One Nation Under Whose God?: Interfaith Work in the Unique Religious Setting of the United States


Abstract: The United States is a country founded on religious liberty and is one of, if not the most, religiously diverse countries in the world. Religious diversity has flourished under the United States’ separation of church and state. Despite these protections, religious tolerance has waxed and waned over the last three centuries. While the government is prohibited from making any claim to an official religion or any requirements about religion, a religion does not need to be state-sanctioned for it to be popularly sanctioned. Though freedom of religion stands as one of America’s proudest accomplishments, many argue the division between the state and the church is not as clean in reality. These individual perceptions and ideologies aside, the political sphere is laden with ties to Christianity – both because of the founding members’ religious loyalties and also because of the loyalties of those who have continued to hold positions of power. The fact that there is no blatantly stated religion has not precluded Christianity from becoming one of the dominant forces that has shaped and driven the American cultural ethic and way of life.

This thesis will combine research in the four areas of the separation of church and state, civil religion, religious demography, and interfaith practice to provide a snapshot of current U.S. religiosity – the present state of church and state. Considering these various aspects, a central question emerges: What commentary do these various lenses of U.S. religiosity offer regarding the presence and function of Christianity within the United States? Protestant privilege will be explored as a central theme arising from the findings. Attention will be then shift to the impact of Protestant privilege on interfaith organizing. Those involved in interfaith work face a salient and challenging task; there is more reason than ever to be educated about and sensitive to the various religious communities inhabiting the U.S. A new question must be asked: In the modern religious landscape of the U.S., what role does interfaith practice play and how is it influenced by the actual - or assumed - predominance of Christianity? This thesis ultimately intends to illuminate interfaith work in light of the current U.S. religious climate and offer commentary on the conditions in which it can thrive. A special emphasis will be placed on the religious context of the Western U.S. and Southern California to provide regional parameters for such interfaith interaction and activity.


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