The culture war in the United States is often framed as a clash between evangelicalism and pluralism. But, unlike the secularism common in Europe, religious pluralism is not an ideology; its inclusiveness means it need not clash with anyone. What’s surprising, Marcia Pally explains in Utne Independent Press Awards nominee Islamica, is that the U.S. tradition of pluralism was built largely by evangelicals.
Since colonial times, evangelicals have emphasized the spiritual primacy of the individual, motivating them to advocate for the freedom of conscience in religious matters. Whatever the theocratic fringe may be crowing about, the dominant evangelical intellectual strain “disposed Americans to multi-confessional communities—in other words, to pluralism,” Pally writes. She credits this as a major reason that devout U.S. Muslims have an easier time participating in the broader culture than their European counterparts do, even since 9/11 and its anti-Muslim backlash.
Perhaps some evangelicals would find it ironic and even offensive that their spiritual tradition might positively affect the American Muslim experience. But to many, for whom the ideal of freedom of conscience has never been a mere political ploy, this no doubt sounds exactly right.