From Robert Wright’s New York Times review of Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace:
gaining an evangelical friend leads to a warmer assessment of evangelicals — by seven degrees on a “feeling thermometer,” to be exact — and gaining a nonreligious friend brings four degrees of added warmth toward the nonreligious.
This suggests that the best antidote to religious intolerance is more religious pluralism. As numbers of Buddhists, Mormons and Muslims grow in the US and proliferate around the country, negative perceptions will be reduced. I look forward to reading their book, particularly how they reconcile Putnam’s hunkering theory that posits a negative relationship between neighborhood diversity and trust, with this finding about religious diversity. Is race/ethnic diversity qualitatively different than religious diversity in how it affects trust? It would seem to be. It is conceivable than in a generation, we see interfaith tension between Christians and Muslims are significantly reduced.
My sense is that what led Putnam down this road is the potential power of religion as a “bridge” between racial and ethnic difference. Wright’s has an interesting insight about the emerging rift between the “religious” and “non-religious” in society being a rather new cultural chasm. More than the “clash of civilizations” the religious-non-religious divide might be what defines the “culture war” for the next few decades. It’s worth thinking about how the religious and self-identified non-religious talk with each other. I’m proud to say that my campus seems to be on the forefront of having conversations between these groups. Can athiests see the value of faith in serving as a central organizing principle for vast numbers of people and can the religious recognize that individuals can construct legitimate ethical systems without appeals to faith-based systems?