THE SHIFTING BOUNDARIES OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN AMERICA THROUGH THE LENS OF INTERFAITH MARRIAGE
Seamon, Erika B.
This dissertation explores interfaith relationships and the nexus of personal and communal religious identity in the United States. The thesis is that religious intermarriage is both a reflective and a predictive material representation of the continual movement and redefinition of the boundaries of religious traditions and the boundaries of the religious and secular. Part I chronicles key historical events that contributed to the slow erosion of theological, legal, and social barriers to intermarriage among Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. As authority over religion and marriage moved from church to state to society, an era of ‘intra–religious’ marriage became one of ‘interreligious’ marriage by the mid–twentieth century.Part II investigates the characteristics of contemporary intermarriages, based upon qualitative research in the form of in–depth interviews with 43 individuals in Christian–Jewish, Christian–Muslim, Christian–Hindu, or Christian–Buddhist marriages. Contrary to the opinions of some prominent voices in religious communities, these contemporary intermarriages are not simply forms of syncretism or secularism; they are much more complex. These couples and families are developing new approaches to religious belief, practice, and communal involvement that challenge normative ideas of what may constitute a religious marriage and family life. An era of ‘interfaith’ marriage (as distinct from ‘interreligious’ marriage) is emerging.These interfaith marriages are material representations of a new space in the American religious landscape. As interfaith couples negotiate differences and build bridges between their families and communities, broad–based change is set in motion. This new space — Interfaith Space — not only defies normative parameters, it also transforms religion in America. It is a space that is neither religious (if one defines religious by the normative parameters of religious traditions) nor wholly secular (if one employs a secularist interpretation of the secular). On the contrary, this space is an amalgam of different religious traditions as well as non–religious beliefs and practices. The study concludes with a reflection on how Interfaith Space can (and perhaps will) affect the interdisciplinary academic study of religious pluralism.
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