The New Neighbors

Will Americans embrace gurdwaras and mosques in the suburbs?

Harvard University religion scholar Diana Eck says the United States is now the most religiously diverse nation in the world, thanks to the Immigration Act of 1965, which eliminated quotas linking immigration to national origins. Since then, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, and new varieties of Jews and Catholics have arrived from every part of the globe and altered the religious landscape. Eck recently spoke with Deborah Caldwell, Beliefnet's religion producer, about America's new religious pluralism, which she documents in her new book, "A New Religious America."

What statistics surprised you?

The growth of the Islamic community. They see a growth to 6 million Muslims, 1,200 mosques, and a doubling of the mosque attendance rate. All of us have some sense there are more Muslims here than before, but the dimensions of this, that make the Islamic population virtually equal to the Jewish population in the United States, are arresting.

One Nation, Under God

  • Read an excerpt of Diana Eck's new book.

  • Gregg Easterbrook says America is still a Christian nation.

  • Another view: Despite pluralism, Rick Rood says, there is still just one way to God.

  • Explore the website of Eck's Pluralism Project.
  • What trends surprised you?

    Zoning difficulties [between religious groups], hate crimes, the ways people in local communities become astounded and even frightened by the fact that there are new Islamic or Sikh communities in town.

    Suddenly a Sikh gurdwara will apply for permission to build in a certain neighborhood, or a Vietnamese Buddhist home temple will suddenly be noticed by its neighborhood, and literally the first place they encounter one another as neighbors is in the courts and the zoning board.

    One of the things you say is that now, immigrants are beginning to fill in the middle of the country, as opposed to living primarily on the coasts. Were you able to document how far along that trend is?

    Certainly the density of the multi-religious population is still in the big urban areas, but there are lots of smaller urban areas and even rural areas where we were surprised to see new communities. For example, in the farmland outside Minneapolis there's a Lao temple and a Khmer temple. And similarly, some of the oldest Islamic communities in the country are in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where there is a very old Syrian and Lebanese Muslim community.

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