Congress of Parliament of World's Religions, Chicago, 1893

Congress of Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago, 1893 Wikimedia Commons

That’s the take-away from Pew’s new Religious Diversity Index that may surprise you. We’re the 68th most religiously diverse country in the world — lots more diverse than Iran and Vatican City but nowhere near as diverse as the likes of Vietnam, Mozambique, Suriname, and New Zealand.

But isn’t the U.S. supposed to be all about religious diversity? Didn’t Harvard professor Diana Eck write a best-selling book back in 2001 subtitled “How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation”? What gives?

What gives is that although — as documented by Prof. Eck’s Pluralism Project — you can find just about any species of religion you want here in America, Pew assesses diversity not by its presence but by its extent. Pew’s methodology is the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, a statistical technique developed to measure the degree of market concentration in an industry.

So with 78.3 percent of the population identifying as Christian (according to Pew’s 2012 Global Religious Landscape report), the U.S. religion market is pretty concentrated. In fact, most of our diversity comes from the 16.4 percent who say they have no religion. All other religious traditions — Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, etc. — total just 5.3 percent. By contrast, the more diverse counties have large proportions of at least a couple of groups. Nigeria, for example, has 49.3 percent Christians and 48.8 percent Muslims, making it the 26th most diverse nation.

As Nigeria’s ongoing tension between Christians and Muslims demonstrates, religious diversity is hardly the same as religious pluralism, if pluralism is understood as an ideology of embracing religious diversity. It would be a lot harder to rank nations on a Pluralism Index, but if Pew managed to do so, I expect the U.S. would come out a good deal higher than 68th.

Categories: Culture

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

16 Comments

  1. MH - Secular Misanthropist

    Interesting article. I hate being a spelling nitpicker, but this one confused me. In the fourth paragraph should “the more diverse counties” be “the more diverse countries”? The article is about the US so the text could be about diverse counties here, but the following sentence made me think it was an error.

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  4. If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other, but the Glorified Spirit proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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