- Patel poses the question, “if religious language and symbols play a significant role in American civil religion, and if America is getting more religiously diverse, then how will other religious vocabularies and experiences be incorporated into our evolving civil religion?” (Page 25). Discuss.
In discussing the concept of civil religion, Patel asserts: “If the challenge of the diverse society is to embrace its differences and maintain a common life, the challenge of the particular religious community is to embrace the nation’s common life while maintaining its difference.” (Page 27).
- Discuss what it would mean for a particular religious community to embrace the nation’s “common life” while maintaining “its difference.”
- Can you think of a religious community that finds friction when trying to maintain their difference while embracing the nation’s common life?
Patel says “lest anyone think that my desire for religious communities to harmonize their identities with America’s ideals and traditions is a call for conformity, let me remind you that the American tradition celebrates dissenters of all stripes.” (Page 27). Patel mentions several dissenters who have played important roles in American civil religion. Choose one of the people below, explore that individual’s story, and tell your group how they came to be a part of American civil religion, despite or because of their faith-inspired dissent. Then consider who you might add to the list:
- Roger Williams
- Anne Hutchinson
- Jane Addams
- Woody Guthrie
- Dorothy Day
- Patel asks: “If the dynamics of American religious diversity changed so vastly in the past, through the launch of a new civil religion narrative in the form of the “Judeo-Christian” ideal and efforts to align the national reality with the new ideal, can a similar process occur again? And what might that look like now, when Muslims are the group around which controversy swirls?” (Page 73). Discuss.
On pages 80-84, Patel discusses Aziz Ansari, a highly successful actor, writer, stand-up comic, and director born to Indian Muslim parents. In the “Religion” episode of his Netflix series Master of None, the comic visualizes parallels between the observant Muslim that his parents believe him to be and the not-so-observant Muslim life he actually lives. Patel says that “on the one hand, this is terrific. Not only does it add to the voices speaking out against Islamophobia, it increases the number of non-terrorist Muslims that Americans can identify.” He also goes on to point out a parallel: “What do observant Muslims do when one of the most prominent defenders of Muslims in the public square is producing shows that encourage Muslims to skip Eid to go eat pork at a barbeque festival and suggesting that the fellowship of a wine tasting is comparable to the fellowship at jummah prayers?”
- Discuss the tensions between Ansari using his far-reaching, public platform to combat the ‘Muslim as a “threat”’ stereotype, but in a way that suggests he doesn’t always take the rituals and traditions of the religion seriously.
- The book contains lengthy responses from three prominent scholars of religion in American public life. Consider what your own response might say. What points from Patel's book might you want to highlight or disagree with?