Philadelphia’s long-standing encouragement of religious freedom is rooted in the religious commitment of William Penn, Pennsylvania’s founder. In 1681 Penn, a QuakerThe Quaker movement, properly known as the Society of Friends, had its beginnings in 17th century England with George Fox (1624-91), whose form of worship was liturgically sparse, relying on silence and the inspiring movement of the Inner Light, the spiri..., 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 GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. 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 were also held in the city between 1774 and 1789. Pennsylvania’s history of free religious practice heavily influenced the development of the United States Constitution, ratified there in 1787.
Founded in 1682, Philadelphia is the birthplace of America’s Quaker community, which has held meetings in the city since 1694. In 1792, nearly a century later, Congregation MikvehA mikveh is a ritual bath, used for purposes of purification and conversion in the Jewish tradition. IsraelLiterally “Wrestler with God”, Israel is the name given to the Jewish patriarch Jacob and came to refer to the entire nation, bound in an eternal covenant to God. Historically, Jews have continued to regard themselves as the continuation of the ancien... was built. Today, it remains the oldest continuously operating synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ... in the United States and has become known as “The Synagogue of the American Revolution” because its leaders signed revolutionary protests against the Stamp Act. Today, there are over eighty-four Jewish synagoguesSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ... and havurot in the city, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives and the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia. The city is also home to the National Museum of American Jewish History and the ReconstructionistThe Reconstructionist movement is a recent development in American Judaism, beginning with Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881 - 1982) who understood Judaism to be a civilization and culture, kept vibrant by constantly changing and adapting to new situations. The ce... Rabbinical College, known for its unique programming that brings emerging Jewish and Muslim leaders together for dialogue.
The African MethodistThe Methodist church is a Protestant communion of churches which began in England with John Wesley (1703-91) and has become a worldwide movement. In the U.S., the United Methodist Church—one of the largest Protestant denominations—is known for its str... EpiscopalEpiscopal refers to any church in which authority is vested in a bishop (Greek episkopos). More particularly it refers to the Episcopal Church in America, which developed from the Church of England after the American Revolution. ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ..., America’s first Black ProtestantProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists... denomination, was founded in Philadelphia in 1816. Today, 43 percent of the city’s population is African American. Notable among the city’s religious sites is Philadelphia MasjidMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit..., the city’s first African American mosqueMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit..., and Le Peristyle Haitian Sanctuary, a Haitian church that has been led by civil rights leaders since the 1950s.
Since the 1980s, waves of Asian, African, and Arab immigrants have made their mark on the historically Irish, Polish, and Russian neighborhoods of Greater Philly. The 1988 construction of Vraj Hindu TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... in nearby Schuylkill Haven, PA, historically known for its coal mining, is but one example of the city’s changing religious landscape. Today, an annual SikhSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob... Parade that highlights cooperation among the Philadelphia’s several Sikh gurdwarasThe gurdwara, “the gateway of the Guru,” is the place for community gathering and worship in the Sikh tradition. The Guru is the Adi Granth, the sacred scripture of the Sikh tradition. Each center will include a chamber where the Adi Granth is kept, a... is yet another example. The celebration of the Filipino festival of Sinulog is now a part of the local Catholic community’s calendar and Latino immigrants, currently the fastest growing demographic in the city, have prompted the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to establish an office specifically to serve the Hispanic Catholic community.
Interfaith initiatives in Philadelphia are as diverse as the communities who support them. In addition to social services and multifaith hospital chaplaincy, several of these initiatives take place on campuses across the city, including LutheranLutheranism is a Protestant tradition following the theology of Martin Luther (1483-1546), the reformer who was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and launched the German reformation. He emphasized the sole authority of the Bible, the priesthoo... Theological Seminary’s Institute for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue. Since 2004, the Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation has given Philadelphians a way to publically demonstrate their desire to promote cooperation: the grassroots initiative draws between 500 and 1,000 participants each year. The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia offers several initiatives for youth, religious leaders, and women. Their annual “Dare to Understand Award” acknowledges the efforts of individuals who exemplify interfaith leadership.
In 2013, a former synagogue at the corner of Limekiln Pike and Washington Avenue in the Oak Lane neighborhood was purchased by a Muslim community. The center was first built in 1947 to house Temple SinaiSinai is the holy mountain on which Moses is said to have received the Torah, and where the people of Israel once again entered into a covenant with God.. It was sold in the 1970s to West Oak Lane Church of GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities.. Today, Masjidullah, Inc., the property’s new owner, hopes it will become a “city-wide masjid” that will promote “the unity of the Muslim community” in addition to interfaith partnerships, according to an interview with NBC10 Philadelphia. Leaders from Temple Sinai and West Oak Lane Church of God welcome the growing Muslim community. A member of the church’s board of trustees told the imamImam means “leader,” particularly the person who leads the daily ritual prayer or, more broadly, to the one who serves as a leader of the community because of his religious learning. In Shi’i Islam, it refers to one of a succession of direct descend...: “When I look across the room and see who’s buying the building, I’m glad it’s in your hands.”
For over three centuries Philadelphia—the “city of brotherly love”—has welcomed new neighbors, and today thrives in America’s new multireligious reality.