In his interview for Homebrewed Christianity (episode 103), David Campbell covers just about every aspect of American Christianity that one could hope for. Recounting his book American Grace, written with Robert Putnam, he addresses generational differences, cultural shifts of the 20th century and theological concerns. It is educational in some aspects and eye opening in others. The interview is fantastic and has whetted my appetite enough to attempt to tackle the 600 page tome this summer.
There was a moment in the interview that, however, when Campbell turns away from examining only Christian congregations and has something very interesting to say about other religious communities – in this case American Muslim communities – that really caught my attention.
The particular exchange happens starting in the 38th minute of the interview (I have embedded a sound snippet in this blog that I pulled out of the interview – look to the bottom left of this post for the “play” button).
Campbell says that mosques in America tend to take on a very different characteristic and play a different role than they do in other places around the world. He says that the leadership of these communities adapt to take on a set of responsibilities that look very similar to what we would expect to find pastors doing. He also points to the idea of “belonging” to a mosque being a uniquely American kind of idea that is consistent with a congregational tradition in this country.
The reason that this stood out to me is that I had asked about this kind of potential adjustment in an Ethics of Pluralism class earlier this year in regard to American Muslims. The essence of my concern went like this:
The modifier ‘American’ plays as powerful a role in that religious construct as that which it modifies. Will it come to be that to be an American Hindu is as distinct a way of being Hindu from other manifestations of Hinduism (Asian varieties for instance) as it is from being an American Buddhist? So that an American Hindu may have more in common with an American Buddhist than she does with a Hindu in India.
I ask this because American Christianity is so essentially distinct from other forms of Christianity – both current global expressions as well as historic expressions – The adjective ‘American’ is as powerful in the construct ‘American Christian’ as the Christianity that it modifies.
I went on to imply that American Muslims in the generations to come may be as unique an expression of Islam as American Christians are to the global and historic church. This did not go over very well.
I have posted other question before with Claremont’s new University Project and with the release of Miroslov Volf’s new book. What David Campbell had to say has made my revisit my initial suspicion and opens up a whole new set of questions about the future of religion in the West and around the world.
The question in my mind is this: will America change Islam more than Islam changes America?