New Neighbors

The religious landscape of America is changing. A mosque rises from the cornfields along the interstate outside Toledo, Ohio. A Hindu temple is consecrated in a suburb of Houston, on a hillside in Nashville, or a hilltop in Lemont, Illinois. Vietnamese Buddhist temples are opened in Salt Lake City and Denver, along with Thai Buddhist temples in Oklahoma City and Bolivia, North Carolina and Cambodian temples in Lowell, Massachusetts and Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Hillside Terrace” in Fremont, California is renamed “Gurdwara Road” when Sikhs build a spacious gurdwara in the neighborhood.

In every state and major city in the U.S. there are new religious neighbors today. People of different faiths are not just metaphorical neighbors around the world, but often live next door. A Lutheran church and a Buddhist temple are right across the street from one another in Garden Grove, California. A Muslim community center, a Ukranian Orthodox church, a Disciples of Christ church, and a Gujarati Hindu temple are virtually next-door neighbors on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland. A Vietnamese Buddhist temple and a Baptist church are neighbors on the same road on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.

In the more than twenty cities shown on this gateway-map of the U.S., there is a remarkable new religious diversity. In each city you will find interactive maps that highlight the frequency and proximity of mosques and temples, synagogues and gurdwaras, not to mention interfaith efforts. You will also find essays that feature a geographic element of religious diversity in five major U.S. metropolises—Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. A Directory of Religious Centers and ongoing research efforts expand our geographic exploration beyond these select cities and into every state in the U.S.

The mapping of America’s new religious landscape is just beginning, as people from every state in the U.S. begin to realize just how religiously diverse we now are. In the introductions to each city, you will discover some remarkable things: that Los Angeles is the most diverse and complex Buddhist city in the world; that there are over fifty mosques in Atlanta, and nearly twenty Hindu temples; that Chicago mirrors the diversity of the world, with a multitude of churches and synagogues, over ninety mosques, seventy-five Buddhist communities, and many Hindu temples, in addition to Jain, Zoroastrian and Bahá’í temples in nearby suburbs. 

Of course our maps cannot begin to do justice to the magnitude and diversity of these traditions in each city, especially for Christianity and Judaism. There are many other more extensive resources for learning about Christianity in America: research conducted by the Association for Religion Data Archives is a great place to start. American Christianity is also more diverse today as a result of the new immigration. St. James the Greater, a Catholic church in Boston, is largely Chinese, while Primera Iglesia Bautista in Miami serves a growing Hispanic Baptist congregation. There are other dynamic currents too: Second Baptist Church, a megachurch in Houston, has five campuses around the city, while Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California is part of a spirited Pentecostal revival. American Judaism is also changing with new Jewish immigrants from Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, with the ultra-orthodoxy of the Hasidim and the new spirituality of Jewish Renewal communities.

For the past few decades, many of the changes in America’s religious landscape have been relatively invisible. There was no new architecture to catch the eye of a passerby. The first generation of new mosques and Islamic centers was housed in a former U-Haul dealership in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in a former mattress showroom in Northridge, California, or in a huge urban movie theater in Chicago. In Denver, ranch-style suburban homes became Vietnamese Buddhist temples, with a few monks residing in each. Across America, Hindus have worshipped at tens of thousands of home altars, or rented a Knights of Columbus Hall for weekend worship. They have transformed a New Jersey YMCA and a Massachusetts chain restaurant into permanent temples. Sikhs have converted a former church in Queens, New York into a gurdwara, while Jains worshipped in an old suburban church in Norwood, Massachusetts before converting a former synagogue into a new temple. 

By the 1990s, however, the visible architectural evidence of America’s new religious diversity was unmistakable. The Hsi Lai Temple built on a hillside in Hacienda Heights, California is the largest Buddhist temple in the western hemisphere, and but one of several spectacular Chinese Buddhist temples. There are new mosques that have changed the visible skyline of American cities, such as the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, or the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City, or the Islamic Center of Seattle. There are spectacular Hindu temples in Atlanta and Houston, and in dozens of other cities, with ornately carved temple-towers rising over the doorways. Today, in the first decades of the twenty-first century, construction is underway all over America: the ceremonial ground-breaking, the pouring of foundations, the skeleton of two-by-fours framing a new religious center, the dedication ceremonies, and the plans on the wall for the next phase of construction.

The dynamic changes in America’s religious landscape mean that the information here is changing, too, and is necessarily incomplete. The story of a new multireligious America is being written and revised every year. Please use this section of On Common Ground as a starting point for your own explorations. Then, let us know what you discover in your own neighborhood.


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