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The Intermarriage Exchange, Part 4: The Future

by Shmuel Rosner

July 22, 2013 | 6:22 am

Naomi Schaefer Riley

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a former Wall Street Journal editor and writer whose work focuses on higher education, religion, philanthropy, and culture. She is the author of God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America (St. Martin's, 2005) and The Faculty Lounges ... And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Pay For (Ivan Dee, 2011). Riley is also the co-editor of Acculturated (Templeton Press, 2010), a book of essays on pop culture and virtue. Ms. Riley's writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other publications. She appears regularly on FoxNews and FoxBusiness.

In part two of this exchange about her new book "'Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America" (Oxford University Press, 2013), we try to get some predictions from Ms. Riley about the possibility of the reversal of the Intermarriage trend which we discussed in the previous rounds. 

(Parts one, two, and three of this exchange can be found here, here and here.)

 

Dear Naomi,

So here's my last (and short) question. In your last response you mentioned the dynamism of American religion, and as most readers probably know, there have indeed been ups and downs, revivals and declines in the way the still-relatively-religious America has handled religion throughout the years. This means that any predictions about an eventual demise or an eternal thriving of religion should be treated with caution. Seeing that the issue of interfaith marriage isn't even just "religious" but also "social", making predictions in this case is surely even trickier. 

I'll ask you to be a bit risky anyway: do you see the trend you describe with such skill and in such detail- an increase in the number of intermarriages in America- reversing itself? Under what circumstances could such a thing happen?

Thank you for an enlightening book and for your patience with my questions,

Shmuel.

 

Dear Shmuel

I don't see the trend reversing any time soon. It seems to me that the factors that are encouraging intermarriage are unlikely to change. The age of marriage continues to rise (though I suspect there is some ceiling on that). The kind of tolerance and intermixing that are characteristic of the American population seem unlikely to abate. From a religious perspective, Americans are very tolerant and intermarriage makes them more tolerant, which, in turn, makes intermarriage more likely.

As you say, it's hard to predict religious awakenings and the effect of other nonreligious events on religious life. I guess you could see a kind of leveling off. If you do get a divide where most of the population either identifies as a "none" or as very orthodox (and I mean this for Jews and non-Jews), then it is possible that the intermarriage rate will reach a peak. And since religious Christians and Jews are more likely to have children and have more children, it's conceivable that as a percentage of the population, the number of people intermarrying will decline. 

By the way, I would not be thrilled with this kind of all or nothing outcome. 

As I say in the book: "This kind of religious sorting gives me a sense of foreboding. Our chattering classes may like to talk about a religious America and a secular America (I myself may have done it once or twice), but religion in America has long existed on a kind of continuum, and I think that is healthy. In fact, individual religious congregations usually have their own spectrums. It is good, I think, for the more and less religiously observant to see each other and interact with one another. As individuals, our inclinations to be more and less religious may change over time, and it is good for us to see that religion needn’t be an all-or-nothing prospect. It would be a poor development if we came to think that once we had started to practice faith less frequently we would have to give it up altogether. Or if we had to worry that we wouldn’t be welcomed back into the fold. A religious perspective on life can bring us great comfort and happiness or a sense of purpose, even at times when we don’t expect it. And there is much to be said for encountering it regularly, even if we are not strong believers."

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