Dr. Claude Stulting and Dr. Sam Britt

Dr. Claude Stulting and Dr. Sam Britt are faculty members in the department of religion at Furman University. They became Pluralism Project affiliates in 1998 with their research on religious diversity in South Carolina. Drs. Stulting and Britt engaged their students in this research, with a particular focus on Upstate South Carolina. Their intention was to explore changes in the religious life of the region, and, in doing so, to give special attention to those religious groups that have arrived since the early 1960s—Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims, and Bahá’í—and that have affected, and been affected by, the local culture, one which has been historically shaped by Protestant Christianity.

Drs. Stulting and Britt write:

South Carolina presents a particularly interesting locale for the study of religious pluralism. Before 1850, the state had one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the United States. French Huguenots, Swiss Germans, Sephardic Jews, Scotch-Irish, Irish Catholics and Yorubas had helped to shape the culture. However, after the Civil War, South Carolina became one of the most culturally and religiously homogenous states in America. From 1850 until 1950, the state often had the lowest immigrant population. During this time, Baptists, both white and black, became the most dominant Christian group. After World War II, however, Greek and Lebanese immigrants began settling the upstate in larger numbers. And in the 1970s and 1980s, increasing numbers of East Indians, Vietnamese and Hispanics came to the region. Religious pluralism has thus returned in full force to South Carolina.

In investigating the growth of this new pluralism, their work progressed in three stages: first, a mapping of the religious landscape of South Carolina; second, a focused study of specific groups in the Upstate of South Carolina; and third, a study of specific groups in the Midlands of South Carolina, focusing on the Columbia metropolitan area.

The first phase of their project in the summer of 1998 was spent compiling an expanded list of religious communities in South Carolina, contacting and visiting many of these communities, primarily those nearest to Furman University in Greenville. The first visit was to a Hindu temple, the Vedic Center, in Greenville and was followed by visits to the Islamic Center of Greenville and the Bahá’í community. The team also arranged trips to Columbia, Spartanburg, Clemson, Florence, Conway, Hemingway, and Myrtle Beach to meet with the Muslim, Hindu, Bahá’í, Sikh, and Buddhist communities in these areas. This work was largely completed by student researchers Andrea Mills and Alison Prevost in 1998. In the summer of 2000, Benjamin Coleman and Melissa Peterson visited religious communities and updated exiting profiles for the Furman chapter of the Pluralism Project.

In the fall of 2002, Dr. Sam Britt’s senior seminar class investigated “Asian Religious Traditions in South Carolina” through field visits to Greenville and Spartanburg-area Hindu and Buddhist communities. They completed profiles on the Carolina Buddhist Vihara in Greenville, the Vedic Center of Greenville, the Sai Baba group of Greenville, and the Hindu Society of Greater Spartanburg.

In the summer of 2003, student researcher and recent Furman graduate Tracy J. Wells investigated the religious diversity of the Columbia metropolitan area, updating previous work done by Mills, Prevost, Coleman and Peterson and adding new religious communities to the list of Columbia-area centers and groups. She also completed profiles on these communities and edited and submitted the profiles on Greenville-area groups generated by Dr. Britt’s seminar class the previous fall.

From the research team:

We have been delighted to find that South Carolina is not as religiously homogenous as they had previously thought. South Carolina has the second largest Bahá’í population in the United States, as well as a training institute and the only Bahá’í radio station in the nation. Columbia is home to five different Buddhist organizations, and the state has at least three resident Buddhist monks. Their research also found large and active Muslim and Hindu populations, especially in Greenville and Columbia. Smaller populations of Jains, Sai Baba devotees, Zoroastrians, Sufi and Shi’ite Muslims were also present. They also found active interfaith organizations throughout the state, with the most notable groups being in Columbia (Partners in Dialogue, directed by Dr. Carl Evans at the University of South Carolina) and Greenville (Greenville Faith Communities United).

See also Student Affiliate Tracy Wells: Mapping Religious Diversity in South Carolina.

Selected Links and Publications