by DANIEL TUTT for THE INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL POLICY AND UNDERSTANDING, DUKE ISLAMIC STUDIES CENTER, AND ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 1, 2012:
On the eve of the 2012 presidential elections, both Islam and Mormonism are becoming increasingly politicized in the public sphere. For President Barack Obama, the myth of his secret Muslim identity is ultimately “coded into political ‘otherness’ – he’s a socialist, he’s dangerous, maybe a Muslim.” GOP Candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, by contrast, is a way for many Americans, particularly secular and non-religious voters, to distance themselves from the candidate: “Mormonism becomes the lens through which they can paint their critique.” However, with the presidential election less than a month away, Billy Graham a leading evangelical figure in the U.S., cut out the word “cult” from his association’s description of Mormonism, although the move was seen as partisanship by some conservative Christians.
Ever since its founding, Mormonism, the first American-born religion, has been portrayed as a foreign religion and often defined in opposition to the Protestant majority. Even today, 16% of Americans say that they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate due to their suspicion of the religion’s influence on the country.
Islam, although having been in the United States since its founding, has also been denigrated culturally and politically in similar ways. Muslims belong to the country’s least favorable religion, and 42% of Americans claim that they would not vote for a Muslim presidential candidate. Since their earliest days in this country, both religions have been the object of theological comparison. In fact, Bruce Kierney once declared Mormonism to be “the Islam of America.”
This policy brief informs Mormon as well as Muslim lay, academic, and clerical leaders about the causes and persistence of prejudice toward their communities and how collaborative undertakings between them can be strengthened. Recommendations for policymakers to ensure more effective engagement in the civic and political process are also offered.
This is the third policy brief of a 2012 elections series produced by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the Duke Islamic Studies Center and ISLAMiCommentary.
Daniel Tutt is an ISPU fellow, an activist, speaker, and Ph.d. student in philosophy and communication. His research for ISPU looks at Muslims in America, Islamophobia, and inter-religious dialogue. Tutt is a doctoral student in philosophy and communication at the European Graduate School, a Switzerland- based university. As an activist, his work seeks to promote dialogue and understanding of the American Muslim community. He also serves as the Outreach director of Unity Productions Foundation.
Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
ISPU is an independent, nonpartisan think tank and research organization committed to conducting objective, empirical research and offering expert policy analysis on some of the most pressing issues facing our nation, with an emphasis on those issues related to Muslims in the United States and around the world. Our research aims to increase understanding of American Muslims while tackling the policy issues facing all Americans, and serves as a valuable source of information for various audiences. ISPU scholars, representing numerous disciplines, offer context specific analysis and recommendations through our publications. The diverse views and opinions of ISPU scholars expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect the views of ISPU, its staff, or trustees.
Duke Islamic Studies Center
The Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) at Duke University is a vibrant, diverse community of scholars and students engaged in interdisciplinary teaching, interactive learning, and cutting-edge research. We are committed to working with partners at home and abroad to provide students, scholars, professionals and policy makers with knowledge about Muslims and Islamic cultures that enable them to operate effectively in a multicultural world. ISLAMiCommentary is a new forum, managed by DISC, that provides a range of expert voices on Islam and the Muslim experience. You can follow ISLAMiCommentary on the web at islamicommentary.org, on Twitter @ISLAMiComment, and on Facebook.