Learning from the Other Abrahamic Faith: American and Islamic Understanding of Individualism and Community

By Rosalie Otters.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Social workers and social scientists need to better understand the pluralistic implications of both American civil religion and all the Abrahamic religions for a more positive social impact. This includes an understanding of the implications of American civil religion’s emphasis on both individualism and community in early twenty-first century America. American civil religion is the philosophical basis for American culture and social institutions and has found itself increasingly at odds with itself. The two divergent poles of American civil religion are the dual emphasis on both individualism and community. In an increasingly pluralistic and diverse world, it has become more difficult to hold together both perspectives. American civil religion gets its foundation from the individualistic beliefs of both the Protestant Reformation and the secular European Enlightenment. American emphasis on individualism has gotten them far, encouraging innovation and creativity. However, individualism itself had, at one time, been based on a common communal understanding that has lost currency with the progressive disenchantment of a common American culture. Today, American civil religion finds itself in a rapidly changing society where the community may increasingly not be European-American, White or Judeo-Christian and may be at odds with traditional majority ideologies. In the Islamic world, the opposite problem is paramount: How can the community grow to allow more individualism without losing its identity and relationship to the sacred? While on the surface Islamic and American theories and practices of individualism and community may seem hopelessly divergent, both spring from biblical roots. Their common Abrahamic heritage may offer a more balanced view of the individual in community. Liberal Protestant theology, in conversation with all Abrahamic thought, can begin this dialogue toward a renewed American civil religion that would be meaningful to more Americans, no matter their beliefs.

Keywords: Abrahamic Religions, American Civil Religion, Islam, Liberal Protestant Theology, Dialogue, Social Work, Pluralism

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 9, pp.59-70. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 781.532KB).

Dr. Rosalie Otters

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Dr. Rosalie Otters is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, USA. Social work encourages an international perspective on society, seeking human development and social justice through an understanding of what is culturally meaningful to diverse societies and individuals. Otters’ areas of research are social work ethics, pluralistic religious and spiritual beliefs, gerontological service learning, and implications of Jane Addams’ life and work. In addition, Otters has experience both as a licensed clinical social worker and as a minister in the Presbyterian Church, USA denomination.


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