Welcome to the new world

When I was a little girl, I opened Life Magazine to see a picture of my dashingly handsome Uncle Vic in an advertisement for families to attend church. Alongside a blonde model, who was wearing a small white hat and short gloves, with a little blond boy and girl between them, my uncle knelt with his "family" in prayer before a stained glass window—the picture of Leave It to Beaver domesticity and Protestant traditionalism.

That picture of my uncle was a hoot, because he hadn't stepped inside a church to pray since his own childhood. But as false as that actual picture was, the idea it conveyed certainly conformed to the religious landscape of the United States prior to 1965: mostly northern and eastern European, Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish.

What a difference a few decades make. Now, in communities across the United States, Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques, and Sikh gurdwaras have sprung up everywhere, alongside traditional churches and Jewish temples. In her widely quoted book on religious pluralism, A New Religious America, Harvard professor Diana L. Eck explains the changing face of religious life in the United States: "The religious landscape of America has changed radically in the past thirty years, but most of us have not yet begun to see the dimensions and scope of that change, so gradual has it been and yet so colossal. It began with the 'new immigration,' spurred by the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, as people from all over the world came to America and have become citizens. With them have come the religious traditions of the world—Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Zoroastrian, African, and Afro-Caribbean."

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100 years ago
June 3, 2002

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