Mexican Mosques, Brazilian Buddhists

Diana Eck has produced some of the most valuable modern work on Indian religion.  Her best-known book is probably Banaras (Columbia University Press, 1998), a wonderfully detailed examination of the sacred geography of the holy city that Westerners used to call “Benares.”  That book was so good because of Eck’s ability to understand the symbolic relationship between temples and shrines.  Eck has the great gift of being able to see and to connect.  In A New Religious America, however, only half of these abilities are displayed.  She tells us a huge amount about the practice of once-foreign religions in North America—religions such as Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism—but I do not believe she is seeing anything like the whole picture: Concentrating on the individual trees prevents her from seeing the sacred wood.

Most of A New Religious America represents Eck’s explorations of the growing networks of “other” religions in the United States, accounts of visits to mosques in Detroit or Sikh gurdwaras in California.  These stories are well told; they raise important questions about the religious and political assumptions of America in the coming century.  From the simplest non-spiritual angle, we face such issues as how American Hindus by Muslims will vote in years to come.  With their emphasis on business, family, and...

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