Study: Americans More Aware of US Religious Diversity Since 9/11

In the 10 years since the 9/11 tragedy, Americans and churches across the United States are more prone to consider partnering with faiths and denominations other than their own for social outreach events, said a Hartford Seminary professor, who is leading a religious study program on interfaith cooperation.

David A. Roozen, director of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and professor of religion and society, remarked, “Americans' awareness of our country's religious diversity has increased dramatically in the last decade.”

Although the study he helped conduct does not show a dramatic increase in congregations partnering together in the context of a worship service, it does show an increase in interfaith activities such as public ceremonies and panel discussions, Roozen told The Christian Post.

“There was a dramatic change in the picture of American religion that Sept. 11th prompted,” Roozen said. “The extreme visibility of Islam in the aftermath of Sept. 11th changed America’s understanding of religious diversity from Judeo-Christian to Abrahamic, which is Christian-Jewish-Muslim.”

Roozen’s conclusions are based on his study and a Faith Communities Today (FACT) 2010 survey of American congregations. The report, titled "American Congregations Reach Out to Other Faith Traditions: A Decade of Change, 2000-2010," explores changes in interfaith involvement from before 9/11 to the present.

Only slightly more than one in 10 faith communities shared worship across faith traditions in the past year, according to the study.

“The most frequent kind of multi-faith involvement is cooperating in some kind of social outreach event,” Roozen said. “They cover a pretty wide spectrum. For example, there are special Habitat for Humanity projects that are explicitly multi-faith in the people they pull together for a weekend.”

There are instances when people of other faiths are invited into a church to speak or be a part of a panel discussion, he said. However, in addition to social cause outreaches, there is an influx of diversity at civil remembrances, such as seen in some of the events taking place to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

“Suddenly, where you went from Judeo-Christian representation, almost inevitably there will be a Muslim sharing that podium,” Roozen said.

The survey showed that roughly 20 percent of congregations in the study were involved in interfaith community service projects, up from 7.7 percent in 2000.

Some churches with a tradition of having a strict evangelical focus may be less prone to consider partnering with other faiths, Roozen said. However, those churches that already have established connections in their community are more likely to be open to interfaith collaboration.

“Those congregations that have a civic orientation or have a history and a desire to be a good neighbor in their local communities are more likely to participate in interfaith activity. Those churches can be liberal, conservative, evangelical or whatever denomination,” he said.

The survey found that only 13.9 percent of congregations from the study shared worship with other faith traditions, up from 6.8 percent in 2000.

The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP) conducted the FACT 2010 survey, and analyzed responses from 11,077 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States, according to Hartford Seminary. The survey updates results from surveys taken in 2000, 2005, and 2008 and is the latest in CCSP's series of trend-tracking national surveys of U.S. congregations.