Introduction: Religious Pluralism as the Essential Foundation of America’s Quest for Unity and Order

Derek H. Davis

in The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780195326246
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Introduction: Religious Pluralism as the Essential Foundation of America’s Quest for Unity and Order

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This Handbook offers an overview of how the church and state interact in the United States. The term church–state is a Western term that emerged in the sixteenth-century Europe and it remains useful in the United States as it describes the interaction between religion and government. In the sixteenth-century Christian Europe, the term “church” connoted Christianity. But things began to change in Europe and in the United States as an experiment for separating church and state to maximize freedom for Christians and other religious groups was introduced. The United States led the way in the experiment with the separation of the church and state. This separation was deemed the best way to keep the government out of religion and to ensure religious freedom for believers of religious traditions. However, the experiment posed great challenges. Questions on the equal footing of all religious groups, the importance of a theological foundation for a stable government, the role of religion in determining law and public policy, and religious pluralism compounded the prospect of a separate church and state. Of all the challenges faced by the American experiment, the most important was religious pluralism. While the American nation embraced religious pluralism, many dissenting groups, such as the Christian Right, saw it as a problem. This tension in the introduction of religious pluralism has been a debated issue since its founding, and is still unresolved. While the competing forces of legalized religious pluralism and Christian majoritarianism still create dissension in America, they nevertheless promote harmony. In this book the tension of America being culturally Christian and the many dimensions of the church and the state are addressed.

Keywords: church and state; church–state; church; state; religion; religious pluralism; pluralism; Christian Right; legalized religious pluralism; Christian majoritarianism

Article.  7214 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Comparative Politics

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