San Francisco began as a Spanish mission, San Francisco de Asis, on land inhabited by Native Ohlone/Costanoan peoples for centuries. The year was 1776, the same year the Declaration of Independence was signed on the other side of the continent; here, FranciscanThe Franciscan religious order, distinctive for its adherence to a vow of poverty, was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209. missionaries established their outpost on the highland area now called the Presidio. In 1846, California declared independence from Mexico, and in 1848, after a long war, Mexico ceded California to the U.S. Then gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill and the rush to California began: this gold rush of 1849 brought an eager and diverse lot of “forty-niners” to the Bay Area. Since that time, successive waves of immigrants have made the San Francisco Bay Area their home, seeking opportunities and creating a new religious reality.
The city’s first Jewish service was held in a space above a store in 1849; today, it is the site of the iconic Transamerica Pyramid. This Jewish congregation built the city’s first 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 1854. A number of San Francisco’s Jews have figured prominently in the city’s development, including Levi Strauss, who started making “Levis” from the canvas used for tents and covered wagons. Today, there are more than 200,000 Jews living in the Bay Area, representing the whole spectrum of modern JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol..., including Jewish RenewalJewish Renewal refers to a wide variety of contemporary Jewish movements that emphasize Jewish mystical spirituality, Jewish visionary reform, Jewish social conscience, and Jewish participation in tikkun olam, the “repair of the world.”, LGBTQ, independent, and unaffiliated congregations.
Chinese miners were attracted by the gold rush, the first group arriving in 1848. They brought TaoistThe Daoist tradition incorporates a highly diverse range of philosophical, religious, and folk values and practices, all of which share a concern for realigning human life so that it is in better accord with the natural rhythms of the universe. Symbols of..., Buddhist, and Confucian traditions to America for the first time. In 1852, America’s first Chinese 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... was opened in what was to become San Francisco’s Chinatown. Over more than 150 years, Chinatown has grown and been surrounded by a city of skyscrapers, but it retains its concentration of Chinese 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 Chinese churchesThe 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 .... Increasingly, second- and third-generation Chinese have moved out of Chinatown to North Beach, Russian Hill, or the Richmond district north of Golden Gate Park. In Richmond today, there are many Chinese 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....
In the 1860s, Japanese workers began to arrive, many of them followers of 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... tradition. In 1914, they built their first temple, the Buddhist 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 San Francisco, which has long served as a center of Japanese 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 the Bay Area. The temple was closed during World War II when the Japanese of San Francisco, including many second and third generation Americans, were sent to “relocation centers.” After the war, the temple reopened and functioned as a hostel to help Japanese Americans as they re-established their lives in the area. Today, the Buddhist Church of San Francisco’s ObonThe annual honoring of ancestors is celebrated by the various Buddhist ethnic communities at different times of the year, and is known by different names including Ullambana, Yu-lan-p’en, Obon, Vu-lan, the Obon Festival, Vietnamese Mothers’ Day and An... Festival annually attracts Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike; the first festival at the temple was held as early as 1931 and is thought to be the oldest Obon FestivalThe annual honoring of ancestors is celebrated by the various Buddhist ethnic communities at different times of the year, and is known by different names including Ullambana, Yu-lan-p’en, Obon, Vu-lan, the Obon Festival, Vietnamese Mothers’ Day and An... observances in the continental United States.
The Buddhist life of the Bay Area includes the traditions of these Chinese and Japanese pioneers, as well as more recent Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese, and Tibetan communities. The distinctively American Zen movement that formed under the leadership of Shunryu SuzukiShunryu Suzuki (d. 1971) arrived in America in 1959 to serve as the priest of the Soto Zen Mission in San Francisco. Unlike his predecessors at the Mission, Suzuki not only served the Japanese congregation, but also devoted himself to teaching the practic... Roshi in the 1970s runs the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC), Green Gulch Farm, and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. There are dozens of other American Buddhist meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo... centers, retreat centers, and community projects. One such center, the Hartford Street Zen Center, created the nation’s first Buddhist AIDS Hospice in the United States in the late 1980s; today, the MaitriThe bodhisattva Maitreya, depicted in Chinese and Japanese Buddhist temples as a jolly, rotund figure often surrounded by children, will be the next Buddha in this world. He currently presides over Tushita Heaven. In East Asia, Maitreya came to be seen as... Hospice continues its work, and is joined by the SFZC’s Zen Hospice Project, which provides care for the dying through an extensive volunteer program and guest house, as well as grief support and programs for those living with chronic illness.
The Bay Area is also characterized by a diverse Christian population. In 1872, with a growing community of Russian OrthodoxIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. Christians, the diocesan headquarters for the Russian Church in the West moved to San Francisco from Sitka, Alaska. San Francisco remained the center of Russian OrthodoxyIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. in the United States until 1905. The Roman Catholics, who founded the San Francisco mission more than two hundred years ago, have a vibrant history here. Nowhere is this more evident than in the city’s Mission District, where Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and Central America have transformed the urban landscape through the work of large, energetic parishesA parish is the geographical neighborhood or area served by a church or pastor. like St. Peter’s. Painters, using the walls of churches for a canvas, have rendered powerful outdoor murals depicting the human struggle for freedom and justice. The city’s African American churches are also numerous and include the unique SaintSaints are human beings whose lives have displayed extraordinary holiness and devotion. As such they become examples for others. Indeed some of the faithful may understand them to be intermediaries and seek their help in time of need. Roman Catholics and ... John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, where saxophone players process down the aisles playing jazz. The great churches of the city range from the 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... Glide Memorial Church with its powerful urban outreach programs, to the elegant EpiscopalianEpiscopal 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. Grace Cathedral on top of Nob Hill, to the modern St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Catholic archdiocese.
Before the mid-1950s, there was no meeting place for San Francisco’s Muslims, who were forced to travel to Sacramento for communal prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.. In 1955, the Muslim community was offered a small room at the College of the Pacific in which to meet and hold daily prayers. Nine years later 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 Francisco was established in a former Black BaptistThe Baptist tradition includes a variety of Christian churches which trace their beginnings to the Anabaptist reform movement that rejected infant baptism insisting on the importance of baptizing only those who are able to profess the faith as believers. Church on CrescentThe crescent or new moon (hilal), marking the beginning of a new lunar month in the Islamic calendar, became a prevalent symbol of Islam after the Mamluk rulers first used it to decorate mosques in 14th century Cairo. Street. Today, the 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... continues to serve a large, ethnically diverse congregation of American Muslims, many hailing originally from India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa. 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... Darussalam, the largest mosque downtown, uses its central location to promote interfaith cooperation and to serve the local community. Today, there are more than forty mosquesMasjid (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... throughout the Bay Area; in Berkeley, Zaytuna College, the first Muslim college in America, was established in 2009.
The PaganThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga... community is also thriving in the Bay Area, where the international headquarters of the CovenantA covenant (or brit) is a mutual promise or compact between two parties. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, covenant is of deep significance in describing the mutual relationship of God and the people of faith. The major covenants in Jewish scripture... of the GoddessGoddess is a term used to refer to the female deity, either in the singular as the supreme divine reality, or in the plural as one of many particular or localized feminine deities. In the Hindu tradition, the Goddess refers to the very powerful, even supr..., the Women’s Spirituality Forum, and the Reclaiming Collective are all located. The Reclaiming Collective, founded in 1981, sponsors the annual public Spiral DanceThe spiral dance is a Pagan ritual dance that follows a snake-like coiling pattern. A line of dancers spirals into the center, back out, and back in again. Each dancer passes face to face with all the other participants; each member of the community is se... ritual, which has grown to become a well-known part of the Bay Area’s celebration of SamhainSamhain is an originally Irish holiday, now commonly known as Halloween. Celebrated on October 31, it is the night of the year when the veil between the spirit and the material worlds is the thinnest. It is thought to be the best night for communicating w... (Halloween). It remains one of the largest participatory WiccanWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and ... rituals in the United States, drawing over 1,200 participants each year.
San Francisco is home to the oldest Hindu temple in the West, the VedantaVedanta means the “end of the Veda” and refers to the Upanishads, those teachings which investigate the nature of the soul and ultimate reality and which are the last part of the Vedic corpus. The term also designates the philosphical system of classi... Society of San Francisco founded by SwamiSwami means “master” or “lord.” In the Hindu and Jain traditions of India it is used as a title of respect for deities, gurus (spiritual teachers), and sadhus (ascetics). VivekanandaVivekananda (1863-1902) was the foremost disciple of the great mystic Ramakrishna. Well educated and articulate in English, he spoke at the World’s Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893, describing Vedanta as a rational, spiritual, and universal tra... himself. The Vedanta SocietyThe Vedanta Society is affiliated with the Ramakrishna Order, headquartered at Belur Math in Calcutta. The first Vedanta Society in the United States was founded in New York in 1894 by Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). Vivekananda emphasized both Vedanta phi... continues to draw Euro- and Indian-American devotees. After the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, large numbers of South Asians began settling in the Bay Area and the following two decades witnessed the rapid growth of South Asian religious communities. In Silicon Valley during the 1980s, Hindus built the area’s first large Hindu Temple, located in the city of Livermore. It is now one of more than sixty Hindu templesA Hindu temple will be called a mandir in northern parts of India or a koyil in the south. There are many styles of temples and temple-complexes, but most temples are laid out according to precise dimensions and proportions and erected to be the symbolic ... and organizations, according to the Association for Religion Data Archives. The 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... of the Bay Area have built spectacular 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... in Fremont, El Sobrante, and San Jose; in Hayward, 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... community gathers in a converted church building, and in the heart of the city’s Haight-Ashbury district, the Guru Ram DasThe fourth of the ten Sikh Gurus, Ram Das served as Guru from 1574 to 1581. He is primarily known for establishing the town of Ramdaspur, later known as Amritsar, in the Punjab. AshramIn the religious traditions of India, an ashram is a retreat center, where the cultivation of religious life takes place under the guidance of a teacher or guru. holds a monthly gurdwaraThe 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... program at the Kundalini YogaKundalini is a powerful spiritual energy, understood to be concentrated at the base of the spine like a coiled serpent. The discipline of releasing and raising that energy to the head where it transforms one’s consciousness is called kundalini yoga, a s... Center. Further south, the Bay Area Zarathusthi (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...) community has a dar-e-mehrA Zoroastrian house of worship is often known as a “fire temple” because Zoroastrians pray in the presence of fire. Fire temples in India and Iran are named according to the grade of fire; the highest grade temple is known as an Atash Bahram. In the U... nestled in the rolling hills outside San Jose.
In the year 2000, the Jain community established a two-story temple in Milpitas, after decades of meeting in rented halls, private homes, and sharing space at the Hindu Temple in Fremont. Amidst the diffusion of the diverse religious communities from South Asia, newer efforts seek to bring these communities together. Not far from the Jain TempleEach Jain temple is regarded as a replica of the assembly hall miraculously created by the gods for Mahavira upon his enlightenment. Hence, in entering a temple, a Jain has the sense of approaching the spot where a living Tirthankara sits in omniscient co... in Milpitas is the India Community Center (ICC), with the slogan: “Unite. Serve. Celebrate.” The ICC seeks to strengthen “a broad and inclusive Indian identity rather than the narrower ones that most other religious or regional centers do.” This center, modeled on the JCC, represents an impulse to connect across lines of difference and to serve the wider community: it also signifies an immigrant community coming of age in America.