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Margaret Falk

RELS 2400-002
Synthesis Paper
May 1, 2017

Synthesis Paper
Over the duration of the Spring Semester, we have discussed many interesting topics in
this Religious Diversity in America course. Many of our discussions were based off of the
writings of Robert Wuthnow in America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity, and Jon
Butler in Religion in American Life: A Short History. And now, at the closing of the semester, we
have been tasked to answer and reflect upon these three questions, referring to our text, notes,
discussions, and projects:
1. How do you see religion shaping and being shaped by American life?
2. How do we encounter some specific minority religions in America today?
3. How might Americans of all beliefs and faith interact to ensure a successful pluralism?

How do you see religion shaping and being shaped by American life?

I would like to point out that the you in this question is underlined. That denotes that
this is the way that I see things and that what I say hereafter is my opinionwhich the question
is calling for. Therefore, there cannot be a right or a wrong answer.

I think that it is appropriate to state first, that the United States of America was founded
upon the idea of freedom of religion. This principle was such an integral part of our founding
fathers beliefs that it is instituted in the very first article in our countrys Bill of Rights. So, in a
very real sense, at least to me, religion is not shaped by our country, but rather our country is
shaped by religion. President Dwight Eisenhower said, our form of government makes no sense
unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I dont care what it is.
As we discussed in many of our lectures in class, I do not believe that the United States
has an official endorsed religion. Although the country was founded predominantly by
Christians, Christianity is not the official religion. There has been debate as to whether or not the
USA is a Christian nation for decades. I, myself, am biased because I am a Christian and am
prone to say that yes, it is. But if I am to look at the situation more objectively, I would say that
while it was founded upon Christian ideals, it is not a Christian nation. To be a Christian isnt
merely to proclaim oneself as such. In my experience, being a Christian is constituted by ones
actions, motivations, and desire to follow and act upon the teachings of Jesus Christ. America
and Im talking about the people in it collectivelydo not demonstrate Christ-like qualities. So,
by my definition, no, the United States of America is not a Christian nation.
In recent years, there has been a call within the American society to show more tolerance
and acceptance to those of different races, backgrounds, religions, etc. People have been getting
tired of underrepresentation in movies, TV, music, politics, sports and so on. Because of this
underrepresentation, there has been a push to see more diverse people in the public domain, thus
exposing the American people to different ways of life and religious beliefs. Because of this
exposure, previously unknown or unrecognized religions have been brought into the public eye,
spreading awareness and promoting conversion or acceptance these other religions that have
been overshadowed by Christianity in the past.
Margaret Falk
RELS 2400-002
Synthesis Paper
May 1, 2017

America is also known as a melding pot because people from literally every corner of the
earth can be found here. Its those people, their cultures, their beliefs, that make up the fabric of
the American tapestry. Many immigrants who come here, come from places where religion is
their culture; everything they say, do, want, are all determined by their religious beliefs. When
refugees come in droves from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries like they have been
lately, they carry with them their religious beliefs which help in the shaping of the communities
that they are immigrating into. They shape the way Americans who are already here behave,
perceive other religions and people from that region, and interact with people in their daily lives.
They are effectively shaping and changing the way that Americans view the world.

How do we encounter some specific minority religions in America today?

I will use primarily examples from the Religious Landscaping Project that we were
tasked with doing near the end of the semester. For this project, we were assigned into groups to
a specific part of the Salt Lake Valley where we would research, landscape, and visit different
minority religions in the area. My group was assigned to the West Valley and Taylorsville area.
Since it is already known that about 55% of the Utah population are members of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), and more, still, belonged to other
Christian faiths, we stayed away from all Christian denominations because they are not
minorities. While surveying the area, we researched and visited three minority religions: We
went to Chu Lien Hoa and visited with Vietnamese Buddhists. We went to the Sikh Gurdwara
Sahib of Utah and spoke to their leaders about Sikhism. And lastly, we went to the Khadeeja
Islamic Center and talked with their leader about Islam.
We participated in religious ceremonies at each location and asked leaders and members
alike what they thought about being minorities a place that is nearly absorbed in Christianity.
Many of the people responded positively, indicating that they have felt nothing but welcome and
acceptance in the community and have been shown proper respect.
It was interesting to talk to the man at the Islam Mosque because he told us that even
though Islam and Muslims have a bad stigma surrounding them due to the discord in the Middle
East, the Muslim community is thriving and growing here in Utah. He even recounted that he
and his congregation have teamed up with LDS leaders in combatting the homelessness crisis
that is going on in the city as well as collaborating on other humanitarian projects. He expressed
his respect for the LDS community and the acceptance that he and his fellow Muslims have felt
In doing this project, I learned that Utah is a much more religiously diverse place than I
had previously presumed it to be. I have been driving past all of these different places that are
close to home for nearly my whole life without even giving them a second glance. Religious
diversity can be found around every corner and down every street if you just try to look for it. I
guess growing up in Utah and as a Latter-Day Saint, I was never really on the lookout for other
Margaret Falk
RELS 2400-002
Synthesis Paper
May 1, 2017

places because I already had the religion that was true. This project opened my eyes and
broadened my horizons. And while I will not change my own religious beliefs, I can say that I
have a newfound respect for other religions in how they thrive in this predominantly Mormon

How might Americans of all beliefs and faith interact to ensure a successful pluralism?
After reading the book and participating in class discussions, religious pluralism, as I
understand it and to put it simply, can be defined as respecting the otherness of others.
Freedom of religion includes all religions acting within the law in a region. Exclusivist religions
teach that theirs is the only way to salvation and to religious truth, saying that all other religions
are absolutely false. Some of them would even argue that it is necessary to suppress the
falsehoods taught by other religions.
I think that when it boils down to it, it comes down to respect. It has nothing to do with
arrogance or thinking that you are superior or inferior or any of the other things we discussed in
class. It just comes down to respect.
It is a fundamental law of the universe that you cannot gain something without giving
something first. Nothing is absolutely free. If one wishes to obtain something, something of
equal value must be given. My philosophy is that I dont care what background you come from,
what race you are, what your religion is, whateverIf youre going to be nice to me, Im going
to be nice to you. Its a two-way street. I believe that if people can put aside their petty
differences and just accept things, people, religion, as the way that they are, that will be
successful pluralism. Instead of tearing each other apart over our dissimilarities, cant we instead
celebrate the things that make us unique, the things that make us beautiful?
I think success would be measured by peoples ability to agree to disagreeto
understand that we all believe different things, and thats okay. I think success and maturity is
marked by ones ability to understand that not every situation requires a reaction or change for
everyone involved. Success will be measured by mutual respect.

This course has taught me a lot and it has opened my eyes; has given me a paradigm
shift. Religious Diversity has always been a topic of debate and relevancy in America and will
continue to be so. Its not enough to just know about it. In order to strive for a more pluralistic
and accepting society, we first need to understand that religion is one of the main things that has
shaped, is shaping, and will continue to shape America and who we are as a nation. We need to
recognize that there are minorities out there that are seeking representation, that are striving to
thrive in a place where Christianity is dominant. And lastly, everyone needs to understand that in
order to be respected and accepted, we must first be willing to respect and accept.
Margaret Falk
RELS 2400-002
Synthesis Paper
May 1, 2017

I, Margaret Falk, on my honor, have submitted my position paper to my ePortfolio and have
accompanied it with reflective writing.

Signature ________________________________________________

Date: 1 May 2017