Also presenting at the conference was Robert Putnam of Harvard and "Bowling Alone" fame. He is finishing up a book due for release next fall that takes a close (and I mean close) look at America's peculiar status as both a highly religious and a highly tolerant nation. (Typically those qualities have an inverse relationship.) The piles of data he and co-author David Campbell of Notre Dame have compiled and analyzed are staggering--and contain a little something guaranteed to annoy those of every political stripe. 

One teeny tidbit I took away that 's likely to surprise some: When Americans are asked about their warmth toward members of other faiths (including the self-identified non-religious), they tend to rank Jews the highest (it seems Tom Lehrer was wrong*), followed closely by mainline protestants and Catholics. At the bottom of the list, Buddhists, followed by Mormons and, sadly if perhaps unsurprisingly, Muslims. (Evangelicals fall in the middle, slightly below the baseline and slightly above the non-religious.)

So of those assembled were perplexed as to why Buddhism--an admittedly foreign but non-conversion obsessed faith--would be so unpopular. Putnam and Campbell suggested it had to do with so few Americans having direct interaction with any Buddhists. But one journalistic observer put forth a vastly more entertaining, if slightly less scientifically rigorous explanation: It's all Richard Gere's fault.


--Michelle Cottle