Summary and book reviews of A New Religious America by Diana Eck

A New Religious America

How a Christian Country Has Now Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation

By Diana Eck

A New Religious America
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2001,
    404 pages.
    Paperback: May 2002,
    416 pages.

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Book Summary

"The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world," leading religious scholar Diana Eck writes in this eye-opening guide to the religious realities of America today. The Immigration Act of 1965 eliminated the quotas linking immigration to national origins. Since then, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jams, Zoroastrians, and new varieties of Jews and Catholics have arrived from every part of the globe, radically altering the religious landscape of the United States. Members of the world's religions live not just on the other side of the world but in our neighborhoods; Hindu children go to school with Jewish children; Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs work side-by-side with Protestants and Catholics.

This new religious diversity is now a Main Street phenomenon, yet many Americans remain unaware of the profound change taking place at every level of our society, from local school boards to Congress, and in small-town Nebraska as well as New York City. Islamic centers and mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and meditation centers can be found in virtually every major American metropolitan area. There are Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in Salt Lake City, Utah; Toledo, Ohio; and Jackson, Mississippi. Buddhism has become an American religion, as communities widely separated in Asia are now neighbors in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago. Eck discovers Muslims worshiping in a U-Haul dealership in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; a gymnasium in Oklahoma City; and a former mattress showroom in Northridge, California. Hindu temples are housed in a warehouse in Queens, a former YMCA in New Jersey, and a former Methodist church in Minneapolis.

How Americans of all faiths and beliefs can engage with one another to shape a positive pluralism is one of the essential questions -- perhaps the most important facing American society. While race has been the dominant American social issue in the past century, religious diversity in our civil and neighborly lives is emerging, mostly unseen, as the great challenge of the twenty-first century. Diana Eck brilliantly analyzes these developments in the richest and most readable investigation of American society since Robert Bellah's classic, The Habits of the Heart. What Eck gives us in A New Religious America is a portrait of the diversity of religion in modern America, complete with engaging characters, fascinating stories, the tragedy of misunderstanding and hatred, and the hope of new friendships, offering a road map to guide us all in the richly diverse America of the twenty-first century.

An eye-opening Account of the changing Landscape of America

  • The 1990s saw the U.S. Navy commission its first Muslim chaplain and open its first mosque.
  • There are presently more than three hundred temples in Los Angeles, home to the greatest variety of Buddhists in the world.
  • There are more American Muslims than there are American Episcopalians, Jews, or Presbyterians.


The huge white dome of a mosque with its minarets rises from the cornfields just outside Toledo, Ohio. You can see it as you drive by on the interstate highway. A great Hindu temple with elephants carved in relief at the doorway stands on a hillside in the western suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee. A Cambodian Buddhist temple and monastery with a hint of a southeast Asian roofline is set in the farmlands south of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In suburban Fremont, California, flags fly from the golden domes of a new Sikh gurdwara on Hillside Terrace, now renamed Gurdwara Terrace. The religious landscape of America has changed radically in the past thirty years, but most of us have not yet begun to see the dimensions and scope of that change -- so gradual has it been, and yet so colossal. It began with the "new immigration," spurred by the 1965 immigration act, as people from all over the world came to America and have become citizens. With them have come the religious ...

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Media Reviews

Immensely readable, this call to functional plurality is an important book in the field of contemporary American religion.

Publishers Weekly

... a stunning tour de force that may forever change the way Americans claim to be one nation, under God.

Author Blurb Vasudha Narayanan, University of Florida
A wonderful book with delightful descriptions and challenging insights that revise the traditional Norman Rockewell-ian pictures of America. Professor Eck's book presents a new family portrait with Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus and encourages us to acknowledge the new family members who live and work with us in America.

Author Blurb Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School, author of Five from Heaven
Meet your new neighbors! The religious complexion of America is changing so fast we all need a roadmap and a trustworthy guide. This highly readable book is the best map available, and Diana Eck is an immensely well-informed guide. We need this book to tell us who we are and who we are becoming.

Author Blurb Wade Clark Roof, J.F. Rowny Professor of Religion and Society, University of California Santa Barbara
Diana Eck's portrait of the new religious America shatters our old preconceptions and challenges us to get real with the world in which we live in the 21st century. Vivid in its description, it beckons us not just to recognize but to embrace the global religious diversity of our own land, and to live up to our highest ideals of freedom and tolerance for all faith traditions.

Author Blurb Alan Wolfe, Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life, Boston College
It is impossible to understand religion in America without appreciating our new, and stunning, religious diversity. Diane Eck is the country's best guide to America's new pluralism. I urge you to take her tour.

Author Blurb Dr. Edwin S. Gaustad, author of A Religious History of America
For decades, many Americans have slowly inched their way toward the realization that their nation is indeed a religiously pluralistic one. Now, with the guiding arms of Professor Diana Eck to support us, we can at last take bold and giant steps into that pluralism, which is as unabashed as it is undeniable.

Author Blurb Leigh Eric Schmidt, Professor of Religion, Princeton University
What a kaleidoscope religion in the United States has become, and Diana Eck's A New Religious America provides us with the vision to see it in all its bright, shifting, colorful, and fragmented brilliance. With an engaging mix of anecdote and sharp analysis, Eck offers the best overview we have of American religious pluralism. It is a book with profound implications for how we negotiate the future of American civil society.

Author Blurb James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword
This portrait of the religious reinvention of America is as surprising as it is hopeful. With scrupulous scholarship, vivid writing, and an always respectful eye, Diana Eck shows the way toward this nation's future.

Author Blurb Rev. Scotty McLennan, Dean for Religious Life, Stanford University, author of Finding Your Religion
Diana Eck brilliantly portrays the kaleidoscopic changes taking place in religious America today, and then courageously addresses the critical civic question What kind of E Pluribus Unum work for the 21st century? Highlighting Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, her symphonic concept of the new public square involves deep listening as well as passionate participation.

Author Blurb Steven M. Tipton, Emory University, Co-author, Habits of the Heart and The Good Society
Awash in a great wave of immigrants and faiths from around the world, the first new nation finds itself both born again and radically reincarnated in this revealing story of a new multi-religious America. Our religious roots reach further than ever, even as our historically Protestant and Enlightenment institutions refocus their profound power to shape selves and social relations through a tightening monoculture driven by middle-class work and schooling. What will come of this moral drama all of us inhabit? Greater cultural conflict or liberal tolerance? A pluralist democratic miracle in the gospel of American exceptionalism, or an unfolding mystery of interdependent globalization? Providential or problematic, the next act will keep us guessing and praying. In both pursuits this book is an invaluable guide.

Reader Reviews
Ross B.

A student's take.
I had to read this book as an assignment in my historian's craft course this semester. After reading the introductory chapter of the book I didn't know whether to laugh or be sick. Eck uses the lofty rhetoric from the political correctness camp that ...   Read More

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