City Profile: Twin Cities, MN (2012)

    Religious Diversity

    The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, once defined by Protestant and largely northern European immigrants, are now embodying the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious America. While the legacy of nineteenth century immigration (mostly from Ireland, Germany, and Sweden) remains visible, recent decades have brought new waves of immigrants hailing from places as diverse as Laos, Somalia, and Burma. These men and women have brought with them Islam, Buddhism, indigenous traditions, and great ethnic...

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    City Profile: Atlanta, GA (2012)

    Atlanta, Georgia, the “birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement,” commemorates the nation’s struggle for racial equality in an international World Peace Rose Garden. Here, bands of red and white roses interweave, symbolizing the bringing together of people across racial and ethnic lines. In a similar way, the roses symbolize the way a philosophy of nonviolence brought together two unlikely and geographically distant compatriots in their struggle for equal rights: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Today, the world seems much smaller and global friendships much more frequent as diverse communities of immigrants from India, Pakistan, Korea, and Vietnam have come to make their home in “the Buckle of the Bible Belt.”

    It takes but a short drive down Buford Avenue to see Atlanta’s new multiethnic and multi-religious reality. Along the highway is Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc., one of over forty Buddhist communities in the metro area. Drepung Loseling has been a center for Tibetan Buddhist studies, practice, and culture in Atlanta since 1991. Today, its academic programs connect Emory University in Atlanta with Drepung Loseling’s parent monastery in India.

    Botanicas and masjids line Buford Avenue, adding to the street’s global microcosm. Nearby, Masjid Abu Bakr serves approximately eight hundred Muslim families, many of whom live within a six-mile radius of the mosque. Another masjid, Al-Farooq Mosque, was established in 1980 by Pakistani and Arab immigrants, and is home to one of the few Islamic cemeteries in the country. Elijah Muhammad, then leader of the Nation of Islam, founded the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam in 1958, the oldest of the city’s nearly three dozen mosques.

    It was also in 1958 that Atlanta’s oldest synagogue, the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (“The Temple”), was bombed, likely due to the fact that Rabbi Jacob Rothchild made public his ardent support of racial integration. Today, there are over twenty synagogues in metro Atlanta, including Congregation Or VeShalom whose members can trace their roots “from the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, North and South America, and even Atlanta!”

    The Hindu community of Greater Atlanta is thriving, adding several new temples in recent decades. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta opened in the southern suburb of Riverdale in 1990 and is now one of over fifteen temples in the metro area. In 2007, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir opened in the northeastern suburb of Lilburn, a 27,000 square foot structure that sits on twenty-nine acres. Temple volunteer Ritesh Desai spoke of the mandir‘s opening to one NPR reporter: “Many of us have assimilated into the mainstream American culture. Yet the mainstream American culture does not know about India per se, or they might not have been to India. We’re bringing a little bit of India to you.”

    According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 81 percent of Georgians profess a belief in God and 38 percent identify as Evangelical Christian. Evangelist Billy Graham was no stranger to the city; over the course of several decades Atlanta was the site of at least three of his crusades. While Evangelical Christianity continues to shape Atlanta’s cultural milieu, the city is now home to a number of Atheist groups as well. One such group, Black Nonbelievers, Inc., is notable for its fellowship and service opportunities for African Americans, including at 2011 rally at the state house to honor international “Support an Atheist Day.”

    Interfaith efforts in Atlanta are thriving and diverse. Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy, Inc. (IAC, Inc.) is based in Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s largest airport and supports travelers of all faiths by providing assistance and a quiet place to pray or meditate in one of the airport’s three chapels. The Interfaith Community Initiatives (ICI) seeks to transform Atlanta into “a model city for interfaith appreciation and cooperation” and does so by hosting weekend “immersion” trips to local religious communities and programming for youth.

    The World Peace Rose Garden stands directly in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical Site, a reminder both of the city’s commitment to new growth and to honoring its storied past. As industry and technology continues to attract the world to “the ATL,” the city’s religious diversity expands and makes its mark on Atlanta’s landscape and history.

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    City Profile: Boston, MA (2012)

    Since its founding in 1630, the city of Boston has been profoundly shaped by the religious communities that call it home. While the Freedom Trail commemorates many of the city’s earliest Christian influences, including Christ Church in the City of Boston (the famed “Old North Church” of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”), the city’s religious landscape is much more diverse today. Nearly fifty Islamic centers, almost forty Hindu temples, over ninety Buddhist groups, six gurdwaras, and small but vital communities of Jains, Zoroastrians, the headquarters...

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    City Profile: Hartford, CT (2012)

    Founded as a Puritan colony in 1636, Hartford, Connecticut is today home to over ten Buddhist temples, nearly fifteen synagogues, five Islamic centers, two Hindu temples, and one of the nation’s premier centers for Christian-Muslim relations: Hartford Seminary. A Christian seminary with Congregationalist roots, Hartford Seminary has made news in recent decades for becoming the first Christian seminary to name a Muslim to its core faculty. Just a few decades after its establishment in the mid-nineteenth century, Hartford Seminary became interested in Islamic culture as it sought...

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    City Profile: Fremont, CA (2012)

    In 1956, Fremont, California was born when five smaller Bay Area communities—Centerville, Niles, Irvington, Mission San Jose, and Warm Springs—came together to form one city. Today, each of the five communities maintains a distinct identity as a “district,” while also being a vital part of the larger city. In a similar way, Fremont’s diverse ethnic and religious communities contribute to the life of this city of nearly 217,000 residents.

    Today, Fremont is one of the nation’s most diverse cities for its size. A rajagopuram rises in a tidy suburban...

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    City Profile: Chicago, IL (2012)

    Chicago holds a special place in the history of the world’s religions in America. It was here, in 1893, that the World’s Parliament of Religions took place as part of the great Chicago World’s Fair. It was inspired by the energy, growth, and optimism of an America just beginning to lay claim to a place in the world of nations. The Parliament planning committee sent out 10,000 invitations to people around the world, and representatives of many of the world’s great religious traditions converged on Chicago. It was the first time that Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Jews met together on...

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    City Profile: Austin, TX (2012)

    “Keep Austin Weird” is a current that pulses through the life of this university town in the heart of Texas. The state’s capital comes with a bohemian vibe and a booming technology industry. Its vibrant music, arts, and film scenes bring together an eclectic mix of students, high-tech professionals, artists, and a constant stream of tourists. Between 1990 and 2000, Greater Austin experienced rapid growth: its population leapt 48 percent and the number of immigrants tripled. Thanks to a thriving economy, 1.8 million people call the Austin area home.

    Immigrant communities have...

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    City Profile: Jacksonville, FL (2012)

    In Jacksonville, Florida, one interfaith leader explains, religion is like the sugar in sweet tea: “It permeates every aspect of life. … I can’t think of much that isn’t touched by religion in one way or another.” The city is predominantly, often presumptively, Christian. Jacksonville is home to the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention; First Baptist Church occupies eleven blocks of the city’s downtown, right next to City Hall. Until 2010, the City Council’s chaplain offered Christian prayers to open each meeting.

    The Jewish community has a small but historic...

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    City Profile: Kansas City, MO and KS (2012)

    From early on, Kansas City signaled a “land of opportunity” for travelers in search of a fresh start. Beginning in the 1830s, the growing settlement at the convergence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers became the first stop for many Mormons trekking along the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon Trails. Over the next century, Kansas City became a hub of African American culture and music as well as home to a sizable Jewish community. Today, the City of Fountains is bubbling with energy as new immigrants add to the complexity of the region’s religious diversity.

    The first synagogue...

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    City Profile: Las Vegas, NV (2012)

    The lights of Las Vegas glitter for miles along a stretch of highway, an oasis in the vast Mojave Desert, just east of Death Valley. In the nineteenth century, the city—its name Spanish for “the meadows”—became a beacon for Mormon settlers headed west between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. As the nineteenth century wore on, gold rushes and the Transcontinental Railroad brought people from all over the world to the American Southwest; Las Vegas’ rail, mining, and dam industries boomed. By the early 1900s, this desert oasis was home to thriving immigrant communities, especially...

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    City Profile: Louisville, KY (2012)

    When heavyweight boxing champion and Louisville native Muhammad Ali became a Muslim in 1964 there was not a single mosque in his hometown. Located at the northern cusp of the Bible Belt, the city is known for Louisville Slugger baseball bats and its large Evangelical churches. Yet, for nearly twenty years, the Festival of Faiths has also put Derby City on the map. The Festival—a week-long celebration of the nation’s religious diversity—is also a celebration of Louisville’s own growing diversity.

    Today, Greater Louisville is home to twelve Islamic centers and mosques, in...

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    City Profile: Miami, FL (2012)

    Miami, the Gateway to the Americas, has long been an entry point to a nation of immigrants. Geographically, the city’s location on the southeastern coast of Florida has made it a prime location for encounter, from sixteenth century meeting of Spanish colonists and the Tequesta people living in the region to more recent waves of refugees from the Caribbean and Latin America who have made Miami home. The “Magic City” saw rapid growth in the late nineteenth century, ballooning from a small town in the late 1880s to a bustling metropolis with a population of over 400,000 a few decades later...

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    City Profile: Milwaukee, WI (2012)

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a city marked by the flourishing of diversity and by the challenge of persistent segregation. From a French trading post beginning in the 1670s to the city’s founding in the 1830s, Milwaukee’s early decades were dominated by German immigration. Although no longer the “most German city west of Berlin,” the lasting contributions of Milwaukee’s early residents are still visible: the city’s baseball team, the Brewers, play at a stadium named for one of Milwaukee’s oldest breweries. Today, annual festivals reflect and celebrate the many ethnic groups that have shaped...

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    City Profile: Omaha, NE (2012)

    Omaha is a small city in the center of the Great Plains, the largest metropolitan area in the state of Nebraska. A city of 419,000 in a state of less than two million, Omaha is notable not only for its size but also for its diversity. While African Americans form the largest minority group in Omaha, Latino residents are increasing at a rate of 174 percent annually. Omaha’s Asian population has grown by almost 90 percent since 1990 while immigrants from Africa are steadily increasing as refugees from Sudan make their way to this crossroads on the prairie. The religious landscape of Omaha...

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    City Profile: Philadelphia, PA (2012)

    Philadelphia’s long-standing encouragement of religious freedom is rooted in the religious commitment of William Penn, Pennsylvania’s founder. In 1681 Penn, a Quaker, founded Pennsylvania as a haven for religious diversity in the colonies. “The king of the country where I live has given unto me a great province,” he wrote to the Lenape Nation in 1681, “but I desire to enjoy it with your friends, else what would the great God say to us, who has made us not to devour and destroy one another, but live soberly and kindly together in the world?” The First and Second Continental Congresses...

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    City Profile: Phoenix, AZ (2012)

    The Hohokam Indians were the earliest inhabitants of the area where the vast city of Phoenix now stretches across the southwestern desert. Nineteenth century settlers rebuilt the ancient canals abandoned by the Hohokam and optimistically gave the city its name: Phoenix, the fabled desert bird that lives for hundreds of years and then rises from its own ashes to live again. Their optimism seems to have been matched by the reality of modern Phoenix, which built on ancient ruins, has become one of the nation’s fastest growing cities. Although its population numbered less than 100,000 in...

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    City Profile: Richmond, VA (2012)

    In Richmond, history is a source of pride. In 1786, the state legislature of Virginia passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, an act commemorated nearly two hundred years later with the founding of the First Freedom Center. The Center’s mission now includes an imperative to advance “the fundamental human rights of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.” Given Richmond’s new multireligious reality, this charge is now more critical than ever.

    During the American Civil War, Richmond...

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    City Profile: Salt Lake City, UT (2012)

    “This is the right place,” Brigham Young said in 1847 when he and a small band of Mormon pioneers arrived at the edge of the Great Salt Lake. After three failed attempts to establish a religious community, the Latter Day Saints founded Salt Lake City as a “New Zion.” Here, they would finally be free to practice their faith, free of the violent harrassment they endured in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Although slightly more than half of Salt Lake City’s nearly 1.1 million people identify as Mormon today, the Church continues to take steps to ensure that this emphasis on religious freedom...

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    City Profile: San Diego, CA (2012)

    San Diego, a sprawling southern California city with seventy miles of coastline and a well known “surf and turf” culture, has a long history of religious diversity. The city was founded in 1769 as the first Catholic mission in California, Mission Basilica San Diego De Alcalá. Just over seventy-five years later, 500 Mormons trekked from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego to offer military support to the American army during the Mexican War. Their march—one of the longest in U.S. military history—is commemorated in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, located on Juan Street. ...

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    City Profile: Spokane, WA (2012)

    Nestled between the Cascade and Rocky Mountains, along the Spokane River in the rolling foothills of Eastern Washington, the city of Spokane has emerged as a confluence of diverse peoples and cultures. The Spokane Tribe (translated “Children of the Sun”) remain the region’s longest established residents. Many tribal members were relocated to reservation lands when, in 1881, the city of Spokane was founded well within their ancestral territory around the Spokane River Falls. Christian and Jewish communities sprang up in the mid-nineteenth century with the gold and silver booms,...

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