Boisi Center Papers on Religion in the United States

The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life is a research institute at Boston College committed to fostering scholarly discussion about the role of religion in the contemporary United States. These papers are provided as a means of better informing the international, interfaith discussion—both scholarly and popular—about the role of religion in the United States. While the initial impetus for these papers was the questions we received from visiting Muslim scholars, we hope they will be useful to anyone who desires an introduction to the status of religion in the United States. We invite all who read them to share them with colleagues and friends and to contact us at the Boisi Center with comments and reactions.




This brief introduction provides background as to why the papers were written and summarizes each of the following four chapters. The papers are intended to be a primer on how religion functions in the United States.

Religious Pluralism in the United States

The apparent discrepancy between high levels of religious identity and an overwhelmingly secular popular culture in the United States can be baffling to outsiders. This paper aims to shed light on that paradox by exploring the role that the country's founding principles and history have played in forging a genuinely pluralistic environment. It will present religious pluralism as a desirable ideal in which Americans continue to place their faith.

Separation of Church and State

Religious belief and practice remain vibrant in the United States despite—or more likely, because of—the separation of church and state. This paper provides an account of the history and current controversies over religious disestablishment. It explains how the constitutional structure of the American government affects religious freedom; and in surveying some of the most important Supreme Court cases dealing with religion, it provides an overview of the status of religious freedom in the United States.

An Introduction to Christian Theology

Thoughtful, constructive interreligious dialogue depends not only upon the openness of the dialogue partners to diverse perspectives, but also upon a reliable foundation of correct information about the various beliefs being discussed. For those who desire a basic understanding of the tenets of Christian faith, this paper offers a brief history of Christianity and summarizes the central Christian beliefs in God, Jesus Christ, the Trinity, the Bible and authority, sin and reconciliation, sacraments, spiritual practices, and ethical living.

Religious Practice in the United States

This paper examines how Americans practice their faith in their everyday lives. It focuses upon the religious practices of American Christians and identifies some similarities with various religious practices of other American religious groups, including Jews and Muslims. In doing so, it illustrates the powerful influence of American cultural ideals, including voluntarism, innovation, and individualism, on religious practice in the United States.

Citing these papers

Below is an example of how we recommend someone cites the Boisi Center papers:

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, “Religious Pluralism in the United States,” vol. 1 of the Boisi Center Papers on Religion in the United States, 2007. [Available at; accessed on January 24, 2009.]