San Diego, a sprawling southern California city with seventy miles of coastline and a well known “surf and turf” culture, has a long history of religious diversity. The city was founded in 1769 as the first Catholic mission in California, Mission Basilica San Diego De Alcalá. Just over seventy-five years later, 500 MormonsThe 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... trekked from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego to offer military support to the American army during the Mexican War. Their march—one of the longest in U.S. military history—is commemorated in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, located on Juan Street. Recently, economic opportunities, picturesque beaches, and the presence of prestigious colleges and universities have contributed to the region’s exponential expansion, bringing immigrants in record number to “America’s Finest City.” This influx led one activist to describe San Diego’s interfaith scene as “a cocoon… ready to burst forth.”
The 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 ... of JesusJesus is the historical figure considered by Christians to be the Christ, the Messiah, whose life and teachings, death and resurrection give clear evidence of God’s love for humankind. Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE... Christ of Latter Day SaintsThe 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... is one of the most populous religious communities in San Diego today, along with EvangelicalThe Greek word euangelion means “good news” and an evangelist is one who proclaims and shares the good news of Christ. Evangelism is the preaching and witnessing to that good news. Evangelicals are Christians who emphasize the personal experience of G... Christians and Catholics. Mt. Soledad, just north of San Diego, has for decades been a site for sunrise Easter services and for controversy. A large metal crossThe cross is the central symbol of the Christian faith, pointing to the significance for the church of the whole Christ event: the life and teachings, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. was erected on public land in the 1950s and since the 1990s become part of a war memorial at Mt. Soledad. Legal battles over the constitutionality of the cross have continued since the late 1980s. In 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision in Trunk v. City of San Diego (2011) which ruled the cross’ placement unconstitutional.
Jewish and Buddhist communities have long had a presence in San Diego. In 1861, Congregation Beth 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 founded and remains the city’s largest 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 ..., today boasting nearly 4,000 members. The Buddhist TempleBuddhist temples differ considerably from one another depending upon culture and particular school, but most are associated with the residence of the sangha of monks. Theravada temples focus on one or more images of Sakyamuni Buddha. In Mahayana and Vajra... of San Diego was founded in 1926, 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... with ties to the Jodo ShinshuThe Jodo Shinshu or True Pure Land school of Buddhism was founded by the Japanese monk Shinran Shonin in the 12th century. This tradition regards chanting the name of Amida Buddha as the most appropriate form of practice in the current degenerate age. Tod... School of BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... in Japan. During World War II when the Japanese American community was barred from San Diego, the Temple was ransacked and lit afire. Today, it is a member of the Buddhist Churches of AmericaThe Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) is the institutional name of Jodo Shinshu or “True Pure Land” Buddhism in the U.S. This Buddhism of Japanese immigrants regards the chanting of the name of Amida as the most appropriate form of practice in the cu... and remains the oldest and largest—but no longer the only—temple in the city. Since the 1960s, many Buddhist templesBuddhist temples differ considerably from one another depending upon culture and particular school, but most are associated with the residence of the sangha of monks. Theravada temples focus on one or more images of Sakyamuni Buddha. In Mahayana and Vajra... have been established to accomodate the growing number of Asian and Asian American residents. The Buddhist landscape of San Diego now includes dozens of templesA 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... and organizations, many of which serve practitioners of a particular ethnicity, including Cambodian, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese.
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 San Diego is the largest 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... in the city and offers opportunities for youth like the Summer Tarbiyah Program for high school students and Muslim Girl Scout troops. The website Sandiegomuslims.com provides a calendar of events and database of Muslim owned businesses and since 2001 has acted as an online hub to connect Muslims of San Diego.
Two of the city’s main 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... organizations were founded in the 1990s: the Sikh Society of San Diego in 1994 and the Sikh Foundation of San Diego, located in nearby Poway, in 1998. SikhsSikhs 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..., like Gagandeep Kaur, are actively involved in interfaith efforts in San Diego. KaurAll Sikh women who have joined the Khalsa assume the name Kaur, “Princess.” was drawn to interfaith work post-9/11 and is a member of the San Diego District Attorney’s Interfaith Advisory Board.
It was also during the 1990s and the first Gulf War that several interfaith initiatives sprang up in San Diego out of concern for “antipathy…aimed at the Muslim community,” according to one interfaith leader. Post-9/11 experiences of discrimination led to further interfaith efforts, prompting Sikhs and Hindus to join in greater numbers as well. One of earliest interfaith initiatives in the city, Interfaith Community Services was founded in 1982 and brings together over 350 faith centers to provide food, shelter and housing, employment, and veterans’ services, among others.
While conversations about the role of religion in public life are ongoing in the city, it seems likely that the next few decades will be characterized not by controversy but by cooperation as neighbors continue to educate one another in an increasingly multireligious San Diego.