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The North American Pacific Rim: A Response to Frank Pasquale and William Stahl

The North American Pacific Rim: A Response to Frank Pasquale and William Stahl

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The North American Pacific Rim: A Response to Frank Pasquale and William Stahl

Author: Patricia O’Connell Killen
The North American Pacific Rim: A Response to Frank Pasquale and William Stahl

Author: Patricia O’Connell Killen

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09/13/2013

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TheNorthAmericanPacifcRim:
AResponsetoFrankPasqualeandWilliamStahl
Patricia O’Connell Killen 
I
 
approach the Pasquale and Stahl chapters as an historian o religion, primarily o Christianity in North America, who has been working or some time onunderstanding the religious dynamics o the Pacic Northwest and BritishColumbia.
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Most recently, as part o the Religion by Region project o theGreenberg Center or the Study o Religion in Public Lie, I co-edited
Religion and Public Lie in the Pacifc Northwest: The None Zone 
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with Mark Silk. Thevolume provides a rst take on two questions:1) What is the religious conguration on the ground in thePacic Northwest?2) What dierence does it makes or public lie in the region? As the volume’s subtitle suggests, the Nones, those whom the AmericanReligious Identication Survey (ARIS) ound claimed no religious identication,are prominent in this region. They make up 25 percent o the adult populationin Washington and 21 percent in Oregon, combining to give this region thelargest proportion o Nones o any in the United States.
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Further, accordingto Census Canada, 36 percent o the adult population in British Columbiaidenties itsel as having no religion.
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The North American Pacic Rim region and the questions o the Religionby Region project, then, are germane to the goal o exploring who is “secular”today by considering comparative geographic perspectives on the topic. Notonly are the majority o the people in this part o the U.S. and Canada outsidethe doors o church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or any other conventionalreligious institutions; a substantial portion o the adult population has movedbeyond even identiying with a religious amily/heritage o any kind. Here the
 
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eculariSm
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signicant population o Nones, coupled with the demographic thinness o conventional religious groups, displays the erosion o the religious institutionsand orms o individual religiosity that have shaped religious lie in the West sincethe early modern period. Equally importantly, it signals the emergence o new orms o religiosity and more fuid orms o religious organization. The religiousconguration and dynamics o this region, then, demand thinking anew aboutindividual religiosity and about religion as a social and cultural orce.
Frank Pasquale:“The Nonreligious in the American Northwest”
Frank Pasquale’s chapter oers a report on current ethnographic research he iscarrying out in the Portland and Seattle metropolitan areas. He is exploring thebelies, attitudes, and behavior o a group o adults whom he characterizes as thearmatively nots,” adults whom he understands to be explicitly irreligious andto hold explicitly secular worldviews. Pasquale’s Nots comprise approximately one-third o the Nones in Oregon and Washington, or about 500,000 adults outo a total adult population o slightly more than 7.4 million (a total populationo 9.7 million). His larger estimate o 640,000, reached by taking percentageso adult respondents rom ARIS and calculating an actual Not population roma gure or the total, not the adult population, seems a bit high. Further, asPasquale himsel notes about his own calculations, it is problematic to extrapolaterom surveys that use the U.S. Pacic census region, which includes Caliornia,or rom national surveys, to Oregon and Washington as a separate region.
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Disagreements with his calculations aside, Pasquale’s ethnographic researchon the Nots makes a contribution to an understanding o the Nones by dint o his hard work on the ground: erreting out an availability sample, identiyingand counting groups, observing and interviewing their members, describinghow Nots think, as well as their attitudes, the nature o their social relationships,and their public presence. His preliminary research shows that most Nots donot aliate with “organizations pertinent to their metaphysical worldviews,”are reluctant to identity themselves with a label, though whatever descriptionthey give o their worldview emphasizes that it is naturalistic, and are ambivalentabout committing to organizations lest they give away their independence o thought and action.They share concern “about misrepresentation or misunderstanding o non-religious people, erosion o church-state separation, public and political infuenceo conservative religion, and aspects o American domestic and internationalpolicy.”
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The small minority who are in secular humanist groups, says Pasquale,“struggle or public recognition and legitimacy,” yet do not want to engagein recruiting or in orcing their views onto their children.
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Most participate
 
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publicly as citizens in “issue-specic collaborative groups or organizations.”
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 They tend to be more action and issue oriented than they are interested inrefection on metaphysical topics.
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 What is striking about Pasquales description o the Nots is how congruentit shows their attitudes and behavior to be with other Nones in the region, and inmany ways, with the religious style o the region generally. This is true especially o two eatures o the Nots that his research highlights: their intense, ethically construed individualism and their social skepticism,” dened as their “pervasivepreoccupation” with “the destructive potential o human beings in groups andinstitutions, and how to overcome” it. They exhibit the strong impulse to reeand unettered activity and the ambivalence about social connections that hasrendered conventional social institutions relatively weak in this region sinceearliest European-American settlement.
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Keysar and Kosmin report similarndings about individualism and loose institutional connections or Nonesnationally.
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 Where some o the Nots dier rom the majority o Nones and the generalpopulation o the region is in their sel-conscious insistence on articulatingtheir worldviews in naturalistic terms.
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They consider worldviews that includea “supernatural” dimension highly problematic and dene themselves overagainst people who hold this position. Whether and how to understand theNots’ refective construction o their worldviews as in some way “religious” orspiritual” is at the center o Pasquales disagreement with the treatment o Nonesin
Religion and Public Lie in the Pacifc Northwest 
.In the chapter “Secular but Spiritual,” Mark Shibley ocused on the majority o the Nones, the 67 percent who agree strongly or somewhat that God exists.
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 He argues that while all Nones are disconnected rom conventional religiousinstitutions both by identication and aliation, the majority o Nones, thetwo-thirds who are religious by at least one conventional measure—belie—arespiritually open and so religious. Shibley proposes that, or the None majority,“Perhaps religious matters are simply experienced and expressed dierently” inthe region and goes on to employ a broad interpretive ramework to “betterilluminate the core values, ritual practices, types o transcendent experience, andorms o community that engage non-church-going Northwesterners.”
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Pasquale’s dierence with Shibley over his choice to explore the majority o the Nones who are spiritually open rather than the minority o Nones whoare armatively secular, even materialist, rests partly on Pasquale’s claim thatthe latter are distinctively and importantly dierent rom other Nones. It also,however, raises an issue o denition. Specically, in discussions o secularization,should naturalistic worldviews be considered religious or spiritual? Is refectivemeaning-making a spiritual activity?

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