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The Judeo-Christian and Abrahamic Traditions in America

Summary and Keywords

The terms “Judeo-Christian” and “Abrahamic” are collective religious descriptors that identify points of theological, historical, and ethical commonality between the world’s largest monotheistic religious traditions. “Judeo-Christian” refers to the ground shared by Judaism and Christianity; “Abrahamic” designates elements common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These terms have most often appeared in three contexts. First, scholars of religion have used them for technical, descriptive purposes, to denote the aforementioned religious traditions and the commitments they share. Second, interfaith advocates have employed the terms to identify the particular ecumenical task of cultivating harmonious relations between these three traditions. Finally, in wider public discourses, they have served as descriptors of the religious character of American culture, democracy, and/or national identity. Over time, the terms “Judeo-Christian” and “Abrahamic” have each become important ways of talking about the contributions of the world’s largest monotheistic religions to politics and culture in the United States.

However, in American public discourse, “Judeo-Christian” formulations have thus far demonstrated greater reach than “Abrahamic” ones. Between roughly World War II and the mid-1970s, when the United States rose to superpower status and assumed the helm of the Western civilizational project, the idea of America as, in various senses, a Judeo-Christian nation became commonplace. But unlike “Judeo-Christian,” which maps onto a discrete geographical region and a long-standing cultural project, “Abrahamic” tends to be used more narrowly to indicate a set of historically meaningful but geographically diffuse relationships that have become the subject of scholarly and ecumenical concern. Moreover, “Judeo-Christian” emerged in the wake of a massive influx of Jewish and Catholic immigrants between 1880 and 1920 that reshaped the American religious landscape. “Abrahamic” has likewise become more widespread since the immigration reforms of the mid-1960s, which began to bring greater numbers of Muslim immigrants to America’s shores. But the growing embrace of multiculturalism has largely militated against the widespread use of “Abrahamic” as a descriptor of American identity. Proponents and opponents of these terms have vigorously debated their strengths and weaknesses, their uses and abuses. Yet, despite the controversies over their meaning and relevance, “Judeo-Christian” and “Abrahamic” remain important ways of describing aspects of the American landscape in a multireligious age.

Keywords: Judeo-Christian, Abrahamic, pluralism, secularism, multiculturalism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, monotheism, democracy, national identity

The terms “Judeo-Christian” and “Abrahamic” are collective religious descriptors that identify points of theological, historical, and ethical commonality between the world’s largest monotheistic religious traditions. “Judeo-Christian” refers to the ground shared by Judaism and Christianity; “Abrahamic” designates elements common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These terms have most often appeared in three contexts. First, scholars of religion have used them for technical, descriptive purposes, to denote the aforementioned religious traditions and the commitments they share. Second, interfaith advocates have employed the terms to identify the particular ecumenical task of cultivating harmonious relations between these three traditions. Finally, in wider public discourses, they have served as descriptors of the religious character of American culture, democracy, and/or national identity.

This article will explore the careers of “Judeo-Christian” and “Abrahamic” constructions in American public life from the 1930s up to the present day. Although these terms have important antecedents prior to the 20th century, the focus here is less on their points of origin among 19th-century scholars and more on their public meanings and functions in the periods of their most widespread use. As descriptors of America’s religious identity, the terms “Judeo-Christian” and “Abrahamic” share a common function. Each offers a religiously pluralistic alternative to more homogenous conceptions of the United States as a nation defined by Protestantism, Christianity, or secularism.1

From the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s, Judeo-Christian terminology figured centrally in American public discourse and largely set the parameters of debates over the nation’s religious identity. Since then, many religious thinkers and interfaith leaders have assumed that “Abrahamic” would simply replace “Judeo-Christian” as a descriptor of America’s religious identity. Yet, to date, “Judeo-Christian” continues to enjoy far more currency in popular usage than “Abrahamic,” especially beyond circles of scholars, theologians, and interfaith activists. It remains to be seen whether this gap will narrow in the coming years, as Americans continue grappling with the growing religious diversity that has resulted from the loosening of immigration restrictions in 1965 and, more generally, global population movements. But if the historical record is a reliable guide, specific political, demographic, and cultural preconditions would likely need to be met for “Abrahamic” to become as widely associated with American democracy and national identity as “Judeo-Christian” has been since the middle decades of the 20th century.

The Abrahamic framework rests on the fact that Jews, Christians, and Muslims each trace their lineages directly to the covenant between God and Abraham described in Genesis. For Jews and Christians, the line of descent runs through Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah. Muslims, by contrast, trace their lineage through Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar. The idea of an Abrahamic tradition focuses on the shared descent from Abraham, along with a set of basic theological commitments—starting with monotheism, the worship of a single transcendent God—associated with the Abrahamic covenant between God and the Israelites.

Beginning in the 1970s, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim commentators began to draw on the shared Abrahamic lineage as a conceptual resource in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. Like its unwieldy analogue, the doubly hyphenated adjective “Judeo-Christian-Islamic,” the Abrahamic framework aimed to replicate the postwar reach of Judeo-Christian rhetoric in fostering the entry of religious minorities into the American cultural mainstream by stressing the familial ties between the faith communities. As in the Judeo-Christian interfaith efforts of the mid-20th century, Abrahamic ecumenists sought to foster brotherhood between religious groups—in this case, Muslims as well as Christians and Jews—by emphasizing their historical continuities.

At two moments in American history—first during the Middle Eastern conflicts and peace initiatives of the late 1970s and again after 9/11—Abrahamic terminology spiked in a manner that suggested it might gain significant cultural momentum. But in each instance, its popularity was short lived. In an increasingly diverse nation that is gradually becoming more comfortable with the fact of this diversity, there are good reasons to suspect that “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” and “Abrahamic” will remain specialized terms of art rather than influential keywords in popular discourse. More inclusive terms, such as “multireligious” and “interfaith,” tend to prevail in American public discourse today, although a significant portion of the population still regards the United States as a Christian nation.

At the same time, a Christian suspicion of Islam dating back to the Crusades, coupled with more recent associations of the Middle East with terrorist violence, still impacts the thinking of many Americans about the relationship between Muslims and liberal democracy. For these reasons and many others, Islamophobia—including suspicion of the homegrown “Black Muslims” of the Nation of Islam as well as Muslims of foreign origin—has been a powerful force in American culture since the 19th century.2

The remarkable power of Judeo-Christian rhetoric in its heyday reflected not only its assertion of equity among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews but also its congruence with demographic realities and its association with a series of widely endorsed cultural projects. Judeo-Christian formulations became a prominent feature of American public discourse amid the struggles of the World War II era and found favor among commentators of many different political and theological persuasions until the 1970s, when Judeo-Christian language became more embattled and increasingly associated with various forms of conservatism, from neo-conservatism to the new Christian Right.

By contrast, the Abrahamic framework has not yet captured the popular imagination to the same extent, despite the desire of many interfaith advocates since the 1970s and 1980s to foster harmonious relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims by underscoring the historical ties and theological common ground these groups share. It has proven difficult for many non-Muslim Americans to embrace Islam, and it remains unclear whether “Abrahamic”—a term that singles out Muslims and ignores Hindus, Buddhists, and other minorities, including unbelievers—will play a decisive role in mitigating that suspicion.

Judeo-Christian Currents

Judeo-Christian rhetoric came into widespread use as a descriptor of American democracy and national identity during the middle decades of the 20th century. From the 1930s to the 1970s, the adjective “Judeo-Christian” routinely appeared in conjunction with nouns such as “democracy,” “nation,” “tradition,” “heritage,” and “civilization.” This way of describing American national identity took off in the era of World War II, when the United States became a global superpower and came to see itself as the keeper of “Western” values in light of Europe’s devastation. At the same time, liberal and moderate Protestant leaders sought to root out anti-Semitism in the wake of the Holocaust, and increasingly to mend divisions with Catholics as well. Like Catholics, many Protestants discerned a looming threat of secularism—in its Soviet form, of course (the phrase “godless Communism” became prominent during the early Cold War era), but also at home, where the Supreme Court alarmed many religious leaders in the late 1940s by strengthening the prevailing interpretation of religious liberty and incorporating Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor of a “wall” between church and state into First Amendment jurisprudence.

The adjective “Judeo-Christian,” in its modern usage, had first made its appearance in American public discourse during the 1930s. Earlier meanings dated back to the early 19th century, when scholars had occasionally used the term for three purposes: to signal cross-faith dynamics (as in the phrase “Judeo-Christian relations”), to specify those early Christians from Jewish rather than Greek backgrounds, or to label marginal religious groups with hybrid Jewish-Christian identities. But in the 1930s, “Judeo-Christian” took on new connotations as American commentatorssought to pin down what distinguished democracy from totalitarianism. It became increasingly common to argue that Hitler aimed to destroy the ethical commitments shared by Christians and Jews alike. Anti-communists added Stalin to the list of those assaulting Judeo-Christian civilization. As a number of prominent American rabbis recognized, the term implied that Nazism threatened not only Europe’s Jews, but also Christians around the world. Jewish leaders such as New York’s Stephen Wise and Louis I. Newman used “Judeo-Christian” with increasing frequency as they urged Americans to intervene on behalf of European Jewry.3

Contrary to the usual scholarly understandings, however, the emerging Judeo-Christian rhetoric was not simply a call for liberalism and toleration against fascism and anti-Semitism. Some of the term’s leading users identified secularism rather than intolerance as the main threat to democracy. For example, many Americans first encountered the language of Judeo-Christianity through columns in the New York Times by the British writer P. W. Wilson. In 1931, Wilson identified the secularizing regimes of the Soviet Union and Turkey as “alternatives to the Judeo-Christian faith.”4 In these polities, he wrote, “religious liberty, as understood in the United States, is denied” and “the state irreligion is Atheism.”5

World War II entrenched the Judeo-Christian concept firmly in American public culture. Both kinds of users—those who defined American democracy in terms of tolerance and a secular public sphere, and those who contrasted democracy to secularism—could agree that the nation was fighting to preserve Judeo-Christian principles. Although rabbis such as Wise and Newman backed away from the new linguistic construct once American intervention was assured, Protestant and Catholic commentators employed the term with growing frequency during the conflict. Meanwhile, military authorities promoted a “tri-faith” conception of American identity as they sought to sustain troop morale and minimize tensions between Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish soldiers.6 By 1945, Americans were quite familiar with the contention that they lived in a Judeo-Christian democracy and were fighting abroad to preserve the core principles of the Judeo-Christian civilization that had produced it.

Like American political culture as a whole, the Judeo-Christian discourse took a rightward turn in the late 1940s and early 1950s. As the Cold War deepened, American commentators increasingly arrayed Judeo-Christianity against secularism rather than intolerance. With fascism defeated and totalitarianism appearing solely in the form of “godless communism,” many observers concluded that unbelief represented the main threat to democracy. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, the argument ran, needed to set aside their differences and join forces against the real threat: militant atheism, which was on the march around the globe. Take the case of the Jewish writer Will Herberg, best known for cementing the image of America as a tri-faith nation in his 1955 classic Protestant-Catholic-Jew. Less than a year earlier, Herberg extolled “The Biblical Basis of American Democracy” to a group that included President Eisenhower and a host of national religious leaders, while calling both secular liberalism and communism “demonic and idolatrous.”7 This argument led many mainline Protestants and a few Jewish theorists to join Catholics in urging more religious content in the public schools and closer cooperation between religious bodies and the state to hold the line against secularization. For example, Herberg, though often viewed today as a liberal pluralist, advocated public funding of religious schools and charged that strict separation had officially established a “secularist counter-religion of naturalism” to which the Founders had explicitly denied public standing.8

At the same time, the Judeo-Christian concept also became caught up in the 1950s religious revival, an immense surge of popular piety that accompanied the early Cold War and McCarthyism. Religious affiliation and attendance skyrocketed after World War II, as political leaders, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens looked anew to the nation’s faith traditions. At the same time, the war had discredited overt anti-Semitism, and anti-Catholicism began to wane in many circles as well. From the military to fraternities to suburban neighborhoods, a tri-faith vision of American national identity took hold in the postwar United States.9 One result was that black civil rights activists, led by Martin Luther King Jr., gained new traction by urging Americans to live up to the Judeo-Christian standards of justice and equality that they touted in their public proclamations.10

The call for civil rights at home, as well as in decolonizing nations around the globe, pressured those who defined American democracy as Judeo-Christian—and thus as the antithesis of “godless Communism”—to end segregation and enact civil rights legislation. In the late 1950s, however, some liberal anti-communists, such as the influential theologian and public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr, became increasingly uncomfortable with the religious nationalism that accompanied much Judeo-Christian rhetoric in the early Cold War years. Niebuhr and a number of others moderated their anti-secularism, conceding that unbelievers had contributed importantly to the American project alongside Judeo-Christian believers.11 Yet the term “Judeo-Christian” continued to serve as the leading description of the nation’s religious identity. On one side, invocations of Judeo-Christianity shaded toward Christian nationalism. On the other, they silently included secularists, and perhaps other religious minorities. But no dominant alternative to Judeo-Christian rhetoric emerged. This conceptual tension persists today, reflecting the logic of the culture wars in which the discourse and the nation have participated since the 1970s.

The same held true after the mid-1960s, even as radical critics explicitly challenged the moral authority of the Judeo-Christian faiths. These figures increasingly laid the failings of American society—entrenched racism, suburban conformity, environmental degradation, and the Vietnam debacle among them—at the doorstep of Judeo-Christian ideals. From the Nation of Islam to environmental activists to the peace movement, a strong, associative logic emerged: If the existing structures and policies reflected Judeo-Christian values, then those values could not be part of the solution. At the same time, Jewish critics, such as the novelist-theologian Arthur A. Cohen in The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition (1970), renewed the charge that Jews shared relatively little theological common ground with their Christian neighbors.12 By the early 1970s, the Judeo-Christian tradition had become strongly associated with an American establishment that was under fire from all sides. Although Judeo-Christian constructions had been contested since their inception, concerted challenges such as Cohen’s reflected someting new: a decisive break in the cultural momentum held by Judeo-Christian descriptors of American identity since their emergence in the mid-20th-century crisis of democracy. Growing numbers of Americans began to question, albeit on several different grounds, the equation of democracy with Judeo-Christianity.

Despite these misgivings, Judeo-Christian formulations did not disappear from the scene. Rather, the rise of the Christian Right and the onset of the culture wars gradually gave the term “Judeo-Christian” a different valence in American public life. A term that had been used by commentators across the political spectrum in mid-20th-century America became a rallying cry for those lamenting the perceived excesses of 1960s and 1970s activists and the growth of multiculturalism. Paeans to America’s Judeo-Christian “tradition” and “civilization” were joined by handwringing about the fate of Judeo-Christian “morality” and “values” in the new, post-1960s America. With the advent of multiculturalism, meanwhile, “Judeo-Christian” gradually fell out of favor among most liberals, given its formal exclusion of non-Western faiths. Since the 1970s, many Americans have abandoned the term upon recognizing that the tri-faith vision of America did not begin to capture the full diversity of the religious landscape. In reality, this had been truer in the 1950s (and even earlier) than many were willing to admit. But by the 1970s, Protestant-Catholic-Jewish America—an imagined nation of WASPs and “white ethnics” created by the massive demographic shifts associated with industrialization between 1880 and 1920—was clearly a thing of the past. The term “Judeo-Christian” came to seem insufficiently inclusive to many progressives, even as it became a touchstone—precisely because it singled out Christians and Jews—for cultural conservatives. Some progressives, however, have retained the term, insisting on its continuing value as a descriptor of America’s historic values even in a multicultural age.

Judeo-Christian formulations became enormously popular in the middle decades of the 20th century because they seemed to capture demographic and historical realities as well as a normative ideal. It was true that the vast majority of Americans came from Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish backgrounds. Meanwhile, most mainstream and liberal Protestants—unlike many theological conservatives—had come to believe that Jews and Catholics could be good Americans. This correspondence between demographic realities and cultural sensibilities lent an aura of truth to the idea that the United States and Europe traced their roots to a coherent “Judeo-Christian tradition.” In many cases, intense fears of secularization reinforced the tendency to believe that practicing Protestants, Catholics, and Jews stood shoulder to shoulder in the defense of democracy. Others worried most about the abridgment of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, under fascism and communism. A variety of factors thus ensured the appeal of Judeo-Christian formulations in the mid-20th-century United States.

Abrahamic Possibilities

The term “Abrahamic” emerged as a possible successor to “Judeo-Christian” in the 1970s. Well before then, scholarly commentators had spoken of the “Abrahamic covenant” and occasionally used “Abrahamic” as a way to denote non-Christian others who were Jews or Muslims. Indeed, in the early 1930s, just as the Judeo-Christian framework began to emerge, the Southern California religious leader J. P. Widney took up the Abrahamic concept in seeking to combine resources from Judaism and Islam with his own metaphysically inflected Methodism.13 But the term did not become culturally salient until the mid-1970s, when many liberals abandoned Judeo-Christian terminology. At that time, many scholars, journalists, and interfaith leaders floated “Abrahamic” as a more inclusive alternative to “Judeo-Christian.”

At its inception in the 1970s, the Abrahamic rhetoric operated outside the framework of the culture wars. Neither the firebrands of the Christian Right nor their liberal opponents focused much attention on the democratic bona fides of Muslims in particular. For religious conservatives, the main threats to Judeo-Christian values were either “secular humanism” or, by the 1980s and 1990s, “multiculturalism.” Their counterparts on the left aimed to include not only Muslims but also Buddhists, Hindus, and unbelievers, as well as African Americans, women, gays, and many other groups not defined in religious terms.

Gradually, however, national leaders began to address the specific question of Islam’s relation to American democracy. Their occasional invocations of a shared Abrahamic heritage drew sustenance from the scattered efforts of scholars, theologians, and interfaith activists seeking to build bridges between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Since al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001, some interpreters have argued that “Abrahamic” should and will replace “Judeo-Christian” as a descriptor of America’s religious identity. But others have doubted that such a particularistic term could take hold in a country as religiously diverse and self-consciously pluralistic as the 21st-century United States.

Interpreters have traced the roots of contemporary Abrahamic interfaith efforts back to the French Islamicist Louis Massignon, whose publications of the 1930s and 1940s stressed the common heritage of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, especially in the prayers of Abraham. Scholars also point to Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate (1965), which expressed the Catholic Church’s admiration for Islam and identified Abraham as a key point of overlap between Christianity and Islam. In the spirit of that document, the Brotherhood of Abraham organization began its interfaith work in Paris in 1967.14

In the 1970s, many Americans encountered a version of Abrahamic discourse through liberation theology, a movement centered on the rights of the poor and oppressed minorities. Among the popularizers of the term “Abrahamic” during this period, Dom Helder Câmara, archbishop of Recife, Brazil, and a renowned liberation theologian, stands out as particularly influential in America and elsewhere. Câmara employed Abrahamic rhetoric primarily to challenge theories of social change centered on large-scale, bureaucratic institutions. Over time, he grew increasingly skeptical that such organizations could liberate the downtrodden. Fortunately, he believed, all human institutions contained “Abrahamic minorities”—those who were “born with an incurable vocation to serve” and who, like Abraham, persistently “hope against all hope.” These prophetic souls, according to Câmara, did the real work of social change.15

Well known to many Americans, Câmara became so outspoken in his defense of human rights and so popular with his followers that Brazilian authorities banned him from speaking to media outlets. Thenceforth, he traveled the globe, becoming a fixture in international anti-poverty and anti-war circles by the early 1970s. In the United States, Câmara’s terminology found its way onto the pages of liberal religious journals such as Christianity and Crisis and Commonweal. He also visited the United States on numerous occasions in the early 1970s. By 1980, the peace activist Colman McCarthy could identify the radical Catholic priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan as part of an “Abrahamic minority” without even mentioning Câmara’s name.16 Câmara’s ideas continued to be widely discussed in ecumenical publications during the 1980s and beyond.

Even as Câmara applied his Abrahamic framework, however, he recognized its limitations in an era of newfound attention to the Global South. As Câmara explained, he chose to invoke the figure of Abraham because Abraham was “respected by Christians, Jews, and Islamic peoples alike.” Yet he also saw the need for “an even more representative symbol,” a “more universal name,” since “Abraham means nothing in the East.”17 Still, despite his cognizance of the limits of Abrahamic terminology, Câmara did much to raise its profile in the United States and elsewhere.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Abrahamic discourse also gained ground due to unrest in the Middle East and corresponding efforts for peace. During his presidency, Jimmy Carter sought to mediate tensions in the region by identifying a common “Judeo-Christian-Islamic heritage” that he believed could foster improved political relations. Carter repeatedly referred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews as the “sons of Abraham.”18 Events such as the Iranian Revolution in 1979 directed American attention toward the Muslim world, shining a national spotlight on the question of interfaith relations.

During this period, scholars began to write books and create institutions under the Abrahamic aegis. For example, Ismail Raji al-Faruqi of Temple University, an eminent scholar of Islam who founded the Islamic Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), convened a “trialogue” of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars at the AAR’s 1979 meeting in New York. In 1982, the papers from that meeting appeared as an edited volume under the title Trialogue of the Abrahamic Faiths.19 That same year, The Children of Abraham, by the New York University Islamicist and former Jesuit priest F. E. Peters, became an instant classic and established Peters as a leading voice in the study of interfaith relations.20 Meanwhile, the Catholic theorist Leonard Swidler, who helped to organize another set of trialogues at Georgetown University from 1978–1982, had adopted the term “Abrahamic” by 1985.21

The emergence of an Abrahamic paradigm among religion scholars in the 1980s found occasional parallels in American public discourse. Both the precise but lengthy term “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” and its more concise cousin “Abrahamic” gained traction during that decade among those who sought a common linguistic framework to describe the largest monotheistic traditions. “We ought to speak of Judeo-Christian-Islamic values,” declared one mid-1980s commentator, “if by that we mean the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.”22

Increasingly, American Muslims themselves began to call for a paradigm shift from the Judeo-Christian to the Abrahamic. For instance, in a letter to the Christian Science Monitor, Anisa Mehdi applauded interfaith organizations for helping to reduce anti-Semitism but called on Americans to likewise “bridge the Judeo-Christian-Islamic gap” through educational efforts.23 At roughly the same time, her father, the Iraqi-born activist Mohammad T. Mehdi, urged the National Council of Christians and Jews to broaden its name and membership to include Muslims. Such a “tri-faith” approach, the elder Mehdi argued, would foster “stronger ties amongst all the monotheistic religions.”24 The NCCJ added a Muslim to its executive board in 1990, but the group resisted calls to change its name, at least for the time being. Prompted in part by the NCCJ’s initial unwillingness to incorporate Muslims into the group’s title, Mehdi spoke out against what he saw as “a Judeo-Christian pattern of prejudice and discrimination against Islam” that functioned “to keep Islam outside the mainstream of American life.”25 Still, Muslim Americans and interfaith activists continued to articulate Abrahamic visions of their nation’s religious identity. By the early 1990s, members of the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East could identify peace as “a moral imperative of our common Abrahamic faith.”26

As the culture wars crested in the 1990s, controversy continued to swirl around the terms “Abrahamic” and “Judeo-Christian-Islamic.” Some interpreters, including Afrocentric scholars, preferred the latter phrasing because it highlighted Islam’s equality with Judaism and Christianity and preserved a clear degree of separation between the traditions.27 So, too, did the Islamicist John L. Esposito, who worried in The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (1992) that Islam might replace communism as the West’s global nemesis. Esposito, who later founded Georgetown’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, helped to popularize the idea of a “Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition” in his efforts to deepen American understandings of Islam.28 But other commentators, such as the conservative word guru William Safire, made light of the new spirit of inclusion. After the evangelical leader Pat Buchanan sought to reach Jewish voters by adopting Judeo-Christian language, Safire attempted to lighten the mood by highlighting a liberal critic’s invocation of “our Judeo-Christian-Islamic heritage.” Safire quipped, “If anybody feels left out, we’ve got some more hyphens.”29 But others did feel left out, and they became increasingly vocal as the 1990s wore on.

To be sure, such critical voices did not drown out calls for Abrahamic terminology during the 1990s. For instance, in a 1995 article aimed at journalists writing on religion, Jessica Crist and Imam Talal Eid set out the following rule of thumb: “One should properly speak of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, for Islam shares with other Abrahamic religions their sacred history, basic ethical teachings in the Ten Commandments and, above all, belief in One God.”30 However, despite such efforts, the Abrahamic concept had made only limited inroads in American public discourse as the 20th century drew to a close. It is revealing that the NCCJ chose a path beyond specifically religious inclusion when it finally changed its name. Rather than specifying the faiths among which it sought to improve relations, the group employed the vague moniker “National Conference” for a number of years and then settled on “National Conference for Community and Justice.”

Doubts about the sufficiency of Abrahamic terminology carried over into the first years of the new century. Scholars and citizens found themselves divided on the future of the Abrahamic paradigm. A particularly influential voice in the conversation on the eve of 9/11 was that of Professor Diana Eck, Founder and Director of Harvard University’s Pluralism Project. Eck’s acclaimed book A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation appeared in June 2001. There, Eck argued that the religion clauses of the First Amendment “provide the guidelines for something far more valuable than a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation. They provide the guidelines for a multireligious nation, the likes of which the world has rarely seen.”31 Elsewhere, however, Abrahamic language seemed to be gaining momentum immediately prior to 9/11. In March 2001, founder Steven Waldman observed that Christians from across the political and theological spectrums had begun using Abrahamic terminology. “Many Christians, even some conservative Protestants,” observed Waldman, “embrace a limited form of pluralism, tending to be tolerant not only of Christianity but also of Judaism—the religion of Jesus and the Old Testament—and increasingly, Islam. More and more, one hears the academic phrase ‘Abrahamic tradition’ rather than the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ [as] a way of embracing Muslims, who trace their theological heritage to Abraham.”32 Thus, popular and scholarly interpreters disagreed on whether America had entered the 21st century as an Abrahamic nation or a multireligious one.

The events of September 11, 2001, irrevocably changed the public conversation by catapulting Islam to the forefront of American understandings of the world. In the days and weeks after 9/11, attention turned to questions of religious identity. For instance, writing in the immediate aftermath of the attack, columnist Jane Eisner noted the scholarly preoccupation with the transformation of “Judeo-Christian America” into “Abrahamic America.” What had previously been merely “an interesting academic question,” she observed, now posed a challenge to the nation “as pressing and complex as the cleanup of Lower Manhattan.”33

Although many conservatives sharply criticized Islam after 9/11, others—including President George W. Bush—emphasized that the vast majority of Muslims the world over were peace-loving people and decried efforts to hold them collectively responsible for the extreme actions of a few of their coreligionists. Bush is widely credited for tamping down anti-Muslim sentiment following the attacks, as he reached out to Islamic leaders—for example, by visiting the Islamic Center in Washington a week after 9/11—and repeatedly stressed that “Islam is peace,” a religion “based upon love, not hate.”34 Bush wagered that setting a positive example for others to follow would deter acts of violent retribution against American Muslims. Yet scholars noted the profoundly negative impact of 9/11 on Muslim efforts to carve out “a place for themselves in the American kaleidoscope.” Before that day, one influential volume lamented, Muslims had made real progress toward “full participation in the American system.” But 9/11 had created “a significant backlash on the Muslim community” and “put a damper” on its quest for inclusion.35

Still, Abrahamic terminology flourished in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks, as commentators and ordinary citizens struggled to make sense of what had transpired and clarify Islam’s relation to American democracy. The Episcopal leader Barbara Brown Taylor explained in the Christian Century that “many of us who are exploring our relationship to one another have decided to ditch the hyphens altogether. We are speaking of ‘the Abrahamic tradition’ instead.”36 In December of 2001, National Geographic ran a cover story on “Abraham: Father of Three Faiths.”37 As the one-year anniversary of 9/11 approached, Time featured the prophet Abraham on its cover in conjunction with the publication of Bruce Feiler’s influential book Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.38 The lengthy story inside identified Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as the children of a common “father” and asked whether Abraham could also be their “peacemaker.”39 If “the ‘Judeo-Christian-Islamic’ tradition begins to take on the authority of antiquity,” warned the religion scholar Stephen Prothero in December 2001, “remember it got its start not with Moses or Jesus or Muhammad but with Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush.”40

Yet, even as Abrahamic rhetoric appeared with increasing frequency after 9/11, it did not capture the popular imagination as Judeo-Christian terminology had during World War II. “Abrahamic America is already starting to stress at the seams,” Prothero declared. On one side, conservative Protestants such as the Reverend Franklin Graham (son of the famed postwar revivalist Billy Graham) insisted that Muslims worshipped “a different God” than did Jews and Christians, and that Islam was “a very evil and wicked religion.” On the other, non-Abrahamic religious groups protested their exclusion from the high-profile expressions of civil religion that followed 9/11. If the monotheism of the Abrahamic religions stood in a unique relationship to American democracy, as many public proclamations seemed to suggest, than what of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other non-monotheistic faiths—let alone non-theists? Following a memorial event at the National Cathedral in Washington, the University of Florida’s Vasudha Narayanan, a Hindu scholar whose nephew had died in the World Trade Center attack, wrote, “There is more to America than the ‘Abrahamic’ religions, and people do go to places other than a church, synagogue, or mosque to pray.”41 The Hindu International Council Against Defamation petitioned Bush to include Hindus in his invocations of American religiosity.42

Still, the use of Abrahamic terminology steadily spread as the post-9/11 era opened. Jane Lampman of the Christian Science Monitor identified a decisive turn to interfaith engagement during those years, citing a growing awareness of “the great gaps in understanding and heightened tensions among Muslims, Christians, and Jews at home and abroad.” After 9/11, she wrote, Americans recognized “the need to build bridges and strengthen moderate voices” and thus began “experimenting with what some call ‘Abrahamic dialogue.’”43 Indeed, “Abraham salons” and “Daughters of Abraham” book clubs flourished as citizens explored Islam’s role in American culture.44 Bruce Feiler wrote a study guide for use in the salons, which were accompanied by a series of “Abraham summits” of prominent religious commentators.45 In Seattle, a troika of religious leaders dubbed themselves “the Three Interfaith Amigos” and worked to bring Muslims into the long-running interfaith dialogue between Christians and Jews. Such grassroots efforts cropped up around the country. Although such activism largely remained confined to the circles of interfaith theorists and leaders, it took new forms after al-Qaeda’s attacks, with ordinary citizens increasingly joining religious leaders in pursuing dialogue.46

Encouraged by these trends, Muslim leaders made a concerted effort to promote the Abrahamic framework in the wake of 9/11. In May of 2003, the nation’s top Muslim organizations—including the American Muslim Alliance, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim American Society, and the American Muslim Council—implored Americans to “stop using the phrase ‘Judeo-Christian’ when describing the values and character that define the United States” and to say instead “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” or “Abrahamic.” This especially applied, one spokesperson elaborated, to “the media, academia, statements by politicians and comments made in churches, synagogues and other places.” Although conservatives dismissed the proposal as “political correctness and revisionist history” run amok, the initiative promoted greater awareness of the limits of Judeo-Christian terminology.47 Later that year, in a widely discussed interview, Secretary of State Colin Powell made passing reference to America as a Judeo-Christian nation, then quickly caught himself and called America “a country of many faiths.” The press jumped on Powell’s original statement, conjecturing that his remarks could “antagonize millions of American Muslims, most of whom want to be included in the mainstream. Some American Muslims,” they added, “have coined the term Judeo-Christian-Islamic to reflect their ideal of what the United States should be.”48

Muslim leaders emphasized the need to build bridges after 9/11. Like many of their Jewish predecessors in the late 1930s, they identified both historical continuities and ethical common ground between the Abrahamic faiths. For example, a group of Muslim Congressional staffers—overwhelmingly Democrats—worked to sensitize politicians to Islam’s status as “an Abrahamic religion that shares roots with Christianity and Judaism.”49 Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of a mosque near the World Trade Center, went further. He discerned a common foundation of “Abrahamic ethics” in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, rooted in the commandments to love God and to love one’s neighbor. “Muslims around the world believe in the principles that undergird American governance and want it for themselves,” Rauf emphasized, noting the long queue for American visas. Indeed, Rauf called the United States “substantively an ‘Islamic’ country,” in the sense that its “systems remarkably embody the principles that Islamic law requires of a government.” He predicted that Muslims would, like Jews and Catholics before them, increasingly reconcile themselves to the specific American expressions of those shared Abrahamic principles, including church-state separation and capitalist economics.50 As Rosemary Corbett puts it, Rauf awaited the day “when Muslims become more American and when other Americans recognize that Protestant-turned-Judeo-Christian ethics are, and always were, Abrahamic ones.”51

Yet many critics continued to find Abrahamic constructions of American religious identity either too broad or too narrow for their purposes. On the one side, the National Association of Evangelicals and figures such as the conservative Catholic commentator Richard John Neuhaus decried attempts by liberal groups such as the National Council of Churches to replace “Judeo-Christian” with “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” or “Abrahamic.” Giving into this multicultural impulse, Neuhaus warned, would only hasten the devolution of American religious identity into an absurdity—the United States as a “Judeo-Christian-Buddhist-Hindu-Islamic-Agnostic-Atheist society.”52 A reviewer of the 2005 documentary “Three Faiths, One God: Judaism, Christianity, Islam” satirically dismissed the film as an attempt “to prove that the three world faiths involved in current global conflicts are really one big religion. So let’s just call ourselves Abrahamic, shake hands and relax.”53 At the same time, however, other commentators repeated the charge that Abrahamic rhetoric was unnecessarily restrictive. “America is no longer Judeo-Christian,” wrote the Boston College political scientist Alan Wolfe, but “‘Abrahamic,’ a term invented to include Muslims along with Christians and Jews, excludes Buddhists and Sikhs.”54

For these reasons, among others, the significant uptick in Abrahamic rhetoric that followed 9/11 had slowed by the time Barack Obama took office in early 2009. This likely stemmed, in part, from the attention paid to Obama’s Muslim forebears and the corresponding fear of many conservatives that the president himself could be an entering wedge for Islamist terror. Such factors would have made it virtually impossible for Obama to champion an Abrahamic vision of America, had he wanted to do so. Ironically, the conservative Protestant Bush found himself in a stronger position to advocate for American Muslims than did Obama, a liberal Protestant with Muslim family ties. On occasion, as in a Cairo speech of June 2009, Obama emphasized the relations between the Abrahamic faiths.55 But it was not until February of 2016, seven years into his presidency, that he visited a mosque.

In his public statements, Obama defined the United States in a broadly inclusive manner. His 2009 inaugural, for example, portrayed “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”56 The United States, he specified a few months later, features a “very large Christian population,” but Americans were “a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values,” not “a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.” Obama’s interpretation stirred controversy among conservative critics such as Republican Congressman J. Randy Forbes, who defined the nation in Judeo-Christian terms.57 Likewise, Obama’s Republican opponent in 2012, the Mormon Mitt Romney, repeatedly invoked “Judeo-Christian values” as he sought to attract Protestant evangelicals to his candidacy.58 One Baptist leader, however, resisted the comparison of his faith with Mormonism and called the latter a “fourth Abrahamic religion” outside the Judeo-Christian umbrella.59

By the time Obama took office, the specific impulse toward Abrahamic reconciliation that followed 9/11 also seemed to be waning, in the face of both Judeo-Christian conservatism and a newfound appreciation for the complexity of the American religious landscape. Scholars such as Wolfe and Prothero, who had taken seriously the prospect of an Abrahamic America in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, continued to stress the framework’s limits. Indeed, Prothero now dismissed both Judeo-Christian and Abrahamic conceptions of American national identity as simply “rear-guard efforts to keep the Christian America model alive” and predicted that the growth of other religious minorities alongside Muslims would doom such initiatives.60 Among conservative nationalists such as Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, meanwhile, the continued spread of Christian Zionism has given new force to Judeo-Christian constructions in American political life. Bannon employs the rubric “the Judeo-Christian West” for a synergism of capitalism and religion.

Despite its many powerful defenders, then, the Abrahamic paradigm has continued to face significant obstacles that its Judeo-Christian predecessor seldom confronted. Foremost among them has been the trend toward globalization in the 21st century. “Initially, 9/11 made many Americans more open to Islam and more accepting of Muslims,” noted Prothero on the ten-year anniversary of the 2001 attacks. “Sales of Qurans skyrocketed, as did enrollments in college courses on Islam. No worship service was truly interfaith unless an imam stood to offer up a prayer. For a while,” he continued, “it seemed as though America’s three great faiths were no longer Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism but Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” However, during the same period, the number of Americans viewing Islam unfavorably grew from roughly one-third of the population in 2002 to over half by 2010. Prothero concluded that efforts to “integrate Islam” into the Judeo-Christian consensus by “reimagining America as a Judeo-Christian-Islamic country” had failed.61

Other scholars of religion took a similarly dim view of the prospects for Abrahamic terminology. In his 2012 book Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the Hebrew Bible scholar Jon Levenson, of Harvard Divinity School, analyzed the scriptures of the three traditions to show that each had its own distinct understanding of Abraham. “There is no neutral Abraham to whom appeal can be made to set aside the authoritative documents and traditions of the separate Abrahamic religions,” he declared.62 “In short,” Levenson put it elsewhere, “as problematic as is the idea of a Judeo-Christian tradition, efforts to expand it into a Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition are more problematic still.” In Levenson’s view, participants in interfaith dialogue should not seek “to reduce the divergences among the three religions to an Abrahamic lowest common denominator” but should instead try “dealing with them in honesty and good faith” in order to foster “interreligious understanding.”63 Religious studies scholar Aaron Hughes also questioned the Abrahamic framework in his 2012 book Abrahamic Religions, noting the long history of battles between Christians, Jews, and Muslims over how to represent Abraham and position their faiths in relation to him. Indeed, Hughes pushed his emphasis on diversity further, questioning whether one could even find singular, coherent traditions called Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, let alone assert common ground between them.64

Countering these skeptical voices are other scholars of religion who believe the Abrahamic paradigm has either already arrived or still holds great promise. The University of Wisconsin’s Ulrich Rosenhagen, observing that “Judeo-Christianity no longer adequately describes the American religious family,” proposed in a 2015 Christian Century article that the United States was witnessing “the dawn of the Abrahamic paradigm, encompassing Muslims as well.” Rosenhagen identified Abrahamic language as “a promising new foundation for civic discourse and interfaith understanding.”65 Likewise, the famed sociologist of religion Peter Berger, in a 2015 blog post for The American Interest, posited a “recent shift from ‘Judeo-Christian’ to ‘Abrahamic.’” Berger noted that the Abrahamic framework had proved particularly helpful for “countering the anti-Muslim sentiments stoked by the likes of Donald Trump.”66 It may have been a telling sign of the times, however, that the University of Wisconsin’s Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions closed its doors in 2016, giving way to a new Center for Religion and Global Citizenry under Rosenhagen’s leadership with a broader title and mission than its predecessor.67

The growing religious diversity of the United States thus fuels ongoing debate over whether democracy requires a religious foundation, and if so, what kind. In the heat of the 2016 presidential race, the journalist Tom Gjelten predicted that by 2017 the United States would likely be “as polarized as it has been at any time in the last century,” even while becoming “a nation of far more diverse ancestry, faith traditions, and complexion.” Muslims, wrote Gjelten, more than any other new group, have “tested the limits of American tolerance” and “challenged the prevailing culture.” Islam, “now the fastest growing religion in the country,” belongs to the Abrahamic fold, Gjelten observed. Yet, at the same time, “it stands apart from the Judeo-Christian heritage” celebrated by so many conservatives, “and many Americans regard it as a religion alien to American traditions.”68 The prevalence of such views, and the resulting anxieties about the rapid growth of America’s Muslim population, helped to catapult Donald Trump into office in 2016.

Even as this suspicion of Islam works against Abrahamic terminology in conservative circles, it may heighten the appeal of Abrahamic formulations among more liberal Americans. Ironically, President Trump has managed to single-handedly reinvigorate the interfaith movement. As Bruce Feiler pointed out, Trump’s controversial attempt to ban Syrian refugees and immigrants from some Muslim-majority countries during the early months of his presidency turned out to be “the biggest boon to interfaith relations in decades.” Feiler called it “relatively unheard of in the long history of religion” that “thousands of people would take to the streets in impromptu, grass-roots protests to defend not their own religious traditions but those of a beleaguered minority . . . That the religion being defended is not just any tradition, but one widely disparaged in recent years from pulpits and campaign platforms as evil incarnate[,] makes it even more remarkable.”69

Experts remain divided on what the future will hold. As Prothero explained in a piece on Obama’s mosque visit, “For a while after 9/11, it seemed as if the nation’s informal religious establishment, which had previously morphed from Protestant to Christian to Judeo-Christian, was poised to become ‘Abrahamic,’ embracing Judaism, Christianity and Islam as three branches of a common faith.” More recently, the fate of Abrahamic terminology has seemed less certain. Still, Prothero and other religion scholars express optimism about the long-term future of Muslims in America, if not the Abrahamic framework itself. According to Prothero, the historical record suggests that in time, with or without Abrahamic terminology, “our Muslim population will grow large enough and the American principle of liberty will resound loudly enough and Muslims will be included in the American family.”70 This historically informed prediction does not, by any means, rule out future conflict around terminology. However, it makes the question of Muslims’ acceptance in American society, and full participation in democratic processes, less a matter of “if” than of “how” and “when.”

Review of the Literature

Although earlier works by the likes of Arthur A. Cohen provided some historical details about Judeo-Christian rhetoric, the scholar and journalist Mark Silk initiated the systematic historical study of that discourse in an important 1984 article entitled “Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition in America.” Silk traced the discourse's emergence to the period from the late 1930s to the 1950s, noting its utility as a rebuttal to the ethnic and religious nationalism of Europe’s fascist regimes. More recent interpreters have focused on the same time period, exploring how various institutional settings, from the military to fraternities to the New York World’s Fair, fostered the emergence of a “tri-faith” understanding of the United States as a nation comprised of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Little of this work, however, specifies when historical actors employed the term “Judeo-Christian” to describe this tri-faith model of national identity and when—as was surprisingly often the case—they did not.71

Moreover, historians have generally assumed that Judeo-Christian rhetoric emerged as a thoroughly pluralistic response to fascism, taking shape when Jews and their liberal allies mobilized against Hitler in the name of religious and intellectual freedom. Although Silk briefly acknowledged political and theological conflicts over the validity of the “Judeo-Christian” construct, historians have not yet understood the degree to which more theologically and culturally conservative commentators employed Judeo-Christian terminology to argue that democracy rested on substantive religious foundations; to single out Christianity and Judaism as uniquely capable of sustaining those religious foundations; and to identify “secularists” and “secularism” as corrosive forces in a democracy—indeed, as harbingers of moral relativism and totalitarianism.

Finally, historians have yet to systematically explore the latter half of that period from the 1930s into the 1970s in when there was a high degree of consensus that the United States was a tri-faith nation. It has been generally assumed that theological and political conservatives co-opted a previously liberal, pluralistic concept as the contemporary religious right got off the ground in the wake of the 1960s. But the story is more complex than that. We also need to understand how the more conservative, exclusive uses of Judeo-Christian discourse helped to sour many liberals and progressives on that framework in the 1960s and 1970s, and more generally how that framework has operated in American political culture since the Eisenhower years.

Meanwhile, close terminological analysis of “Abrahamic” discourse—as opposed to critical commentary on its validity—has just begun. Mark Silk has once again done pioneering work in a recent encyclopedia article, although he focuses primarily on early scholarly uses of the term and has less to say about its recent rise in popularity. We still have much to learn about the career of this influential but controversial discourse, especially in the period since the attacks of 9/11 focused attention on Islam’s relation to the American project.72

Further Reading

Chappell, David L. A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.Find this resource:

    Corbett, Rosemary R. Making Moderate Islam: Sufism, Service, and the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017.Find this resource:

      Eck, Diana L.. A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. New York: HarperOne, 2001.Find this resource:

        Feiler, Bruce S. Abraham: A Journey Into the Heart of Three Faiths. New York: W. Morrow, 2002.Find this resource:

          Gaston, K. Healan. “Interpreting Judeo-Christianity in America,” Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 2, no. 2 (November 2012).Find this resource:

            Gaston, K. Healan. Imagining Judeo-Christian America: Religion, Secularism, and the Redefinition of Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming.Find this resource:

              Gleason, Philip. Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

                Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, Jane I. Smith, and John L. Esposito, eds. Religion and Immigration: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Experiences in the United States. New York: AltaMira, 2003.Find this resource:

                  Hollinger, David A. Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. Revised and updated ed. New York: Basic Books, 2005.Find this resource:

                    Hughes, Aaron W. Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

                      Hutchison, William R. Religious Pluralism in America: The Contested History of a Founding Ideal. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

                        Levenson, Jon D. Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

                          McGreevy, John T. Catholicism and American Freedom: A History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003.Find this resource:

                            Moore, Deborah Dash. “Jewish GIs and the Creation of the Judeo-Christian Tradition.” Religion and American Culture 8, no. 1 (Winter 1998): 31–53.Find this resource:

                              Moore, Deborah Dash. GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                                Moore, R. Laurence. Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

                                  Peters, F. E. The Children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.Find this resource:

                                    Prothero, Stephen. American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.Find this resource:

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

                                        Rosenhagen, Ulrich. “One Abraham or Three? The Conversation Between the Faiths.” Christian Century (December 9, 2015): 30–33.Find this resource:

                                          Schultz, Kevin. Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

                                            Silk, Mark. “Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition in America,” American Quarterly 36, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 65–85.Find this resource:

                                              Silk, Mark. Spiritual Politics: Religion and America Since World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.Find this resource:

                                                Silk, Mark. “The Abrahamic Religions as a Modern Concept.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Abrahamic Religions. Edited by Adam J. Silverstein and Guy G. Stroumsa, 71–87. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

                                                  Todd, J. Terry. “The Temple of Religion and the Politics of Religious Pluralism: Judeo-Christian America at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair.” In After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement. Edited by Courtney Bender and Pamela E. Klassen, 201–224. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.Find this resource:


                                                    (1.) Two examples of a discourse-oriented approach are Mark Silk, “The Abrahamic Religions as a Modern Concept,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Abrahamic Religions, eds. Adam J. Silverstein and Guy G. Stroumsa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 71–87; and K. Healan Gaston, “Interpreting Judeo-Christianity in America,” Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 2, no. 2 (November 2012).

                                                    (2.) Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East Since 1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Timothy Marr, The Cultural Roots of American Islamicism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Rosemary R. Corbett, Making Moderate Islam: Sufism, Service, and the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017). A forceful statement of suspicion by a prominent scholar is Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

                                                    (3.) For representative examples, see “Jewish Sermons Plead for Peace,” New York Times, December 26, 1937, 32; “Hope of Protest on Terrorism Seen,” New York Times, October 23, 1938, 21; “Democracy’s Crisis is Theme of Rabbis,” New York Times, April 9, 1939, G6; “Decalogue Held Antidote to War,” New York Times, January 28, 1940, 12; “Pitiless Nazism Scored by Rabbis,” New York Times, May 5, 1940, 27; “Rabbis Invoke Aid of God for Britain,” New York Times, September 29, 1940, 6; and “Rabbis Bid World to Repent Its Sins,” New York Times, October 12, 1940, 17.

                                                    (4.) P. W. Wilson, “An Epic View of Christianity,” New York Times, December 20, 1931, BR19.

                                                    (5.) P. W. Wilson, “The World Stirred By Religious Strife,” New York Times, September 24, 1933, SM9.

                                                    (6.) Deborah Dash Moore, GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).

                                                    (7.) Will Herberg, “The Biblical Basis of American Democracy,” Thought 30, no. 1 (Spring 1955): 49.

                                                    (8.) Will Herberg, “The Sectarian Conflict over Church and State,” Commentary 14, no. 3 (November 1952): 455–456. On Herberg, see especially K. Healan Gaston, “The Cold War Romance of Religious Authenticity: Will Herberg, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Rise of the New Conservatism,” Journal of American History 99, no. 4 (March 2013).

                                                    (9.) Moore, GI Jews; and Kevin Schultz, Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

                                                    (10.) Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000); and David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

                                                    (11.) Reinhold Niebuhr, Pious and Secular America (New York: Scribner, 1958).

                                                    (12.) Arthur A. Cohen, The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).

                                                    (13.) Silk, “The Abrahamic Religions as a Modern Concept.”

                                                    (14.) Silk, “The Abrahamic Religions as a Modern Concept”; and Ulrich Rosenhagen, “One Abraham or Three? The Conversation Between the Faiths,” Christian Century (December 9, 2015): 30–33.

                                                    (15.) Lewis Diuguid, “Prelate Seeks Social Reform,” Washington Post, May 22, 1971, B5.

                                                    (16.) Colman McCarthy, “But the Berrigans Haven’t Changed,” Washington Post, October 16, 1980, A19.

                                                    (17.) Diuguid, “Prelate Seeks Social Reform”; and Dom Helder Câmara, Dom Helder Câmara: Essential Writings (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009).

                                                    (18.) For a fuller statement of Carter’s views, see his The Blood of Abraham (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985).

                                                    (19.) Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, ed., Trialogue of the Abrahamic Faiths: Papers Presented to the Islamic Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion (Washington, DC: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982).

                                                    (20.) F. E. Peters, The Children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982).

                                                    (21.) Aaron W. Hughes, Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 93; and Leonard Swidler, “Interreligious Dialogue: A Christian Necessity. Who Are our Partners?” CrossCurrents 35, no. 2–3 (Summer–Fall 1985): 129–147. See also Swidler, “Islam and the Trialogue of Abrahamic Religions,” CrossCurrents 42, no. 4 (Winter 1992–1993): 444–452.

                                                    (22.) Laurence Pope, “Flickers of Our Anti-Islam Bigotry,” Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1985, C5.

                                                    (23.) Anisa Mehdi, letter to the editor, Christian Science Monitor, February 8, 1985, 20.

                                                    (24.) “Muslims Ask Inclusion in Ecumenical Groups,” Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1986, A5.

                                                    (25.) Quoted in “U.S. Biased Against Islam, Muslim Leader Says,” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1990, F15.

                                                    (26.) “The Faiths Must Unite to Press a Vision of Peace: Jews, Christians and Muslims,” Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1990, B5.

                                                    (27.) Audrey Clinton, “In Celebration of Black History Month,” Newsday (February 7, 1986): B29.

                                                    (28.) John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 5.

                                                    (29.) William Safire, “Hyphenated Heritage,” New York Times, May 7, 1995, SM32.

                                                    (30.) Jessica Crist and Imam Talal Eid, “First, Learn Some Basics About Religion,” Nieman Reports (September 22, 1995): 75.

                                                    (31.) Diana L. Eck, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 384.

                                                    (32.) Steven Waldman, “Doubts Among the Faithful,” New York Times, March 7, 2001, A19.

                                                    (33.) Jane R. Eisner, “Rethinking Islam’s Place in American Society,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 16, 2001, C11.

                                                    (34.) Quoted in Stephen Prothero, “How 9/11 Changed Religion in America,” USA Today, September 12, 2011.

                                                    (35.) Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith, and John L. Esposito, eds., Religion and Immigration: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Experiences in the United States (New York: AltaMira, 2003), 2–3.

                                                    (36.) Barbara Brown Taylor, “Abraham’s Brood: Abraham Had Eight Sons, Not One,” Christian Century (September 11, 2002).

                                                    (37.) “Abraham: Father of Three Faiths,” National Geographic 200.6 (December 2001).

                                                    (38.) Bruce S. Feiler, Abraham: A Journey Into the Heart of Three Faiths (New York: W. Morrow, 2002).

                                                    (39.) David Van Biema, “The Legacy of Abraham,” Time 160, no. 14 (September 30, 2002): 64.

                                                    (40.) Stephen Prothero, “Love Bombs at Home: A New Holy Trinity Tradition: Judeo-Christian-Islamic,” Wall Street Journal, December 13, 2001.

                                                    (41.) Prothero, “Love Bombs at Home.”

                                                    (42.) Jacqueline Hagan and Prema A. Kurien, “Multiculturalism and ‘American’ Religion: The Case of Hindu Indian Americans,” Social Forces 85, no. 2 (2006): 723–741.

                                                    (43.) Jane Lampman, “Abrahamic Faiths Crack the Door to Deeper Dialogue,” Christian Science Monitor (June 19, 2003): 17.

                                                    (44.) Jane Lampman, “Exploring the Power of Abraham’s Legacy,” Christian Science Monitor (October 17, 2002): 15.

                                                    (45.) Lampman, “Exploring the Power of Abraham’s Legacy.”

                                                    (46.) Amy Frykholm, “Grassroots Interfaith Efforts . . . Seattle’s Interfaith Amigos: Three Faiths, Three Friends,” Christian Century (August 26, 2008).

                                                    (47.) “‘Judeo-Christian’ Label Assailed,” Washington Post, May 17, 2003, B09.

                                                    (48.) “Powell Calls U.S. ‘Judeo-Christian,’ Then Amends,” Reuters News, September 23, 2003.

                                                    (49.) Neela Banerjee, “Religion Journal: Muslim Staff Members on Mission to Educate Congress,” New York Times, June 3, 2006, A11.

                                                    (50.) Jane Lampman, “A Bridge Builder Between America and Islam,” Christian Science Monitor (July 6, 2004): 15.

                                                    (51.) Corbett, Making Moderate Islam, 37.

                                                    (52.) Richard John Neuhaus, “While We’re At It,” First Things 135, no. 7 (August–September 2003): 71–72.

                                                    (53.) Anita Gates, “Looking for Similarities Where Others See Differences,” New York Times, December 17, 2005, B20.

                                                    (54.) Alan Wolfe, “The God of a Diverse People,” New York Times, October 14, 2001, WK13.

                                                    (55.) Rosenhagen, “One Abraham or Three?”

                                                    (56.) Quoted in Stephen Prothero, “Will Americans Accept Islam?” USA Today, September 21, 2009, A9.

                                                    (57.) J. Randy Forbes, “Obama is Wrong When He Says We Are Not a Judeo-Christian Nation,” U.S. News & World Report, May 7, 2009.

                                                    (58.) For example, Daniel Burke, “Romney Appeals to Evangelicals Through Shared ‘Judeo-Christian’ Values,” Religion News Service, September 28, 2011.

                                                    (59.) Richard Land, quoted in Daniel Burke, “‘Judeo-Christian Values’ Provide Romney a Link to GOP Evangelicals,” Christian Century (October 31, 2012): 18–19.

                                                    (60.) Katharine Jefferts Schori, "Reconciliation Is the Episcopal Mission," See also Prothero’s statements in Jay Tolson, “In America, An F in Religion,” U.S. News and World Report 142, no. 12 (April 9, 2007): 28.

                                                    (61.) Prothero, “How 9/11 Changed Religion in America.”

                                                    (62.) Jon D. Levenson, Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 204.

                                                    (63.) Jon D. Levenson, “Honesty About Interfaith Dialogue,” Huffington Post, November 13, 2012.

                                                    (64.) Hughes, Abrahamic Religions.

                                                    (65.) Rosenhagen, “One Abraham or Three?”

                                                    (66.) Peter Berger, “Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic?” The American Interest (December 23, 2015).

                                                    (67.) Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, University of Wisconsin–Madison,

                                                    (68.) Tom Gjelten, “Presidential Leadership: Uniting Behind Exceptionalism,” World Affairs 179, no. 1 (March 22, 2016).

                                                    (69.) Bruce Feiler, “Trump Refugee Ban Bringing Religious Faiths Together,” CNN Wire, February 1, 2017.

                                                    (70.) Stephen Prothero, “Obama to Visit a Mosque, and Wade Deeper into America’s War Over Islam,” CNN Wire, February 2, 2016.

                                                    (71.) Mark Silk, “Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition in America,” American Quarterly 36, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 65–85; Deborah Dash Moore, “Jewish GIs and the Creation of the Judeo-Christian Tradition,” Religion and American Culture 8, no. 1 (Winter 1998): 31–53; J. Terry Todd, “The Temple of Religion and the Politics of Religious Pluralism: Judeo-Christian America at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair,” in After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement, eds. Courtney Bender and Pamela E. Klassen (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 201–224; and Schultz, Tri-Faith America. For a fuller analysis of the literature on Judeo-Christian constructions, see Gaston, “Interpreting Judeo-Christianity in America.”

                                                    (72.) Silk, “The Abrahamic Religions as a Modern Concept.” See also Rosenhagen, “One Abraham or Three?”