Religious Pluralism in the United States: 1960- Present

Ciana Cornelius



This research guide focuses on religious pluralism in the United States from 1960 to the present. The guide explores the relationship between religious pluralism and immigration to understand its manifestation and growth in America. The guide highlights information that seeks to answer the question: How has the relationship between religious pluralism and immigration, beginning in the 1960’s, affected modern religious pluralism today?

The relation between religious pluralism and immigration in the United States is a well-known vehicle amongst religious historians in explaining the birth and growth of religious pluralism in America. The link begins with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. The act allowed for more immigrants to live in the U.S. This law had many enemies and proponents making it a hot point in American politics. American culture was being affected by this influx of immigrants not just from an economic or special sense but also a religious point.

Along with the immigration of peoples comes their culture which includes religion. America being a multicultural state has made itself a space of religious diversity. After 1965 and later in 1990 with a further increase of the immigration cap the need for religious pluralism was great. The increase of immigration in the United States after 1965 had a great impact on American culture through religious pluralism. Modern religious pluralism is inevitably effected by its roots and at its roots is immigration. American society’s viewpoint on immigration and immigration policy influences its stance on religious pluralism. This guide uses an array of sources from scholarly journals, books, U.S. law and discussions on religious pluralism to understand the mechanism which American society is effecting religious pluralism today.

The sources below are categorized in four sections: • Historical Context • Immigration Laws • 1965 to the present  • Video

Historical Context

These texts help to understand the religious history of the United States and what shaped it into a diverse religious state.

Beneke, Chris. Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Beneke pulls together varying forms of sources to make a coherent road rap to the beginning of religious pluralism. He explains the departure from tolerance in America to living in a homogeneous society where every religion is equal. Even though I am focusing on religious pluralism from 1960- present, it is important to understand what mechanism were in play to allow religious pluralism to exist in the end. This book explains the history of religious tolerance in the 18th and 19th century coupled with growing religious diversity in the 20th century which helped to change American culture.

Gottschalk, Peter. American Heretics: Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the History of Religious Intolerance. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2013.

Gottschalk focuses on the persecution of religious groups in America. He shows a different perspective on the perceived historically tolerant U.S. He does this by focusing on several religious groups including Catholics and Jews and uses their story of persecution to inclusion to show a positive possibility of the future of Muslims and other groups facing discrimination today.



Immigration Law

Laws that have had major impacts on religious pluralism in America and the state of the immigration system today.

United States. Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary. “Immigration and Nationality Act, with Amendments and Notes on Related Laws and Summaries of Pertinent Judicial Decisions. 5th Edition Revised through Dec. 31, 1965.”, 1966.$2fapp-bin$2fgis-congresearch$2f9$2fc$2fb$2fa$2fcmp-1966-hjh-0002_from_1_to_267.pdf/entitlementkeys=1234%7Capp-gis%7Ccongresearch%7Ccmp-1966-hjh-0002

This is the 1965 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act. This law stirred up controversy in the United States by allowing more immigrants into its borders. Immigrants were now under fire in the United States and so were their religions they were bringing with them, which led for the cry of religious pluralism. By exploring this document, the drastic changes in immigration law show how people on both sides of this policy were impassioned to have their voices heard.

United States. Congress. “Immigration Act of 1990.” ProQuest, 2013.$2fapp-bin$2fgis-congresearch$2ff$2f1$2f7$2f0$2fcrs-1990-epw-0065_from_1_to_32.pdf/entitlementkeys=1234%7Capp-gis%7Ccongresearch%7Ccrs-1990-epw-0065

The Immigration Act of 1990 is a reform on the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. This act increased the immigration cap and provides family based visas. This law is important in understanding the continual changes in immigration policy.


1965- Present

These documents explore trends in religious pluralism from 1965 to the present. They touch on the relationship between religious pluralism and immigration, the effect religious pluralism has on democracies, and what the future of religious diverse state looks like.

Cohen, Charles Lloyd, and Ronald L. Numbers. Gods in America: Religious Pluralism in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

This book features a compilation of scholars exploring the timeline of religious pluralism exclusively from the second half of the 20th century to modern times. It gives a historical rundown of religious pluralism from a general sense. The history is then used to help explain religious pluralism today. This book clarifies all the components that led to religious pluralism and its growth today. The general viewpoint helps in understanding the importance of the relationship between religious pluralism and immigration as part of a grander picture.


Kumar, P. Pratap. Religious Pluralism in the Diaspora. International Studies in Religion and Society; 4. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2006.

Kumar uses case studies to explore cultural groups in areas away from their homeland. The case study useful for this research is his section: Impact of 9/11 on Muslim Religious Pluralism. It shows how this terrorist attack affected American opinion and policy towards immigration and the Muslim religion.


Prothero, Stephen R. A Nation of Religions: The Politics of Pluralism in Multireligious America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Prothero focuses on religious pluralism in America as an effect of the 1965 amendments to the Immigration and Naturalization Act. He explores how religious pluralism effected American culture and in that American politics. He then showcases how the American culture and politics are now effecting religious pluralism. This is important in understanding how religious pluralism if being effected today through political measures and changing American attitudes towards religion.

Williams, Rhys H. “Religion and Multiculturalism: A Web of Legal, Institutional, and Cultural Connections.” Sociological Quarterly 56, no. 4 (2015)

This article focuses on the relationship between religion and multiculturalism. It explores this relationship by discussing religious pluralism and religious diversity in the United States. This is not Williams’ main argument but it shows how you cannot speak about religious pluralism without mentioning immigration and America as a multicultural state.

Gorski, Philip. “Religious Pluralism and Democratic Inclusion: The American Recipe for Peace.” Society 51, no. 6 (2014): 623–635. doi:10.1007/s12115-014-9835-5.

Gorski explores religious pluralism and civic inclusion as a means for peace in his article. He describes the need for these two to exist, to make America a formidable multicultural state. Also, how the ever-increasing secularization of the nation allows for religious pluralism to be sustained.


Banchoff, Thomas. Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Banchoff seeks to show the future of religious pluralism in democratically run societies. He shows the effect a religious diverse society can have on its society. He highlights some of the important arguments going on now in America in reference to the separation of church and state and how it can affect nation largely founded on Christian values.



These are discussion focusing on religious pluralism in modern times. They both discuss the state of religious pluralism today in the United States and what its future may be.

The Aspen Institute. Religious Pluralism in America (Full Session). Accessed November 30, 2016.

This a discussion amongst panelist of American religion on the state of religious pluralism during 2013. During this talk, they discuss whether the diversity of religions is pulling America together or apart. They have an array of insights on the good and bad that comes with religious pluralism and its likely effect on American society.
City Club of Portland. Understanding Our Neighbors: Religious Pluralism in America. Accessed November 30, 2016.

This a discussion of religious pluralism in America a few months after the terrorist attack of 9/11. In this talk the importance of sustaining religious pluralism is discussed, as it is a defining feature of American society. The speaker, Diana Eck, tries to consider the future and assess the effects 9/11 will have on religious pluralism in the U.S.