Diana Eck | Religious Pluralism

Diana Eck | Religious Pluralism


PRESENTER: So today
I want to introduce Professor Diana Eck, who is over
at the Harvard Divinity School. And her work has been focused
both on America and India. And it focuses on
popular religion, especially temples and places
of pilgrimage called tirthas. One of her books is Banaras–
City of Light and Darsan– Seeing the Divine
Image in India. And her most recent work was
India– A Sacred Geography, which was published in 2012. Here in the United
States, her work focuses on the challenges
of religious pluralism in a multi-religious society. And as I understand it, she
just had a rousingly successful conference two weekends
ago for a project called the Pluralism Project
which celebrated its– which anniversary? DIANA ECK: 25. PRESENTER: 25th anniversary. So she’s been doing
this for a long time. The Pluralism Project
explores and interprets the religious dimensions of
America’s new immigration, the growth of Hindu, Buddhist,
Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian communities in
the United States. And the new issues of
religious pluralism that come up every day in
American civil society. Her book, Encountering God– A
Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras in the Area
of Christian Theology, an Interfaith Dialogue
won a Book Award in 1995. And its 10th anniversary
edition was published in 2003. So I won’t go through
all of her publications, but suffice it to
say, they are many. They are influential. And they are talking about
the relevant and cutting-edge issues of the day on
religion in civil society. So with that, I will turn
it over to Professor Eck. DIANA ECK: Thank you very much. Do I need to hold this? No, I don’t need to hold that. There we go. Thank you very much,
Professor [INAUDIBLE]. What a great pleasure to be
here and talk about religion. I do this all the time. You might kind of
wonder how I got from studying religion in
India to studying religion in the United States. I do both still. And that you will
sort of surmise in the course of this talk. But in brief,
during that period, a lot of the people who are part
of the religious communities of India immigrated
to the United States. And suddenly, there
was a research field here that nobody
was really studying. But I see that this is as a part
of a series on various aspects of diversity, beginning
with racial diversity and issues in America. And certainly I’m here
to represent something of the religious diversity. And we might see the
entanglement of color lines and religion lines in America
to be very, very close, braided together in ways that I
think it’s important for us to understand. The ways in which
we imagine ourselves as people, both divided
from one another, divided by difference, in
some ways united and brought together by difference. But the past months
have given us fresh evidence, really, of the
ways in which race and religion still have the capacity to
ignite fear and deep-seated prejudices among people
who are, on the face of it, committed to human equality,
and justice for all, and freedom of
religious expression. Well, religious diversity
is a fact of American life. In fact, diversity itself,
we might say, is just a fact. It’s always an interpreted
fact, depending on who you are and in what context
you interpret it. And religious diversity
is, of course, a concomitant of
America’s constitution, of our constitutional commitment
to freedom of expression, freedom of religion. And we know perfectly
well that the people who came here and first touted
religious freedom, the Pilgrims and the Puritans,
who were seeking religious freedom from
some of the intolerance of their societies in Europe. But they were
thinking pretty much of religious freedom
for themselves. They were not thinking
about religious freedom as a foundation for a
society in which they would live with people who
were different from themselves. And in fact, you
know, if you go back and look at your American
history, they did not. I mean, the original colonies,
Massachusetts Bay Colony, they warned out of
town people who were Catholic, or Jewish, Quaker. Hung them, in some cases. They were not part of that
free religious atmosphere of the Mass Bay Colony. Eventually, of course,
something else evolved. And we don’t have to go
through all of that today, because it’s not– it’s sort
of basic knowledge for most of you. But we evolved out
of these colonies and out of the
Constitutional Convention a way of thinking about
both religious freedom and the non-establishment
of religion as foundational principles
and principles for everyone. Principles foundational
to a free society. So that’s what it became. And religion, in that
context, flourished. In fact, you probably
have read Tocqueville, his wonderful sort of
anthropology, you might say, of religion in America. He came in the 1830s
and looked around– what he saw, that religion
was actually flourishing in the United States,
unlike France, where the uncoupling of
religion from the state meant that the religion and
freedom kind of, as he put it, marched in opposite directions. Liberte marched in a different
direction from religion. And France became,
as it to some extent is today, a very
exclusively secular society. And some might say a
fundamentalistly secular society. But in the United
States, it was different. Here, the uncoupling of
religion from the state actually created a
kind of free market in religion, which produced
American denominationalism, something that is astonishing
to people in Europe or even in Canada. The fact that we have so many
different kinds of Baptists and Presbyterians, if you don’t
like what they’re doing you just found your own church. So the kind of free
market of religion that meant that religion
flourished in ways that it still
flourishes today, even with the rise of a more
uncommitted generation in respect of
religious belonging. We know, of course, that
that religious freedom had a very rocky history. The expansion of
diversity in America is in entwined with our
immigration history. And we need to look
at that square on. From the Know Nothing
anti-Catholics of the 1850s or so, the
nativist anti-Semites in the 19th century,
and continuing right on, the anti-immigrant
nativism of the post World War I period in the 1920s with
the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and from Chinese
exclusion in the 1880s. The Chinese
Exclusion Act of 1882 amplified decade after decade
until the Asiatic Exclusion League, at the turn
of the 20th century, really covered just about
everything in Asia from Jordan to the Far East,
as they called it. So we have a history here of
wanting to keep people out. And it’s not just a recent
call for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims
entering the United States. This is an old and
repeated move to deal with difference by exclusion. And that exclusion
can be political. Can be social. Can be theological. I’m interested in that
aspect of it as well. But basically, keep them out. That is one way of
thinking about dealing with and interpreting
diversity and difference. The only problem is that
our diversity and difference is so extensive that it’s
very difficult to do so. I think of the young
Muslim Girl Scout in Charlotte, North
Carolina, in the wake of 9/11 was wearing her Girl Scout
emblem hijab scarf to school. And a classmate
told her, as people were saying and wont
to say at that time, go back to where you came from. And she said, well, I
came from Connecticut. And that actually is the
truth of most of our people in the United States. Everyone came from somewhere. But most recently, it may
well have been Connecticut. So let me just say
that in the last year– I’m thinking now
especially of 2015, when we had two important
anniversaries that demonstrate to us, in ways, the intertwining
of religion lines and color lines. And they highlight
the differences that Americans cope with. March 7, 2015, was the
day that President Obama stood on that bridge
in Selma and recalled that 50 years ago
African-Americans had marched there, many of them
out of religious commitment. And that they did not
seek special treatment but equal treatment promised
to them a century before. And he looked in
that speech straight at the issues of Ferguson
and the racial strife that had been kindled in America. He said it was a
common mistake to think that Ferguson was
an isolated incident and that racism is now banished
in a way or vanquished. No. Now, he said, whatever racial
tensions remain are not simply those of people who are
wanting to play the race card for their own purposes,
that we just need to open our eyes, as he put it,
and our ears and our hearts to know that this nation’s
racial history still casts a long shadow. Then that same year,
we observed a year ago in this fall, the
50th anniversary of the passage of the 1965
Immigration and Nationalities Act. And that act, as
we recognize now, is part of that triad of
Civil Rights Acts that were passed in ’64 and ’65, the
Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration
and Nationalities Act. And it was observed
and felt at the time that race
discrimination continued to shape American
immigration law, excluding people from
many parts of Asia, Pacific the Middle East. An exclusion based on nothing
more than place and race. And Robert Kennedy, who
was attorney general during those first years of
the Kennedy administration, observed that we
could not be working to eliminate race
discrimination from every aspect of our national life, every
legal aspect of our national, and still have it as the
cornerstone of our immigration policy, which it was. And so that act was
passed that, in a way, opened the doors for the first
time in many, many decades to immigration from
Asia and elsewhere. When that was signed
into law at the base of the Statue of Liberty
by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, he said, in effect, this
law will not significantly change anything about America’s
wealth or our society. But it was to right
an enduring wrong in the conduct of
the American nation. Now, he was right about that,
about righting an enduring wrong in the conduct
of the American nation. He couldn’t have been
wronger about the rest of it, how much it would bring
new energies of change with the religious and ethnic
and cultural diversity. And everything from
the economic boom of the Silicon
Valley to MIT, this has changed America, radically,
radically in the demographics that it has brought
to the United States in the religious and cultural
and ethnic diversity it’s brought to the United States. And I was a young student. I was in India when
that was being passed. And in many of the
years after people talked about it from
the standpoint of India as the brain drain. All of those doctors
and engineers lining up to get
their green cards to go to the United States. And many of them did. And many of them are still here. And it was a kind
of a brain drain. But I must say, I
never thought of what it would mean for
the United States until the children of the new
immigration came to college. And they came to college, most
of them in 1989, 1990, 1991. I’ve had the advantage
of having been here long enough that I’ve seen
the demographic change of the United States. I began having students
in my own classes who were not foreign students
from India or Pakistan or some other part of the world. They had grown up in
the United States. They had gone to Hindu
summer camp in the Poconos. They had gone to
Muslim youth leadership camps sponsored by the Islamic
Society of North America. They’d gone to
Sikh summer camps. They were very much a part of
a wave of people who changed the demographics of Harvard. We don’t need to
look very far to see how radically
Harvard has changed in these years with
the ethnic and social and religious diversity that
celebrates Hindu festivals and has iftar meals in
Boylston Hall, et cetera. So that was really the genesis
of the pluralism project, to set out to
document that change, to look at what was happening
in Boston for students to do front-line research
on what was happening in their own towns in
Minneapolis, et cetera, and to interpret what
this means as America comes to grips with a
much more multi-religious complex reality. So both the racial and
religious landscapes of America have changed. And new immigrants coming
from all over the world have not only brought
their ethnic backgrounds and cultures, they have brought
their images of the bodhisattva Guanyin, of the
Virgin of Guadalupe, of their prayer
practices, their pujas. They have brought all
of this in addition to their economic dreams
to the United States. And they have built
mosques and Islamic centers across this country by
the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, from ISBCC here in
the heart of Boston in Roxbury to the cornfields of
Toledo to the West Coast. And Hindu temples,
landmark Hindu temples. And Hispanic and
Vietnamese churches. And 1,000 different kinds
of Buddhist communities who came not only with the new
immigration but as refugees from the American War
in Southeast Asia. Cambodian,
Vietnamese, et cetera. So these people have also
discovered the leverage that religion has in American life. A religion is a
privileged category. They have developed
organizations that are part of the advocacy network. They have developed things
like the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Society
of North America, the Sikh Coalition, the Hindu
American Foundation, that have as their task to
advocate, as the National Council of Churches or the
Council of Catholic Bishops or the ADL or some of
the Jewish organizations, to advocate for themselves
and their coreligionists in Washington. Many of these people do not
choose to identify religiously. They had it up to here
with religion in the place wherever they came from
and are happy to be in a country in
which they do not have to be religious at all. But the racial diversity
of these new immigrants has made the color lines of
America much more complex. And at the same time,
it has magnified the religious
diversity of America. And both of these are important
in the growing pluribus, you might say, of America. As Arthur Schlesinger
would put it, too much pluribus these
days and not enough unum. But President Obama
has actually steered into this I think, and actually
[INAUDIBLE] the first one, perhaps most eloquently
rhetorically in his first inaugural address, by calling
America a patchwork of people and saying we are a nation of
Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and
nonbelievers, shaped by every language
and culture and drawn from every end of this earth. And that is a fact. It also is a huge challenge. And it’s one that the nation
continues to wrestle with, year after year. And many of these
new Americans have their own first-hand
experiences of discrimination and of prejudice,
amplified, of course, by the post 9/11 climate. But we know that
immediately after 9/11, if we think 15 years
back, not so very long into that time, Muslims, Sikhs,
Hindus, Arab-Americans, South Asian Americans, all were sort
of tangled in the imaginary of white middle America. A Gujarati grocery store not
far from here in Somerset, Massachusetts, firebombed. A Hindu pizza delivery
man in New Bedford beaten viciously
because his assailants thought he was a Muslim. A Sikh planting flowers
around his gas station in Mesa, Arizona, mistaken, shot
and killed because his murderer thought he was some sort of
turbaned affiliate of Osama bin Laden. An Egyptian Coptic
Christian merchant in his grocery store
in Texas killed. A Pakistani murdered as well. I mean, difference seems
simply to be marked in a seemingly random
way by skin color, difference in name, dress,
groceries, you have it. And the Christian
Right, at that point, launched into a powerful
anti-Islamic offensive with public and
insulting remarks about the prophet,
Koran, the Islamic faith. Just at the same time
as Islamic centers were holding open
houses to try to invite people, as our Islamic center
down on Prospect Street did here in Cambridge,
to invite people to come and learn a little
more about Islam. So fault lines appeared,
really deep ones, in the United States that
were cracked open both because of religion and race. And so we had to begin thinking
about those two categories together. A Muslim school, for
example, in Maryland finds a three-foot
wooden cross doused with gasoline and
burning on the yard of the school, the
very act designated by white supremacists
as a bold emblem of their hatred
of blacks becomes now directed toward Muslims. And of course, we
know cross-burning is not a new phenomenon. The long experience
of African-Americans or the experience of
Jews and Catholics in the 1920s who were
all targets of the KKK. But the immigrants
of post-’65 America– I think we need to
recognize this– had to cope with
this on their own. This was a fresh form
of homegrown terrorism that most of them
were unfamiliar with. I think of the
Vietnamese Buddhist who had a small
church in Dallas, little sort of
community, and found a cross burning in his lawn one
day of a small Buddhist temple. Unaware of how to
interpret this. But I think we have seen
this through these years. Hindus in New
Jersey, for example, moving into a neighborhood
in Sayreville, New Jersey, and finding “KKK”
and “Get out, Hindus” scrawled on their temple. Or a Hindu temple in
Phoenix just two summers ago with that same emblem
of anti-racial hatred. So if you look at the
record of hate crimes in the context of
race and religion and the sort of
braiding of these two, we see many, many,
many instances in which it’s very,
very difficult to say. I mean, the burning
of a cross at a mosque is probably not about
race but about Islam. The burning of a cross
at a black church is probably not about
religion but about race. And the arson at an
African-American mosque in Springfield, Illinois,
is very likely about both. But the complexity of
religion lines and color lines in this new
America is something to which we need to attend. So I want to take
the risk of going to one of our old and very,
very admired black writers, James Baldwin, who in
Notes of a Native Son has some penetrating
reflections on the relation between America’s moral vision
and its racial experience. Now, he’s writing from
Paris in the 1950s. He notes that
America’s propensity to paint moral issues in
glaring black and white– we certainly can recognize
that even today. And he contends that this moral
simplicity of thought is rooted in the battle waged by
white Americans to maintain themselves and black men in a
human separation which cannot be bridged. And any such view, he says,
is dangerously inaccurate, for the real world does not fall
into black and white pieces. This way of thinking,
he says, protects our moral high-mindedness at the
terrible expense of weakening our grasp on reality. Now, think about that. I invite you to comment on that
later when you get a chance to ask questions. But moral high-mindedness,
cast in black and white, completely out of touch
with the complex realities of the world, that offers
us food for thought as we consider the dilemmas
of diversity in America today. And also as we think about
this polarization of our nation with so many issues
cast in this sort of black and white
language and each side sort of scrambling
for what they feel to be the moral high ground. And he writes at the
end of this, he says, even when– I don’t
have it all here– but even when the
worst has been said, it must be added that the
perpetual challenge posed by this problem is
somehow perpetually met. Precisely, this black
and white experience may prove indispensable
for us today because the world
is white no longer and will never be white again. And that’s how he
ends this essay. It’s so provocative. And one might wish that
he were with us or someone of his intellectual
caliber with us today to think about this complex
racial and religious world we live in now. When we have someone like
Richard Rodriguez writing Brown, I write about
race in America, he says, in hopes of undermining
the notion of race in America, that Brown leads through the
straight line, unstaunchable, the line separating black
and white, for example. Brown confuses. Or Frank Wu’s book Yellow,
Race in America Beyond Black and White
or Vijay Prashad, The Karma of Brown Folk. We realize that there is no
line so solid in America today that multiracial identity is
the reality of many people, from Tiger Woods to the
president of the United States. And the world is white no longer
and will never be white again. It will be multi-racial in
endless and complex ways. And we can’t afford to
protect our high-mindedness, our moral high-mindedness,
at the terrible expense of weakening our
grasp of reality. And as a religionist,
then, we have to add that the US is
Judeo-Christian no longer and will never be that again. It is multi-religious
in countless ways. And that expansion of
religious diversity from small rented halls
to landmark mosques, Islamic centers, Hindu
temples, Sikh gudwaras across the country,
and the development of religious advocacy groups,
and the participatory presence of people of all these
religious communities in the American project, and
everything from Muslim voter registration to Sikh advocacy
for wearing a turban in the US military, these are
engagements with the pluralism that is America. And we have members of
Congress– Keith Ellison speaks here quite often, I’d say. You know, he took his oath of
office on a copy of the Koran that was owned by
Thomas Jefferson. Or Tulsi Gabbard, who
took her oath of office on the copy of the
Bhagavad Gita that she had carried as a soldier in Iraq. There’s just no going back
to where you came from. And our engagement
with this diversity, in one way or another,
is our future. And we know that that history
of religious discrimination is a long one in America. You can ask how the
Chinese were received who built their little temples,
their makeshift temples up and down the West Coast, even
in my home state of Montana. We could ask how it
went for the Sikhs who built their first gurdwara in
Stockton, California, in 1912. Or we could ask how it went
for the Japanese Buddhists who were basically interned in
concentration camps, America’s own detention camps. Or for the native
people who didn’t really win the clear right to
practice their religious life ways until 1978 and the Native
American Religious Freedom Act. So we know that the impulse
to exclude is an old one. We also know that the impulse
to assimilate– you know, everyone is fine. Just leave everything that
is particular and different about you behind and become
just like us, whoever we are. I mean, the turbans, the
headscarves, et cetera. That assimilitive impulse
is also very strong. It’s written right into the
script of the melting pot image of America. But pluralism is more
difficult. And that means something quite different. It means the engagement
of our diversity, not simply tolerance for
religious or ethnic difference. But somehow the recognition
that in a society where we live so
closely with one another we actually need to know more. The insistence that ignorance
is really at the root many of the ways in which
the cleavages of our society are reckoned. And that it also
is not relativism. It means that people come
to their social or community or classroom obligations
with their complete selves, not leaving behind
their commitments but bringing them into
engagement with others. And this is sort of what
the pluralism project has been studying over these
years, both the changing demographics of
the United States, the ways in which religious
communities have had to change as they became American. If they wanted to raise money
they had to become a 501(c)(3) and they had to have boards of
directors and membership lists and things that probably most
Thai Buddhist temples had not had before they came to
the East Bay in California. So how are these communities
changing as they put roots down in the United States? And above all, how
is America changing as, at every level of our
society, we wrestle with this? Now, I don’t want to look
at the big huge issues like Chief Justice
Roy Moore in Alabama and his– you know, he’s now for
the second time been suspended from his chief judgeship,
first for his 2 and 1/2 ton granite Ten Commandments
in the judicial building in Alabama and
now, more recently, for his refusal to comply
with Obergefell versus Hodges to issue marriage licenses
to same sex-couples. I mean, these are well-known
cases and much written about. But the pluralism
project has been interested in case
studies of the sort, and writing case studies of
the sort, that many of you participate in in
law school classes. But case studies that
delve into local issues where the issue of our
multi-religious nation has created situations that
people are not familiar with and have to make some
sort of decisions about and have to learn more
in order to do so. So these combine, almost
all of our case studies, combine legal issues,
socioeconomic issues, religious issues, issues of
our ignorance, of our fear. And as most cases of this sort
do, emotional issues that are tacked in to all of that. And for my students, they have
to be willing, as you are, to have a cold call at
the beginning of one of our sessions. And let me ask
how they would do. Let me give you some examples. OK, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
at MSP International Airport. Somali taxi drivers,
constituting 85% of the taxi
drivers at the airport, refuse to carry
passengers with alcohol. Duty-free bags that come into
an international Airport, out of the question. There’s chaos in the taxi line. Customers are passed up
and wait for half an hour. The CEO receives
hundreds of complaints. The manager is told
to solve this problem. You’re the manager. And a series of six mediation
meetings by the time, by the second
mediation meeting comes the taxi drivers come
with their fetwa, that they are prohibited from
carrying alcohol in their cabs. So what kind of problem is this? Whose problem is it? These are the issues of
corporations, managers across the country today. Second, Palos Heights, Illinois,
a very famous case that many of you, if you’re old
enough, have heard about. A mosque controversy
that took place when Al Salam Mosque
Foundation in suburban Chicago, a spin-off of the
Bridgeview Mosque, signed a purchase and sale
agreement to buy a church that was for sale in Palos Heights. The church had been up for
sale for more than a year. But the moment that they made
a bid on the property, word on the street started to spread. Fear began to take hold. There were 400 people at the
open town council meeting, the last of them. Anyway, there were several
of those open meetings. Most of them come
there to protest. How should the mayor respond? How do citizens respond? What about religious leaders–
they are part of this, too? One of the opponents
we interviewed put it this way– it
was just scary to think how our town could change. It wouldn’t be how
we know it today, which most people really like. I feel strongly it should
remain a Christian church, as I grew up in that church. I have a lot of
memories in that church. I just want to say it
should stay a church. I feel that this community
is a Christian community, that’s how I’d like it to stay. The bricklayer mayor is
Dutch reformed Christian. How does he handle
the situation? He puts it rather flatly. He said, well, from the
standpoint of the Constitution it says, don’t discriminate. From the standpoint of the bible
it says, love your neighbor. So what would Jesus do? He’d say, welcome
to Palos Heights. The citizens had a fit. So anyway, this is
a very complex case. You know, it has lots of
different people in it. Another one, Hamtramck,
Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, city with the largest,
oldest Muslim community in the country. The city council of Hamtramck
is debating an amendment to the noise ordinance to
permit the broadcast of the call to prayer from one of
the mosques in Hamtramck. I believe in religious freedom,
said one of the protesters. I just don’t want another
god being praised in my ears. The city council has hearings. Is the call to prayer different
from the sound of bells in the Polish Catholic church? In what way? How does the city
council handle this? In Jacksonville,
Florida, Parvez Ahmed, a professor of finance from the
University of North Florida, is nominated to the
Human Rights Commission. He’s lived there for 30 years. The city council, however,
is overwhelmed with people lined up for public
comment in the meeting, protesting that a Muslim
should not be confirmed as a member of the commission. The instigation of
the attack comes from a group called
Act for America, a nationwide grassroots
organization that insists that Islam is waging
what they and Robert Spencer call a stealth jihad
in the United States. Not that kind of jihad that
comes with weapons or fire bombs, but that
kind of jihad that comes from ordinary citizens,
sort of like Parvez Ahmed, who are making their way
into respectable public life. In Cambridge,
Massachusetts, Jeff Young, the new superintendent of
schools a few years ago, receives a request from a
group on the school committee to add Eid to the school
calendar of official holidays. Not just for Muslim
students but for everybody. What does he have
to think about? What does he have to consider? What about parents? What about justice? What about the
staff of the school? And anyway, he came to
Cambridge because he really wanted to address the issue
of socioeconomic achievement gap in the schools. And now he has
this on his plate. What does he do? Who does he consult? How should he decide? Aspen, Colorado another
superintendent of schools receives a proposal to add yoga
ed to the primary school phys ed curriculum, with
evidence that yoga improves concentration for
grade school children, improves their well-being also. Give it a try, he said. But parents in Aspen–
you think of Aspen as sort of a liberal community–
many of them disagree. This crosses the line
between church and state. After all, yoga is
religious, right? Is it? That’s an argument. Is it Hindu? There are Hindus on both
sides of that argument. Or Richmond, Virginia. Cindy Simpson, a member
of the Wiccan community, applies to be on a list of
those offering invocations in the Chesterfield County
Board of Supervisors meeting. She is refused, summarily,
because in the words of the county attorney, such
invocations are traditionally made to a divinity consistent
with the Judeo-Christian tradition and in line with
nonsectarian invocations approved by the
Supreme Court in Marsh versus Chambers, which I presume
most if you have come across. These are just some
examples of case studies that place us on
the ground where most people in public life,
not necessarily on the Supreme Court but in the city
council, in the zoning board, in the Human Rights Commission,
where most people encounter new questions that stem from a
much wider religious diversity. As long as religious
freedom meant freedom to be Christian, Jewish,
secular, et cetera, the religion lines were
not quite so troubling and the tensions
not so palpable. But today, things are different. Muslims lobby in the
halls of Congress. Buddhists Americans
ordain monks in temples flying the American flag
all the way up the steps. Hindu Americans run for
state and local office. Sikh Americans insist on
their constitutional right to wear turbans and retain their
uncut hair as local policeman, as MTA drivers, as members
of the US military. And small as many of these
religious groups may be, this complex new reality
broadly challenges the unreflective
presupposition that America is foundationally Judeo-Christian. Now, I think it’s about time for
me to wind this up and close. But let’s say, just again, that
the issues of race and religion in America have been interwoven
in the lives of individuals and communities and
in our public life. And we’ve seen a
number of controversies that sort of juxtapose a
pluralist vision of America with new kinds of
chauvinism and nativism that are not something
that we’ve left behind but are still resurgent
in our public life today. And we have to remember that
religion has challenged color lines, very much so, drawing on
the vibrant language of faith as Martin Luther King did in
the civil rights movement, and recognizing that the
color lines have changed, radically changed, American
Christianity as well as other things. I mean, that face of
Christianity in America has changed so radically
with immigration from Central and South
America and from Africa. And then, of course,
the appeal of Islam has also crossed color line. Not only has Islam
always reached deeply into African-American
communities, it has begun to attract Latinos
as well with a strong appeal to an ethos of human
equality before God. So just going back to that
notion of Selma 50 years ago, one of the things I loved most
about President Obama’s speech on that bridge was his
use of the term “we”. How do we, the people
of the United States, construe ourselves? And that really is an
ever-present question. He said at the time, the
single most powerful word in our democracy is the
word we, we the people, we shall overcome, yes we can. That word is owned by no
one and belongs to everyone. And what it means,
really, is the challenge of the future of our country. So I’m going to stop. We’ve got some moments left. I love having people
ask questions. And now that you’ve had
a white Protestant woman sort of talking about race,
feel free to ask them. Yes, Professor [INAUDIBLE]? PRESENTER: Thank you so
much for this presentation. I’m a big fan of the
digital humanities world. But this just goes
to show how important the in-person presentations are. In part, I say that
because I’ve known for a long time about
the Pluralism Project, but this is the first time
I think I really get it. DIANA ECK: You get it. Yeah, OK. PRESENTER: As to what
it’s about and what sort of cases and every
day lived experiences that it collects and tracks. And I’d love to explore more. The question that I have
picks up on something that you ended with, about
the way that religion and race intersect
and always have, particularly in the
African-American community, and spreads outward from there
as a symbol or representation of an equality ethos. And so I know one can’t do
everything in a single talk, but I did notice that
in most of the talk you spoke about Islam or
the integration of Muslims in America as an integration,
as sort of a recent phenomenon from the 1965 opening
up of immigration. But I wonder if you can
speak more to the other part, where Muhammad Ali,
Malcolm X, others who converted as a part of the civil
rights movement from the ethos that you ended with, seeing
Islam as an equality paradigm. That’s actually the
tradition that I come from. My parents were part
of that generation. And I see that
that’s– I don’t know, I just wonder how that goes
along with the narrative of a recent integration and/or
disintegration more recently. DIANA ECK: Such an important
question, because of course, tracking the history of all of
this, that this is intricately related to the we of America. And when Elijah
Muhammad launched out with the Nation of
Islam, there was a sense that it needed to be a separate
nation, that the issues of race in America were so significant
that there was its own nation. And then you have Malcolm X
going to Mecca and saying, yeah, race is not
over in America, but race is not as important
in international Islam. Now, there are people who
contested that, as well. But then with WD Muhammad,
you get a whole turning away from the sort of nation of
Islam toward the Muslim Journal, which for years then
insisted on having the American flag
on its masthead, so as to say, yes,
we are American. And those tensions
are really, I think they’re really significant. I’d be interested in
your own history in this because when it
comes to thinking about America’s sort of first
Muslim chaplain, America’s first Muslim
anything, really out of the African-American
tradition the first Muslim ever to open
a session of the US Senate with prayers was Siraj Wahhaj,
an African-American, still very charismatic, leader. WD Muhammad was the White
House’s favorite Muslim for a long time. He was always there
and always present. And when he spoke
here at Harvard, which he did on a
number of occasions, was the most sort of
stalwart American and Muslim. So what was your
experience of this? PRESENTER: So small addendum. I don’t want to– DIANA ECK: No, go ahead. PRESENTER: We only
have 10 minutes and I don’t want to be the
only one to ask anything, but I just wanted to ask,
from your perspective, do you see these as two
different communities or narratives or do
you see in your work that the two have a common
narrative despite the very different histories and
ethos for which they came? Are the converging? Are they diverging? Or are they still
going in parallel? DIANA ECK: You know, I would
have to say, to a great extent, they must be converging. My experience is, if anyone
studies all of this in Boston, the three smallish
African-American mosques, Islamic centers,
are all in Roxbury and downtown Boston– Mosque
for the Praising of Allah, the Nation of Islam, and the
Al Quran, Masjid Al Quran. And then the big Boston
mosque, you know, Menino’s mosque they
call it, is right there. If you haven’t been
there, you should go. I mean, it is right
at Roxbury Crossing. And in the experience
of that, my sense is that people not from
the Nation of Islam as much, but certainly from mosque
for the praising of Allah and to a great extent
from Masjid Al Quran, do participate and enjoy that
sort of wider Meccan experience of the multi-racial Islam. But their own centers are
still very, very important. I mean, you know, you will
always go to Masjid Al Quran, they have a different culture. I mean, it’s the worship and
chicken dinner and bean pies. And something that is so
much part of that world. So I don’t know, I mean I’d love
to continue talking about this, too. Yes? AUDIENCE: Thank you for this
really fascinating talk. I guess, I just– when
you were talking– a very sort of big
piece of your discussion was on the intersection
between race and religion. I’m just listening to the
cases that you described, I couldn’t help
wondering, in what other ways identities,
different identities, intersect in these conflicts
and inform these conflicts? And also, informing
the conversation that are raised in order
to resolve the conflicts. And I’m wondering about,
specifically about, how gender or class
informs how people perceive those conflicts. And also how they might
begin the conversations towards resolving the conflicts. So you know, apart
from race and religion, which obviously
we know intersect, but how do gender and class? DIANA ECK: Gender and class,
really important there. I mean, the first
case I mentioned that we worked on early on,
the issue of the Somali taxi drivers in Minneapolis. I mean, this is a case of
people who came as refugees to the United States. Most of them,
being a taxi driver is the most easy way to
make even a small living. Now that you have a GPS system,
you can kind of make your way around Minneapolis. So it was really economically
extremely important. At the same time,
this is Minnesota and racial issues are
very visible in a kind of white Protestant,
largely, Minnesota. And gender issues of some
significance as well. I would say one of
the breakthroughs is that in this election
season, the first Somali ever to be able to stand in
the November election for state office is a Somali
woman from Minneapolis. So I think– my sense is
that those things probably begin to break down in
terms of participation in the wider community. But maybe not within
their own community. I’m not sure. I mean, this is all stuff that
needs ongoing work and really skilled researchers
because Somali refugees and other refugee populations
across the country are in positions of being
economically dependent on certain kinds of jobs. They’re very much part of
the meat packing industry, for example. And people have–
they have taken jobs that other ethnic
groups have shunned. And then they– and that
includes women and men both, really. It’s a very
penetrating question. Yeah. Come on, folks. Religion. OK. AUDIENCE: Thanks, Professor
Eck for this fascinating talk. DIANA ECK: A little louder. AUDIENCE: Sorry. So I was in Delhi
over the summer and when I was crossing
some street in [INAUDIBLE] I saw a board put up by a Hindu
[INAUDIBLE] organization wishing Donald Trump
a happy birthday and wishing him success in
the US presidential election. DIANA ECK: You saw this where? In India? AUDIENCE: Yes, I was in Delhi. And we know there
are organizations of Hindu Americans in the
US who have Hindu for Trump. And they had a puja
for him, actually, which is slightly disturbing. So could you also
comment a bit– I mean, I know you have spoken a
lot about the complexity of religion and race lines. But you could you
also comment on how, perhaps, immigration and
people importing prejudices from back home would
also affect religion and racial issues here? DIANA ECK: This is a
really good question. I mean, there is this
long bit of history that, beyond the
first generation, people don’t necessarily import
what you might call the feuds and vendettas of the old world. So to some extent,
your question’s a generational one as well. There is no doubt that there are
Hindu immigrants in the United States who are largely
thinking about the relationship to politics in India
and who have a fairly strong conservative bent. Across the board, the
Hindu population of the US, according to the– well,
see, I’m not a statistician, so I have to go back to Pew, the
religious research institute. Hindus, by far the
most economically successful group of
immigrants and also the most highly educated. And on the whole, tending
to vote Democratic. Now, who knows how this is
shifting in recent years with the election
of Modi in India and with the many controversies
that come up among Hindus in the United States? I mean, the California
state textbook controversy was a very, very– whose
Hindu tradition is going to be taught, and by whom? And many of my
fellow professors are under attack for the ways in
which they selectively teach about the Hindu tradition. So this is complicated business. But I think its no
secret that some of the alliances
between American Hindu groups and their
overseas donations include donations in
the support of the Hindu communities in India. I mean, it’s a good– you
need to keep track of this, actually. It would be a very
good project for you to think about because there’s
a changing landscape there. I will say just one
other thing, though, and I don’t think this is simply
because I’m teaching students at Harvard, but Dorothy and I,
my co-faculty dean at Lowell House, we live with
400 students and have for the last 10-plus years. A lot of these
issues, this issue of religious and
cultural diversity is the sea they swim in. You don’t need to convince
them that these are issues that need to be addressed. And I think it is likewise
true that the sort of feuds and vendettas that
animate India and Pakistan and intra-India
politics are less attractive to
second-generation Americans. And that, hopefully,
has a little bit– there’s some truth in that
historically in the United States. One will have to cross
one’s finger for the future. But anyway, thank you. [APPLAUSE] Wonderful
to meet you at last.

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