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They will conclude the lesson by offering solutions for meeting the challenges created by religion and immigration. Learn More. What's New. At other times, religious groups have accommodated to one another, as in the Middle Colonies, where rampant ethnic and religious diversity forced various groups to find some way to coexist.

New Netherland provides a particularly graphic example.

II. A Portrait of Religious Affiliation in America

In Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian navigator in the service of France, discovered the inlet to what is now New York harbor through the Narrows that now bears his name. Hudson failed in his search for a northwest passage to Asia, but he opened the way for immigration. The first group of settlers to disembark at Manhattan were Walloons, French-speaking Belgians, followed soon thereafter by a modest influx of Dutch, Germans, and French. The English Conquest of New Netherland a decade later further added to the diversity of the colony renamed in honor of the Duke of York, and English attempts to tame some of the religious and ethnic diversity of their new colony met with considerable resistance.

In contrast with most of New England, where the Puritans sought to impose religious uniformity, other colonies in the Middle Atlantic were also characterized by pluralism. Further south, the Swedes, flush from their crucial engagement in the Thirty Years War, sought to establish a beachhead in the New World with settlements along the Delaware River, settlements that yielded to Dutch rule in and then to the English nine years later. Williams, a Puritan minister who arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in , quickly ran afoul of the Puritan ministers because he recognized the dangers to the faith of too close an association between religion and the state.

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The notion of disestablishment, the absence of a state religion, was utterly unprecedented in England and Europe, but New York had been functioning for decades with de facto disestablishment, proving that religious pluralism posed no threat to the secular order and that government could function without the backing of a particular religion. The absence of an established religion means that all religious groups are free to compete in this marketplace, and to extend the economic metaphor American history is littered with examples of religious entrepreneurs who have competed for a market share.

This system in theory, at least disadvantages no one, so all religious groups, regardless of their historical or ethnic origins or their theological inclinations, are free to compete in that marketplace. Americans, however, have not always welcomed religious newcomers with open arms. The immigration of the Irish, following the Potato Famines in the Old World, met with resistance from American Protestants, who wanted to retain their hegemony. Religious diversity not only had an ethnic valence, it was racial as well.


Many Africans, who were brought forcibly to the New World as slaves, adopted the Christianity so-called of their captors. But others sought, against formidable odds, to retain vestiges of their ancestral religions; more often than not, those expressions manifested themselves in enthusiastic worship. African-Americans also sought independence from white churches, finding at least a measure or institutional autonomy in such organizations as the African Methodist Episcopal Church , the African Episcopal Methodist Zion Church , and, later, in the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Nation of Islam.

See also: African American Religion, Pt. I: To the Civil War. Asians began to arrive late in the nineteenth century, many to the West Coast to help with the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The numbers of immigrants prompted the Chinese Exclusion Act of , and other Asians also met with resistance. The movement for civil rights in the s and s paved the way for a greater acceptance of religious diversity, not only for African-Americans but for other Americans as well.

Jews, who had their own struggles for acceptance following their immigration to the United States in the nineteenth century see also: The American Jewish Experience in the Twentieth Century: Antisemitism and Assimilation , joined the civil rights movement, and Native Americans also began to assert their religious and ancestral identities, as with the occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and Wounded Knee, South Dakota, site of one most brutal massacres of Sioux Indians at the hands of the United States Cavalry in When President Lyndon B.

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Johnson signed the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act in July , immigration quotas finally were removed. This opened the way for a new wave of immigrants, many from South Asia and Southeast Asia. As before, the newcomers met resistance.

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  7. American history generally—and American religious history in particular—tends to be presented through the lens of New England, especially in the colonial era. The story of how these groups learned to live together provides a rich contrast to New England, where the Puritans sought—unsuccessfully—to impose religious uniformity. This translates, in turn, to the formation of the new nation. If studies of immigrant religion in Europe stress a series of problems and conflicts and U.

    The more basic question is why religion is such a problematic area in Western Europe and why in the United States it has helped — not prevented or made more difficult — immigrant integration. To put it another way: in Europe, Muslim immigrants confront, on the one hand, majority populations that are mainly secular and therefore suspicious of claims based on religion and its requirements and, on the other, societal institutions and national identities that remain anchored to an important extent in Christianity and do not make equal room for Islam. Equally significant is that in Western Europe Islam is associated with large immigrant groups whose successful incorporation is viewed by European natives as the most problematic.

    The contrast with the United States is remarkable. This has not eliminated unease with, even antipathy to, them. Indeed, cases of discrimination and hate crimes against Muslims in the United States have risen since the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the ever present threat of new incidents. But one factor reducing or counteracting negative attitudes to Muslims is their comparatively high socioeconomic status.

    In the US, to be religious is to be in synch with prevailing mainstream American norms, which put great emphasis on the value of religious observance Fischer and Hout, This is not the case in Western Europe, where with the exception of Ireland those who are religious are members of a decided minority.

    Claims based on religion have much less acceptance and legitimacy there — and when the religion is Islam, these claims often lead to public unease, sometimes disdain and even anger, and, not surprisingly, tensions and conflicts for a recent journalistic account of the reaction to Muslim demands and values in the Netherlands, see Buruma, Figures from various surveys bring out the transatlantic contrasts in religious commitment.

    A Gallup poll found that 44 percent of Americans said they attended a place of worship once a week, while the average figure in Europe, according to the European Social Survey, was only 15 percent — and actually below 15 percent in France, Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands Ford, a. The differences are striking with regard to reported beliefs. Americans are much more likely than Europeans to say that religion is very important to them — about six in ten Americans compared to around a fifth of Europeans.

    Yet religion's place in the national collective consciousness remains strong — and much stronger than in Europe. The higher degree of secularization in Europe means that forms of social and cultural activity based on religious principles are frequently seen as illegitimate Cesari, This is particularly the case when it comes to Islam.

    In , nonmainline Christians, including Baptists and Pentecostals, made up around a third of the adult population Kosmin and Keysar, Indeed, asserting a religious identity in public, even bragging about it, can be viewed as an indication of Americanization or assimilation to American norms Casanova and Zolberg, Thus, as the scholarly literature on immigrant religion emphasizes, becoming more religious is a way of becoming American — whereas it is often seen as a problem in Europe. It's much harder to fit into a more.

    The hand of constitutional and legal history is heavy in this respect. In the United States, key constitutional principles were fashioned because of the religious diversity among the colonies that became states and the resulting impossibility of institutionalizing a single state church though some of the colonies — e.

    The resulting principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state, enshrined in the Constitution's first amendment, have provided the framework for a multireligious nation and religious pluralism, which has characterized American society from the very beginning Eck, In this respect, one hears an echo of the contemporary European debate about Islam's place. What is important is that Catholics and Jews were eventually incorporated into the system of American pluralism.

    Without the separation of church and state, we believe, the religions imported by past immigration streams could not have achieved parity with Protestant versions of Christianity. Because the state did not officially support or sponsor Protestantism, the newer religions were able over time to achieve parity and become part of the American mainstream as the descendants of the immigrants did.

    Bush confirmed this by making a point of visiting a mosque in the wake of the September 11 attacks Zolberg and Woon, ; Zolberg, Nor is the contemporary United States a paradise of religious tolerance — far from it. In a recent national survey, a substantial minority about a third of respondents said they would not welcome a stronger presence of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in American society. Indeed, today, the new immigrant religions, including Islam, are enjoying the same freedoms to organize themselves and to support the beliefs and practices of their members as did the religions of earlier immigrants.

    In Europe, in contrast, the ways in which Christian religions have been institutionalized make it difficult for Islam to achieve parity and are implicated in many of the problems and conflicts that have arisen. Continental religious traditions, as Klausen , notes, focused on resolving conflicts between state and government and powerful established churches:. They have not historically emphasized the rights of nonconformists or worried about state neutrality in matters of faith. Constitutions typically contain equality commitments and promise of freedom of thought, but no language or requirement concerning the equal treatment of religion.

    While secular natives in Western Europe may see religion as a minor feature of their societies, Muslims cannot help but be aware of the secondary status of their religion and the special privileges accorded to majority denominations Alba, The same law that established state possession of religious edifices built before that year also prevents the state from contributing to the construction of new ones, thus keeping the country's 4—5 million Muslims from enjoying the same privileges as Christians. Most French mosques are, as a consequence, ad hoc structures — in converted rooms in housing projects, garages, or even basements Laurence and Vaisse, The Dutch government privatized the clergy's salaries and pensions in a large buyout in , in preparation for the constitutional changes, after which the government ceased paying for the construction of houses of worship Klausen, Government support for religious schools has created other inequalities in Western Europe between established religions and Islam.

    In Britain and France the state provides financial support for religious schools as long as they teach the national secular curriculum. Inevitably, these arrangements, while seemingly fair to all religions, favor the most established ones. In Britain where senior Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords by right as part of the established state church the government funds nearly 7, Church of England and Catholic schools but, as of , only seven Islamic schools in a nation of 1. In Germany, the state, according to the constitution, must be neutral in matters of religion, but this does not preclude linkages between church and state.

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    Further, the established religions are taught in public schools by regular teachers i. Islam, however, has so far failed to be accorded the same status except in Berlin and Lower Saxony , and instruction in it is not universally available; when it is, it occurs usually in some nonregular form such as an experimental basis or in supplementary classes taught in Turkish by instructors provided by the Turkish consulate Engin, The different ways that religion has been institutionalized in the United States and Western Europe have implications for the claims of immigrant religious groups — and conflicts that may result.

    In the United States, immigrants with allegiance to minority religions have generally sought inclusion in the mainstream through public acceptance and recognition of their group. Although an important historical exception was the unsuccessful struggle by Catholics for public funds for parochial schools, many minority religious groups — perhaps, most notably, Jewish organizations — have fought for a strict adherence to separation of church and state and keeping religion out of the public sphere including public schools , as a way to prevent discrimination and obtain parity with dominant religions.

    Our argument has been that a combination of factors — religious similarity between natives and immigrants, historically rooted institutional structures, and the religiosity of the native population — explain why the United States is more welcoming to immigrant religion than is Western Europe and, as a consequence, why the social science literature on religion among immigrants in the United States emphasizes its integrative role while in Europe conflict and exclusion come to the fore.

    Yet to leave matters there would be to overlook some of the complexities and emerging trends on both sides of the Atlantic that ought to be taken into account. If studies of U. Moreover, when it comes to religion, there are some disquieting signs that its integrative role among U. Although the exemptions from federal, state, and local laws and taxes have applied not only to churches and synagogues but also to mosques and Hindu temples, Christian churches have been the greatest beneficiaries given the dominance of Christianity in the United States. As for the situation in Western Europe, it is also well to bear in mind developments that temper, at least somewhat, the gloomy picture we have described for the integration of Islam there.

    European governments realize that they must find ways to fund and support the development of an independent Islam and offer some accommodations for Muslim religious practices Kastoryano, ; Fetzer and Soper, :2; Klausen, Britain is particularly liberal on this score. To be sure, Britain has an established Anglican church; the state has not extended all the antidiscrimination protections that exist for gender, race, and ethnicity to religion although in it banned religious discrimination in employment ; and the government has refused to extend the blasphemy laws, used in the past to protect Christian values against offensive attacks on matters regarded as sacred, to all religious communities Fetzer and Soper, , 59; Modood, — Still, on the whole, as Vertovec argues, the accommodation to many specific tenets and practices of religious minorities, including Islam, has been considerable and progressive in Britain.

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    Moreover, Muslims had the bad fortune to arrive as the system of pillarization was on the decline, so there was no question of a Muslim pillar, comparable to the Protestant and Catholic pillars of the past, in terms of institutional arrangements. Yet the legacy of the pillarized system, it has been argued, has led to the accommodation of, and receptivity to, Muslim group claims.

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    This accommodation, Rath [ ] argues, has not always occurred without a struggle. Major changes are also under way in France. The establishment of this council, which exists on both national and regional levels, finally puts Islam on the same plane as other religions in relationship to the French state, for each of the major religions is represented by a similar body; in the case of Jews, for instance, the Jewish Consistoire Central dates to the emancipation of Jews in the Napoleonic era. The French Council of the Muslim Religion has a mandate to negotiate with the French state over issues affecting Islamic religious practice, such as the training of imams and the regulation of ritual slaughter; and as Laurence and Vaisse observe, it represents an attempt by the French state to establish an Islam of France rather than simply tolerate Islam in France.

    On the other hand, some predict that as the second generation takes over in religious associations and institutions, they will generally strive for a more liberal version of Islam than their parents practiced, one that is focused on integration into Western European society and viewed more positively by the wider population Lucassen, —, Just how these two trends will, in fact, unfold — and interact — is, as yet, an open question. In the end, though, and despite these caveats, we are back to where we started.