unrest led to hundreds of deaths in the 19th and 20th centuries, and 620,000 Americans died at the hands of other Americans during the Civil War.” (149)

10 Plural America Needs Myths: An Essay in Foundational Narratives in Response to Eboo Patel | Laurie L. Patton

…for this mythologist and historian of religion interested in interfaith relations, “if such a shift occurs, how will we know it is happening, and what things (symbols, policies, narratives, and so on) will actually change?” (43). (151)

| I argue in this response to Patel’s work that we will know when that shift has occurred when we have foundational stories–we (151) might even call them “myths”–that are part of our common cultural practice. … In addition to the crucial place of policy, I think, as Patel does, that it is important to consider the hard cultural work that is necessary in order to move beyond “diversity” to “pluralism.” (152)

[via: This is a substantive argument for, IMHO, The Way of Jesus as the way forward.]

As Diana Eck writes, diversity is simply a demographic fact, whereas pluralism is a hard-won achievement, in which difference is engaged toward positive ends. (152)

Pluralism Needs Myths

Pragmatic Pluralism as Everyday Ethics

The phrase I have been using to develop [Jonathan] Sack’s [“dignity of difference”] idea further is “pragmatic pluralism.” Elsewhere I have defined this as when “one religion needs another tradition to be itself.” (156)

What Makes an Effective Myth?

Effective interfaith narratives

  • invoke a wider sense of a “we”;
  • have compelling poetic imagery;
  • depict ethical actions to be reflected on an interpreted in a multitude of ways;
  • portray compelling moments of identity formation (157)

[via: All of these map on to The Way of Jesus almost perfectly.]

cf. Bruce Lincoln, “Mythic Narrative and Cultural Diversity in American Society”

It might also be helpful here to think about what might be an ineffective narrative. First, we can argue that the mere statement of facts and figures will not change the American narrative to make it more inclusive. … However, what will make a difference is the combination of these facts with effective stories about these facts. (160)

Second, myths that involve the kind of mental shortcuts that Patel writes about will not help in expanding American identity. (160)

In sum: effective interfaith myths invite reflection. They do not dissolve social tensions but instead ask us to explore them. In doing so, they encourage us to think about a wider sense of “we.” They do so with language and imagery that is poetically compelling. They also do so by depicting actions to be reflected on, and they clearly show crucial moments in identity formation. They avoid sentimentality, eschew the mental shortcuts of preconditioned attitudes, and connect with earlier effective narratives. What would such stories actually look like? (161)

Pluralism’s Compelling Interests: Telling the Stories






Concluding Thoughts


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