"In 2001, Diana Eck, a leading Harvard University professor, published a book with the subtitle How a "Christian Country" Has Now Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nations. Coming out of the "Pluralism Project" research initiative which continues to the present Eck's book provides a snapshot of multicultural and multireligious America at the turn of the twenty-first century. The following recent estimates (2004) suggest that besides about 160 million Christians, there are millions of Americans who belong to non-Christian faith traditions.
• Baha'i up to 767,000
• Buddhism up to 4 million
• Hinduism about 1,200,000
• Islam up to 4,390,000
• Jainism up to 75,000
• Judaism up to 6,150,000
• Paganism (including witches and neopagans) up to 1,000,000
• Sikhism approximately 250,000
• Zoroastrianism about 18,000
"Although the actual percentage of non-Christians remains small, with almost 18 million Americans belonging to or affiliated with the world's major religious traditions, the United States is the most religiously diverse nation on earth. There is simply no denying the demographic diversification of American religiosity over the last generation owing to immigration, globalization trends, and transnational movements.
"However, there are definitely also ideological agendas that multicultural and multireligious America has produced. To simplify an otherwise enormously complex discussion, it could be argued that there are two trends at work: a progressive trajectory wishing to preserve the constitutionally guaranteed rights of religion and conscience that emerged out of America's founding by refugees and immigrants seeking such freedoms, and a conservative mentality seeking to focus on retrieving and emphasizing the Judeo-Christian legacy of the founding fathers of the nation. For those in the former camp, American multiculturalism and multireligiosity are potential resources that will strengthen the nation in an increasingly shrinking global village while an overemphasis on the Judeo-Christian tradition would necessarily exclude the flourishing of diversity and pluralism needed for American leadership in the twenty-first century. On the other side, conservatives counter that American greatness was made possible precisely because of its Judeo-Christian heritage and that uncritical embrace of multiculturalism and multireligiosity will undermine the cohesiveness needed to sustain the American democratic vision. Where progressives recognize multicultural and multiracial families and seek to approve transracial adoptions, conservatives anticipate the destabilizing of the family; if progressives want to emphasize a multicultural, multireligious, and bilingual education, conservatives see political correctness and an ideology of relativism. Where progressives want to open up immigration and defend affirmative action, conservatives are concerned about the unraveling of the American way of life; and so on. Where in some quarters of the country this distinction between 'progressives' and 'conservatives' does not accurately reflect the emergence of a via media, in many other parts the culture wars continue to rage.
"Part of the challenge is that whereas there is a constitutional separation of church and state in America which means that there is no state-sponsored religion there is an inseparable connection between religion and politics. This connection is no less present in the United States than it is in either Nigeria or Sri Lanka. Further, religious practices have political implications and vice versa, and it is impossible to divide our lives into an allegedly objective public political sphere and a purportedly subjective private religious domain. This means at least two things. First, at the political level, many Americans realize they need to find a middle way between left and right, between progressives and conservatives, between pluralism and homogeneity, and so forth. How this is done is the million dollar political question, but there can be no doubt this is a conversation all concerned Americans need to engage for the future not only of this country but also of its place in the world affairs of the twenty-first century.
"Second and concurrently with the first, at the religious level Americans recognize the importance of nurturing both religious particularity and interreligious understanding and relationships. This involves working together to protect and preserve the religious freedoms they have in ways that allow for the flourishing of all religious traditions, including presently marginalized religious communities. At the same time, there is the acknowledgment that in a post-9/11 world, no religious tradition exists in isolation from all others. Therefore, there is an urgent need for collaboration across religious lines in developing safe public spaces wherein all citizens can learn more about other religious ways of life. From this, perhaps it will be possible for Americans to cultivate relationships of solidarity that respect religious differences but yet are committed to working amidst such differences for the common good. What is required is not a bland tolerance but a vision for a respectful mutuality that is able to engage in dialogue about ultimately meaningful (religious) convictions and yet at the same time is strong enough to sustain commitments relevant to the public good."