The author of this book, Kim Hansen, is an American scholar who has spent many years studying religion in different contexts in the country. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of North Dakota1. Hansen proceeded to the University of California where he earned a Ph.D. in sociology. He is currently working at Mount St. Mary’s University as an Associate Professor.2 The primary purpose of writing the review is to critically analyze themes and arguments presented in this book and determine their relevance in modern society. Of interest is to establish whether the book helps military chaplains to deal with the issue of religious diversity in their camps. Reviewing its strengths and weaknesses, it will be possible to recommend its usage among the targeted audience.
The author was concerned with understanding and explaining challenges and dilemmas that military chaplains face in their normal duties. The main ideas and significant themes in the book are presented in four chapters. The first chapter focuses on detailed explanation of military chaplains and their work3. The author outlines their roles, responsibilities, expectations that the society has, and how they have to relate with command units. The second chapter focuses on accommodating and limiting religion in the military.4 The author explains that religion should be a unifying factor, and when it becomes a reason why officers classify themselves in competing groups, then it may be necessary to limit it. The third chapter discusses the issue of Muslims, witches, and chaplains.5 It brings to fore the actual challenges that chaplains face because of the diversity. The last chapter discusses the experience of military chaplains with diversity. The interview conducted helps to understand challenges that they have to encounter and ways in which they manage to cope.
A critical review of all the chapters outlines the author’s overall purpose in writing this book. It is evident that the author appreciates the diversity in the current United States military. It is composed of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, non-believes, and many other religious groups. When handling such a diverse group, military chaplains must ensure that they avoid promoting practices that will divide military officers. They have to constantly find teachings that unite everyone and underscore the need for everyone to focus on the common goal of defeating the enemy. It is clear that the author is interested in eliminating cases where different factions would arise among soldiers based on their religious differences.
In this section, the focus is to provide a critique of the book to help determine its relevance among the target audience. It is important to note at this stage that the book is based on detailed interviews the scholar conducted with chaplains in various military installations across the United States. The author did not base the book on personal experience. As such, it is essential to understand its strengths, key insights that support its rationale, potential areas of weaknesses, and possible ways of overcoming them.
Critical Interaction with the Author’s Thesis and the Main Points of the Argument
A critical review of Kim Hansen’s book clearly indicates his concern towards the growing religious diversity in the country and its impact on the United States military. The Department of the Defense has been recruiting soldiers irrespective of their religious affiliation. Policies have been put in place to ensure that religion does not become an issue that causes differences among active-duty officers. The author explains in this book that any form of discrimination or confrontation in line with one’s religious beliefs is prohibited.6 The problem, as the author explains, is that American society is becoming increasingly intolerant to religious diversity. For instance, there has been a growing belief that Muslims in the country tend to sympathize with terrorists. Such feelings are common among soldiers, making it difficult for them to trust one another, especially when they are on missions out of the country.
The author captures the dilemma of diversity from the perspective of military chaplains. They are expected to use religion to promote unity, enhance teamwork, eliminate any form of suspicion among officers, and to encourage them to focus on the primary goal of defeating the enemy. The author feels that these fundamental goals of a military chaplain may not be achievable in an environment where diversity is viewed as a dividing factor. Hansen outlines the role of these chaplains and challenges that they face. The researcher agrees with the argument that is presented about the theme of frustration that they encounter as they struggle to unify soldiers who have lost trust in their colleagues because of their religious beliefs.
One of the main themes presented in this book is the need to accommodate and sometimes limit religion in the military. The author argues that religion is important in such settings, especially when soldiers are facing serious challenges that may cost them their lives. Religion should be promoted as long as it helps soldiers to overcome their frustrations and promote unity.7 However, when it is established that religion is promoting disunity and mistrust, it should be limited. The researcher agrees with the argument of the author about the difficulty in knowing when to accommodate or limit religion. Military chaplains have to play this role without giving an image of confusion and mistrust. Indeed sometimes the audience may fail to believe in the conviction of their chaplains if they fail to remain consistent.
The book presents another important theme in a chapter that the author names as Muslims, witches, and chaplains. The author argues that the mistrust that the American society has towards Muslims is even more intense in the military. There is a constant fear of a possible betrayal because of religious affiliation. The author understands such suspicion and agrees with the argument that sometimes it may result in animosity among officers. Other than the diversity challenge, the book also addresses the culture of war in the chaplain corps.8 It is true that sometimes military chaplains face the dilemma of preaching forgiveness, kindness, and compassion while at the same time expect their audience to use brute force to kill and maim.
Strengths, Weaknesses, and an Overall Evaluation of the Book
A critical analysis of this book identifies key strengths and weaknesses worth discussing at this stage. The main strength of this book is that it is based on an extensive interview of many chaplains in different military installations across the country. The book is based on their personal experiences working in such positions at different times within the country and in foreign countries. The researcher has avoided basing arguments on personal feelings and assumptions, and instead provided a detailed insight into actual events that happen within the United States military. One of the notable weaknesses in this book is that the author lacks extensive experience in the armed forces, especially as a military chaplain. It means that he had to rely fully on the information obtained from the interviewed officers. Having experience in a given field helps one to know when a respondent is exaggerating an issue or withholding important information. Such a weakness would be addressed by having an experienced military chaplain taking part in authoring the book. In this case, Hansen would have improved the authenticity and reliability of the book by inviting an experienced military chaplain to be a co-author of the book.
Hansen’s book provides a comprehensive analysis of the growing religious diversity and the experience that military chaplains have when trying to promote unity and trust. The environment in the military is a reflection of the reality in American society. The growing mistrust that Christians have towards Muslims is often reflected in military installations across the country. The author explains how military chaplains often struggle to overcome such mistrusts among officers through the use of religion. They have to understand causes of the mistrust and work with all the stakeholders to address pertinent issues in a way that would create a peaceful working environment. The researcher recommends this book to chaplains in the military, schools, prisons, police departments, labor unions, embassy, and hospitals across the country. It will help them to understand ways of dealing with diversity in a society where religious intolerance is becoming increasingly common.
Hansen, Kim. Military Chaplains and Religious Diversity. London: Palgrave Macmillan Publishers, 2012.
- Kim Hansen, Military Chaplains and Religious Diversity (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) 209.
- Ibid, 215.
- Ibid, 16.
- Ibid, 44.
- Ibid, 71.
- Ibid, 48.
- Ibid, 87.
- Ibid, 112.