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. The arrival of the railroad in 1896, the real estate boom of the 1920s, and the city’s use as a training base during World War II contributed to this boom, and brought waves of new arrivals to the Florida coast. The city’s religious diversity reflects this vibrancy and energy.
Although Miami’s Jewish community arrived relatively recently when compared to other Florida cities, Judaism is today one of Miami’s most prominent religious traditions. Beth David, Miami’s Pioneer Synagogue, was founded in 1912 and is today just one of over 75 synagogues in the city.
Afro-Caribbean traditions are widely practiced in Miami, creating a unique aspect of the city’s culture in no small part thanks to the arrival of large number of Cuban and Haitian refugees during the 1960s and 1980s, respectively. Botanicas, or stores that sell religious items, abound in to meet the needs of practitioners of Afro-Caribbean traditions who often worship at home altars rather than in public spaces like churches or synagogues. Shelves in botanicas might be lined with statues of the Buddha, images of Ganesha, or candles depicting Christian saints, among eclectic items from various religious traditions, reminders of Miami’s religious diversity in microcosm.
There are several Buddhist temples and centers spanning across Miami-Dade County and ranging from the various schools of Buddhism, such as Tibetan Karma Kagyu, Korean, Thai, and Japanese. Zen Village, a popular Buddhist center located in the Coconut Grove area offers classes incorporating ideas from various schools of Buddhism as well as Confucianism and Daoism. The Hindu community in Miami is also quite prevalent, and there are Sunni and Shia mosques across the city, including one of the oldest mosques, Masjid Miami, established in 1974.
Miami has a long, rich history of interfaith engagement. A clergy dialogue group, sponsored by the Miami Coalition for Christians and Jews (MCCJ), began in 1935 and is thought to be the oldest continuous group of its kind in the United States. Although Miami has few existent organizations that focus specifically on interfaith issues, those that do are prominent and highly active within the community. People Acting for Community Together (PACTS), a coalition of congregations, universities, schools, and community groups, is one such example. The organization represents over 50,000 people in Greater Miami (the largest grassroots effort in South Florida) and works to build a community voice, express concerns to government officials, and promote justice and democracy. The City of Miami’s Office of Community Advocacy, St. Thomas University’s Ecumenical Institute, and the Anti-Defamation League are three among many of the city’s civic, religious, and community organizations that, while specifically “interfaith” organizations, form a viable network of partnerships that often include interfaith initiatives among its projects throughout Miami.
In recent years, Miami has seen a substantial wave of immigration from South and Central America, in addition to its continued immigration from other parts of the world, which should contribute to the city’s increasingly diverse religious landscape. While some cultural and religious communities are flourishing, new construction and development are placing pressure on others groups, like some residents of Little Haiti who feel they are being uprooted from generations-old cultural landmarks. As the city continues to change its shape, is not only in its skyline and structures that will evolve but also the diverse neighbors who call Miami home.