In Richmond, history is a source of pride. In 1786, the state legislature of Virginia passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, an act commemorated nearly two hundred years later with the founding of the First Freedom Center. The Center’s mission now includes an imperative to advance “the fundamental human rights of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.” Given Richmond’s new multireligious reality, this charge is now more critical than ever.
During the American Civil War, Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy, a role that is commemorated along Monument Avenue. Larger-than-life statues of Confederate leaders line the European-style boulevard that runs through the Museum District. In the mid-1990s controversy erupted when a statue of the renowned African American tennis player and activist, Arthur Ashe, was erected. Some saw the decision as an insult to Ashe, whose likeness would be next to that of General Robert E. Lee while others saw the new addition as an affront to the history of the Confederacy.
Although Richmond has struggled with issues of race, these tensions did not surface in the wake of September 11, 2001. Whereas many South Asian and Middle Eastern communities across the nation experienced violent backlash in the days following the attacks, Richmonders chose to respond differently. Bon Air United 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... 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 ... sent flowers to the Islamic CenterAn Islamic center will typically include a mosque, school, and area for social and cultural activities. When a new Islamic center is being organized in the United States, attention is paid to community needs, including a weekend or full-time school, indic... of Virginia. This simple gesture grew into an interfaith initiative, the Interfaith Trialogues, which annually bring together for conversation the Methodist congregation, the Islamic center, and a local 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 ..., Congregation Or Ami. In 2011, the Trialogue expanded to include local PresbyterianPresbyterian is the general name for churches governed by elected presbyters or elders and refers especially to Reformed churches in Scotland and England that shaped Presbyterian churches worldwide. The church is distinguished both from those in which aut... and Catholic communities.
Richmond’s skyline indicates a historically large Christian presence—church steeples as often as skyscrapers dot the landscape; however, more recent immigrant groups have begun making their mark on the city. In addition to the Islamic Center of Richmond, the city is home to over fifteen masajid and Islamic organizations, including the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs. A 2009 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that over 3,000 Muslims gathered in nearby Henrico to celebrate Eid al-Adha, a celebration that has in recent years moved to the Greater Richmond Convention Center, with organizers adding an additional service to accommodate the crowds.
The Hindu community also gathers annually at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Since 1982, they have organized a Festival of India for residents to enjoy Indian culture, food, and music. The event’s sponsor, the Hindu Center of Richmond, is a 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... located just north of the Islamic Center in the suburb of Glen Allen. The temple is a hub of community activity, offering pujasFor the religious traditions of India, the term puja simply means “worship.. For Hindus, puja is the sequence of hospitality rites through which worshippers honor a deity with offerings such as water, fruit, a coconut, cloth, incense, and an oil lamp, a... and classes to learn Hindi and Marathi, as well as yogaYoga is a Sanskrit word, deriving from a verb meaning “to yoke” or “to join.” Body and consciousness are joined together in the discipline of yoga. Yoga practice involves ethical restraints, the mastery of bodily postures (called asanas), the cont... and music.
The 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... Association of Central Virginia was founded in 1984. Today, two 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... serve the community in Richmond, one to the south in Chesterfield and another to the west of Bon Air. While the Hindu temple and Sikh gurdwaras in Richmond are not geographic neighbors, the communities are brought together online through RichmondIndia.us, an informational web resource founded to meet the Indian community’s religious, cultural, and social needs.
Other groups organize themselves by tradition instead of by culture. Richmond is home to the Ekoji Buddhist SanghaThe Sangha is the community of monks or, more broadly, the community of Buddhists. To formally become a Buddhist, one takes refuge in the Three Treasures: the Buddha, Dharma (the Buddha’s teachings), and Sangha. In its widest sense, “sangha” refers ... which was founded in 1986 as a Pure LandPure Land is a term used in the Mahayana Buddhist traditions to denote the realm under the auspices of a particular Buddha, most often referring to Sukhavati, the Land of Ultimate Bliss presided over by Amitabha Buddha. A Pure Land is an ideal place of cu... temple. Over time, Ekoji has begun hosting several Buddhist groups from the Soto ZenThe Caodong school of Chan Buddhism was founded in China the 9th century. Dogen introduced Soto (the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese graphs for Caodong) to Japan in the 13th century, where it quickly developed into one of the preeminent schools. In ..., Tibetan, TheravadaTheravada, literally “the way of the elders,” was one of the eighteen earliest sub-schools of Buddhism. Today, the term designates the various traditions of Buddhism most prominent in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Although these traditions differ in i..., and Meditative Inquiry traditions, resulting in a pan-Buddhist coalition.
In 2013, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy celebrated thirty years of amplifying the voices of the region’s religious communities through grassroots organizing and lobbying, tackling issues such as stewardship of creation, immigration, poverty, hunger, at-risk youth, and healthcare. The Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond also has a long history in the city, with roots in Christian women’s social service organization in the early 1900s. Today, the Interfaith Council is comprised of members from Bahá’í, Buddhist, Eckankar, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Unitariana belief in one God that rejects the three persons of the Trinity that has much in common with the belief in the early Christian church about the superiority of God over Jesus and the Anti-Trinitarian writing that emerged during the Protestant Reformation... Universalist, Unity, and ZoroastrianOriginating with the teachings of the Prophet Zarathushtra in the second millennium BCE, the ancient faith of Zoroastrianism is referred to as “the Good Religion” in the sacred texts. Zoroastrians are encouraged to live out their faith through the pra... traditions in addition to Catholic, MormonThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, was launched by Joseph Smith (1805-44) who discovered a new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which became, along with the Bible, the “latter day” scripture of the new commu..., and 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....
From the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom to the Capital of the Confederacy to a new multi-religious, multi-ethnic state capital, Richmond’s history is long and storied. As the city continues to grow, its increasingly diverse population will no doubt find new ways of sharing those stories and creating new ones.