Dmitri N. Shalin

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The Social Health of Nevada: Leading Indicators and Quality of Life in the Silver State


UNLV: Center for Democratic Culture Publications

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Across the world, religion is integral to society insofar it shapes people’s thoughts, behaviors, and interactions. What exactly the term “religion” means, however, is far from clear-cut, as it continues to be a highly charged topic of discussion and debate, a subject that many hold dear and near to their hearts.

There seem to be just as many ways to define religion as there are groups and denominations that claim to hold the key to the “meaning of life” and even solve humanity’s woes. For many people, the word religion evokes shared ideas of church, gatherings, worship, prayer, music, traditions, and pilgrimages. Some of these images fit in with the “mainstream” meanings of religion, at least in terms of the practices of organized and institutionalized religion recognized in the United States. For other people, religion harbors meanings that go beyond the mainstream norms and that conflict with more familiar ideas of religion and religiosity.

The rich diversity of the U.S. population reflects the amalgam of conventional and unconventional religious belief systems that coexist on a day-to-day basis. For the most part, the adherents of broad types of belief systems appear to tolerate one another, at least enough to function in a civil manner under the banner of an overarching “civil religion” (Bellah, 1967). Still, the nation has its share of religious conflict, and there are many examples of believers with clashing ideas and practices who struggle to have their voices heard and defend their religious convictions. Although Americans enjoy the rights to religious freedom and diversity guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, conflicts exist over the interpretation of freedom of religion versus freedom from religion. And debates about the Christian origins of the U.S. – often fueled by a Christian majority that makes up some 80% of the U.S. population – provide plenty of fodder for the so-called “culture wars” (Hunter, 1991; Borer & Murphree, 2008; Borer & Schafer, 2011).

Conflicts over competing religious belief systems and worldviews do not necessarily imply social strife. Debates about the origins and the meanings of life and how they connect to our identities may foster healthy discussions and promote tolerance and pluralism. Motivated by presumed relations to a higher power or cause, religious groups have also been at the forefront of social activism and change. Though it is not always the case, conflicts between religious groups, and between religious groups and their secular counterparts, can lead to better understandings of diverse beliefs and practices and promote the social health of a nation, a state, and a community. Thus, we start with the proposition that religious diversity is central to the social health and well-being of human collectivities.


Religion; Religious diversity; Religion in Nevada


Community-Based Research | Sociology of Religion

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Kidwell, Josiah, and Michael Ian Borer, 2017. “Religion and Spirituality in Nevada.” In The Social Health of Nevada: Leading Indicators and Quality of Life in the Silver State, edited by Dmitri N. Shalin. Las Vegas, NV: UNLV Center for Democratic Culture, http://cdclv.unlv.edu/mission/index.html