01: New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground (Rutgers University Press, $23.95) by Khyati Joshi, fills a gap in examining the “lived religion” of second generation Indian Americans. Based on 41 interviews in the Boston and Atlanta areas, the book is unique in attempting to cover the Indian religious mosaic–Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian. While the non-Hindu Indian religious minorities represent a small portion of Joshi’s interviews, she finds that most of them–born between the late 1960s and the early 1990s– partake of an Indian-American subculture defined by Hinduism.
Joshi claims that especially after September 11, the Indian religions of Sikhism, Hinduism and even Islam have become markers of racial difference. The interviews also reveal a lack of involvement in Hindu ritual and organizational life, although these young adults have an interest in spirituality and remain attached to their religion as a “moral compass.“ This means that their early religious upbringing serves as a guide to moral behavior and a foundation for spirituality even if they do not follow all of its teachings. The role of Hindu Sunday schools, the one place where they could explore their faith outside of their families when young, is credited with the most influence in forming this moral compass. College courses on world religions also fill an important educational role for the second generation, although they are often suspicious of “outsiders” treating their traditions critically.
02: While there are many case studies and other accounts of how the U.S. is becoming more religiously pluralistic, the new book A Nation of Religions(University of North Carolina Press, $19.95), edited by Stephen Prothero, looks at how this diversity is finding a political expression. In the introduction, Prothero nicely encapsulates the dilemmas and dynamics of the growth of world religions in the U.S. : “From the White house to public schools in Hawaii, an important contest is taking shape: the American values of the Enlightenment and the Judeo-Christian tradition are bumping up against the values of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Jewish schoolteachers, Hindu camp counselors, and Muslim imams are weighing American narratives of freedom, equality, and sacrifice against the teachings of the Quaran and the Upanishads, bringing Abraham Lincoln and Malcolm X into conversation with the Buddha and Muhammad.”
Noteworthy chapters include one on the results of a survey of Muslim leaders showing both suspicion toward the political process and the realization of the need to engage in it to protect group interests. Hindus, meanwhile, are among the least politically involved of the immigrant religious groups. But gradually they are becoming more involved in fighting for their religious rights, extending their concept of sacred land to incorporate American temple sites, and engaging in social and charitable action. Two chapters on how the new pluralism may affect the legal landscape suggest that the older concepts of an impregnable wall separating church and state may give way to a stress on “equal opportunity” and even-handedness. Contributor Stephen Dawson even argues for a renewed appreciation of federalism, where different religions can have greater legal influence in their respective communities.