"Religious Pluralism Suits a More Diverse Madison," a Commentary by Phil Haslanger

April 21, 2007

Author: Phil Haslanger

Source: The Capital Times


When Diana Eck talks about the changing religious landscape of America, she can cite many vivid examples, but one in particular hits close to home for her.

Speaking in Madison last week, the Harvard professor described how a Knights of Columbus Hall in Cambridge, Mass. -- a gathering place for some of the most loyal Roman Catholics -- is now an Islamic mosque.

"Change is what is happening in the American context, and we know perfectly well that it makes people uncomfortable," Eck told Madison area residents who had gathered for one of the major public events at an academic conference on religious pluralism in modern America.

Although many of the presentations had a scholarly tone, the folks gathered here from around the country under the auspices of the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions were dealing with topics that have a particular edge in a society that tries to cope with a huge change in its religious landscape.

It's true, Christianity is still the dominant religion in the United States, but Eck notes that immigration has substantially changed the mix. Now there are Brazilian Assembly of God congregations and Korean Presbyterians and, of course, a boom in Spanish-speaking congregations all across the country. The fastest-growing religious segment is those who describe themselves as not religious at all. They accounted for 7 percent of the population in 1972 and now account for about 14 percent, according to data presented by sociologist John Evans of the University of California-San Diego.