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: 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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Reverend Vern Barnet

Founder and Minister Emeritus, World's Faith Center for Religious Experience and Spirituality (CRES)

This profile was last update in 2012. 

It seems that the Rev. Vern Barnet has thought of everything. Barnet’s extensive website...

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Reverend Tom Duke

Founder and Convener, Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN)

This profile was last updated in 2012. 

The Reverend Tom Duke seeks to “provide a visible center and point of contact” for...

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Skyler Oberst

Co-Founder, Compassionate Interfaith Society (CIS)

This profile was last updated in 2012. 

Although he just turned 21, Skyler Oberst is well-known in the Inland and Pacific...

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Immigrant Religions in Germany (2005)



Europe has witnessed a tremendous diversification of its religious landscape in the last thirty years. Yet, Europe has never been as monolithically Christian as most historical overviews tend to tell us. Jews, Muslims in the Balkans and during Moor reign in Spain, adherents to various western esoteric traditions, and many more have been part of Europe’s multi-religious set-up.

Nevertheless, it certainly is right to state that the various Christian denominations and confessions exercised and continue to exert a dominant influence...

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City Profile: Wichita, KS (2012)

Wichita, Kansas, 150 miles in any direction from the next major metropolitan area, may seem like an unlikely place to see the new religious landscape of America. Yet this center of trade and industry has a rich legacy of cultivating religious, ethnic, and racial diversity and cooperation. Although long inhabited by the Wichita tribe, the Spanish conquistador Coronado mapped the region in 1541 during his hunt for the fabled Quivira (“the Lost City of Gold”). French and German immigrants arrived in the region in the 1850s. By the 1880s, the small community of sod homes had become the...

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City Profile: Utica, NY (2012)

Utica began as a military outpost in the midst of Oneida Indian country. The Oneida are part of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) league, and their present-day cultural center, Shako:wi, is on the Oneida reservation, 20 miles west of Utica. Among the first non-indigenous religious spaces created by Euro-Americans were Welsh and English speaking Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Congregational, and Methodist churches. Protestant mainline and Catholic churches flourished from the mid-nineteenth through the mid twentieth century.

The Erie Canal began to operate between Utica and Rome in 1817, turning Utica into a major economic center. When Irish immigrants came to help build the Canal, they established St. John’s, the first Roman Catholic Church west of Albany. The Canal, and later the railroad, brought new industries which, in turn, brought more immigrants, and more religious diversity: German Catholics, German Lutherans, Italian Catholics, Polish Catholics, and by the 1880s a strong Jewish community settled after fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe.

The Underground Railroad operated along the Erie Canal, and free blacks found sanctuary in Utica homes and church basements. As the number of African Americans in Utica increased, Hope Chapel AME church was organized in 1848 by the Reverend Jermain Loguen and is in operation still today. The African American population of Utica remained relatively small until the Great Migration of the 1920s through 1960s, when blacks from the South came to work the agricultural fields and machine industries in the area. By the 1940s, black churches were established throughout the city, including the denominations of Church of God in Christ, Baptist, and AME.

The 1960s began an economic downturn for Utica, not unusual among rust belt cities. The mid-twentieth century population peaked at 100,000, and by the year 2000 it was down to 60,000. Since then, however, the population has remained fairly steady, due almost entirely to the influx of immigrants and refugees. The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (affiliated with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugees Service) was established in 1981 in response to the influx and remains a key resource.

The first wave of refugees in the 1980s came chiefly from Southeast Asia, especially Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Buddhist temples from each group are seen throughout Utica today. Through the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and resulting economic and military upheavals, Eastern Europeans began to find new homes in Utica. Key among these refugees have been Russian Pentecostals who fled repression from the Russian Orthodox Church, and Muslim Bosnians who fled the wars occurring in the former Yugoslavia. The Bosnian population is estimated to be as high as 10,000 people, and in 2008 the community purchased the former Central Methodist Church building from the city for $1. After pouring a few years of solid labor into it, the Islamic Bosnian Association mosque stands on the same block as City Hall; the adhan (call to prayer) can be heard on Friday afternoons, broadcast from the minaret across downtown Utica. The mosque has become something of a “mother mosque,” as Somalis, Iraqis, and Burmese now also pray there, and they have helped seed newer gatherings around town, including a recently opened Burmese mosque. As of 2015, there are at least four mosques operating in Utica.

While immigration has been part of Utica life for two centuries, the last quarter century has seen unprecedented growth in diversity; in 2015 approximately 17 percent of the city’s population was foreign-born. According to the U.S. Census, the white population was 98.4 percent in 1950. In 2010 it was 69 percent. Today, one-fourth of the city’s residents speak languages other than English at home. Equally significant, recent polls indicate that more than two-thirds of the population agrees that immigration is a good thing for the city.

Racism and xenophobia are not absent, but in account after account from pollsters, journalists, filmmakers, and others, Utica has been noted as an exceptional place in its welcoming of others in the midst of economic hard times. Articles in the New York TimesChristianity Today, and the United Nations magazine Refugees, have published positive stories of the city, calling it “The City that Loves Refugees.” A 2014 documentary In God’s House: the Religious Landscape of Utica, NY observed: “Immigration and Utica are inseparable.”[1] Responding to the needs of new populations, various groups beyond local congregations have begun to work with refugees and their religious commitments, supplementing the ongoing work of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. The Midtown Utica Community Center meets in a former Episcopal church and is open to a number of cultural events for newly settled people. The Jewish Community Center, the Salvation Army, and Utica Rescue Mission all have resources for the area, and in 2014, several constituencies gathered to form the Interfaith Coalition of Greater Utica.[2]

Since 1999, large numbers of people from Burma/Myanmar, especially ethnic Karen, have arrived and begun to reinvigorate older established Protestant churches such as Tabernacle Baptist (ABS) and Grace Episcopal. Other Burmese refugees are Buddhist and Muslim and have established new centers for their religious ceremonies. And since 2009 refugees from Bhutan, especially ethnic Nepalese, have come to Utica, establishing a Hindu center and a number of Christian gathering places. Significant numbers of Iraqis, Somali Bantu, Sudanese, and Ukrainians, as well as people from several Latin American nations have also settled in the area.


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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: Syracuse, NY (2012)

Syracuse, New York has long been a site where diversity flourishes. For nearly a millennium, the region has been home to the Haudenosaunee (“People of the Long House”), a league of six Native American nations that is run by a consensus-based democratic government. At the turn of the nineteenth century, less than fifty years after the first Europeans founded a village on Onondaga Lake, Syracuse became a center of the American salt industry. Throughout that century and into the twentieth, the Erie Canal, and the railroad system transformed Syracuse from a small waterfront town to a...

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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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City Profile: Seattle, WA (2012)

Seattle is known for its stunning landscape, nationally renowned coffee culture, and the “Seattle Sound” of grunge bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana. The religious diversity of Greater Seattle in the twenty-first century is simply astonishing. It is home to more than a few dozen Buddhist centers, frequented by old and new Chinese and Japanese immigrants, by more recent Korean and Thai immigrants, and by Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Laotian refugees. “First generation” American convert Buddhists have also been active builders of the extensive new Buddhist Seattle. In addition to its many...

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