Diana Eck's new book about religion, entitled, "A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Now Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation" talks about the growing diversity in religious affiliations in America especially among its immigrants and native people. Eck provides her readers a new issue that is controversial politically, sociologically, and personally among America's citizens. The book was released before the September 11, 2001 bombings at the World Trade Center in New York City, USA, but its release became even more important, since Eck discusses the important issue that played in the said terrorist attacks, that is, the issue of religious and cultural diversity. This paper will discuss and analyze whether "religious pluralism," a term used by Diana Eck in her book so many times, a term used to describe America's 'melting pot' of various Western and Eastern religions, serves as a unifying factor to the Americans (native peoples or immigrants) or not.
In the first chapter of her book, Eck provides a brief summary of the historical background of the new surge of immigrants, and thus, the new surge of different Western and Eastern religions in the U.S. She further tells her readers that this surge of new immigrants, and the increased diversity of the religious and cultural traditions of America, started when the U.S. government encouraged immigration of people from all over the world into the United States, as mandated by the new 1965 Immigration Act. This act paved the way for Asian, Arabs, and other nationalities in Eastern and Pacific Island nations to take part into the country's opportunities as the 'land of the free.' In the years that followed after this act was implemented, America is slowly emerging as a new nation that is no longer to be called a Christian nation or country, but as Eck terms it, a nation that is "multi-religious and democratic" (PBS Online 2002). Thus, Eck starts her book stating her thesis that due to the new multi-religious, democratic state that is the United States of America, people should become aware of the social (religious and cultural) and political issues that will happen after she has presented her extensive research of five (5) years about America's various religions. In fact, Eck urges us to take a closer look at the new 'melting pot' of religions- the U.S., and that we should be knowledgeable enough of this subject to fully understand and participate in Eck's call for religious pluralism in the U.S.
The next chapters of her book discusses the different religious that predominate American society today- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other variations of these major old religions. This part of the book helps us learn more about the increasing number of people who are under each of these religious organizations. In fact, Eck tells us that the Muslim population at present outnumbers the population of the Jews, which means that Judaism, a religion most widely- accepted in the U.S. is now becoming lesser dominant in number than the Muslims of the Islam religion. Although Eck qualifies that quantity or number of population does not matter, the exponential growth of the Muslim population (and other religions) in the U.S. implies that American society is slowly becoming a complex, diverse one, with issue s that inevitably crops up after these kinds of changes happen. This issue serves to be the main problem Eck involves her research with. With the growing religious diversity in America, just how receptive American society is to the changes that happened and might or will happen following the social (religious and cultural) changes that result from these diverse religions? In answering this question, the positive and negative results of religious diversity are then discussed. The positive results talk about the development of various religions all over the country, and the increased freedom and support that they receive from the government and the society, while at the same time, there are also negative effects to these, primarily because of people who seem not to accept and acknowledge the presence and existence of a new culturally- and religiously- diverse American society.
One of the positive effects of the new religious diversity in America is that people are now seeing the concept of "God" and religions in a new light. Were once people used to think that the Christian's "God" is far more superior than Islam's "Allah," or Judaism's "Yahweh," people are now receptive to the fact that God is a powerful being that may exist in various forms, ideas, or concepts according to an individual's belief and idea of that powerful being. In fact, Eck says in an interview by Bob Abernethy of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly that "we have many names, many attributes, many ways of seeing the divine... The ways of seeing the divine are limited not by God's capacity to be present, but by our human capacity to see. Let's try to understand what it means to speak the many- ness of God" (PS Online 2002). This statement by Eck is an important lesson that our society can get from Eck's research on America's religious diversity. Another important factor that makes this diversity in religion an important issue is the increasing cultural heritage that America now possesses as a result of this diversity. Many of the religions practiced by the immigrants and native peoples of America have traditions, customs, and beliefs tied with it, so it becomes inevitable for a new culture to be transmitted and be recognized by the society as well. Thus, in accepting the religions of the new American society, people have also come to accept the rich cultural heritage that comes along with these religions. What becomes now of America is a nation that is diverse in culture, religion, and people. The people's exposure to this new kind of society helps them increase their understanding of the differences of each people, culture, or community that we encounter. Understanding and learning to respect, if not accept, other people's religion and culture results to unity and solidarity, and this is the most important function that the new American society can play to the new America.
Despite the positive effects of religious diversity in America, there are also cases when people out look these positive effects. People who do not want to understand the differences that people have with others, who do not seem to respect, or try to at least understand the significance of these religions to people's lives, these people are those who violently suppress development of the new American society. This can be due to the maintenance of the status quo, wherein the American society is by and large known to be a Christian and Judaist society, and does not have any major religions aside from these two. However, the surge of new religions in the country served to be a threat to most people, particularly to those people who are conservative and unreceptive to change. Eck mentions in her book various cases where violence took place upon Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus within their community as a result of this so-called 'threat' that they pose to the American society. An example would be the 'hate- crimes' that became prevalent in communities in America wherein these various religions co- exist. Acts of violence include the prejudiced treatment to Hindu women in New Jersey (who wore a "dot or bindi in their forehead") by a racist group called "Dotbusters." Another case was the physical assault and killing of a Hindu named Navroze Mody by racists who beat him up because of his race, religion, and culture (Eck 1996). Another crucial event that voices out the society's disapproval of a religiously pluralistic American society is the killing of Balbir Singh Sodhi, " a Sikh immigrant from India," days after the September 11, 2001 bombing in New York City. He was killed by Frank Silva Rocque, who justified his murderous act as a "patriotic one," stressing that he only did that as his way of avenging those who brought about the terrorists attacks in the World Trade Center. Despite the fact that Sodhi is an innocent immigrant and citizen of the U.S.A., the fact that he "wears a turban and a long beard" made him a suspect to Silva, who associated Sodhi's religion and nationality as a cause to be wary of him, to be cautious, and to kill him to avoid any such incident of terrorist violence to happen again.
These cases of hate-crimes illustrate the unreceptive nature of the American society to the changes that is happening today as a result of the religious diversity in America. Diana Eck takes into account both positive and negative effects of religious diversity, thus, she calls for a resolution to this religious diversity, and this is through "religious pluralism." By being a religiously pluralistic society, America can become more receptive and understanding to the differences of the people and culture in their society. Eck explains in detail the proposals she had prepared after her…