Excerpts from a query: Sent Thu, Jul 22, 8:32 PM — it doesn’t matter who I sent it to, and I have no plans to fool around with a free-standing article, but Mireille Delmas-Marty’s concept of “reciprocal creolization,” a process of cultural blending that involves dialogue and mutual respect for differences, fits in so well with Ulf Hannerz et al., I want to keep it around for possible inclusion in an expanded version of my October 2020 paper on the Augustana Synod. I also blogged about it HERE, in more detail. David Brooks’ comment on the PBS NewsHour also fits into my conceptual framework, as does Delmas-Marty’s reference to the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversivy. Possibly in the conclusions/discussion section?


Is it time to add the prophet Jeremiah to the pantheon of American civil religion? In a time of increased polarization, sectarian strife and white Christian nationalism that tears the fabric of America’s diverse cultural heritage, New York Times columnist David Brooks recently said on the PBS NewsHour that the book of Jeremiah “embraces cultural diversity.” Elsewhere he has suggested that since the time of the Babylonian exile, the Jewish diaspora has been a “creative minority” that maintained a “distinct, orthodox version of [itself] within a larger society” without seeking hegemony. Echoing British Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, he says in the absence of a “unified national narrative,” these minorities in concert can create “a mass multicultural democracy, a society that has no dominant center but is a collection of creative minorities.” 

In this, Brooks echoes not only Sacks but Krister Stendahl of Harvard Divinity School and the Church of Sweden, who once observed at an ecumenical symposium that Jews of the diaspora “knew themselves to be a light to the nations” without making universal claims. Equally important to building cultural diversity is the dialogue and mutual respect inherent in Stendahl’s concept of “holy envy,” popularized recently by Barbara Brown Taylor. This is very close to French jurist Mireille Delmas-Marty’s concept of “reciprocal creolization,” a process of cultural blending that involves dialogue and mutual respect for differences. Citing the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, she says reciprocal dialogue is needed now more than ever as sectarian terrorism, climate change and cascading economic, environmental and epidemiological crises merge into a “single poly-crisis.” It is against this backdrop that Americans must renegotiate the values, memories and shared stories that make up our civil religion, and the kind of cultural diversity envisioned by Brooks, Sacks, Stendhal and Delmas-Marty offers a framework for that dialogue. I would love to write this up in an article of 3,000 words; my working title is “Cultural Diversity and Reciprocal Creolization in a Time of Poly-Crisis.”

The topic stands at the intersection of several of my long-standing interests. I’m a former newspaper reporter and retired English teacher at a small liberal arts college (Benedictine University at Springfield, Illinois), where I also taught mass communications and interdisciplinary humanities courses on minority cultures. Now that I have time to do my own writing, I have focused increasingly on immigrant cultural institutions, especially the old Swedish-American Augustana Lutheran Synod. My most recent paper was on the adaptation of Swedish Lutherans to Anglo-American (or “English”) Protestant cultural norms during the 1850s, and I am expanding it for possible future publication. As a retired journalist and classroom teacher, I also write for regional history magazines, special interest publications and a personal blog, called Ordinary Time (at https://ordinaryzenlutheran.com/), in which I explore spiritual issues and maintain a writer’s journal on issues raised by my historical research. Especially since the Jan. 6 insurrection, these interests have led me to explore the American civil religion in greater detail.

All of this gives me a perspective on issues of cultural diversity, creolization and acculturation I have not encountered elsewhere in my reading. So when I heard David Brooks speak of the Babylonian exile on the PBS NewsHour, I immediately followed up on it. As I learned more, I realized that Brooks’ take on the Jewish diaspora  dovetailed with my own spiritual reading and historical research. And when I realized the close relationship between the approaches to cultural diversity advanced by Brooks, Rabbi Sacks, Krister Stendahl and Mireille Delmas-Marty, I decided I had an insight worth sharing.

[boiled-down version of 1,000-word draft saved to my hard drive]

Revised and published Sept. 9, 2021

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