Volume VI - (2004-2005)

Taking UTS to the Streets: Teaching Living Religions in the Neighborhoods of New York

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 11, 2010 - Pages 91-118

The Unification Theological Seminary website is titled “UTS—The Interfaith Seminary.” One click and the heading reads, “UTS—Equipping Interreligious Peacebuilders.” One more click and you read, “About UTS—An International and Interdenominational Graduate Level Seminary.” Click still again and the Mission Statement concludes that the seminary aims to empower people “to serve communities of the Christian and diverse faiths to the glory of God and benefit of humanity.” In addition, the seminary requires students to take Paths of Faith and other course offerings on the world’s religions. UTS is clearly a seminary dedicated to the study of world religions and the preparation of trained professionals with a deep understanding of people and communities of various religions. With such an ambitious goal it was almost inevitable that the seminary should have a venue in the heart of New York City .

The multitude of houses of worship, ranging from Fifth Avenue ’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Chinese Buddhist storefront temples; the diversity of religions in the city, ranging from mainstream Catholics to Santeria; the omnipresence of public manifestations of religion, from the annual Fifth Avenue Muslim Day Parade to Christmas lights and a nativity scene in the front yard of a house in The Bronx; and the parade of religious symbols one sees on the streets, ranging from Catholic rosary beads around the necks of Hispanic dudes in Washington Heights to Orthodox Jewish side curls in Brooklyn, constitute the world’s richest concentration of primary sources for the study of world religions.

This article will analyze five ways in which the experience of living in the modern, religiously diverse city influences our perceptions of world religions. Each of the four topics will analyze the experience itself—The Experience—and how these experiences can enrich the learning experience—Analysis.

  • On Fifth Avenue will analyze the street experience of being surrounded by a multitude of houses of worship in a modern religiously diverse city;
  • In Flushing, Queens will study the omnipresence of public displays of religion in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing;
  • In Harlem will delve into the influence of the inevitable and often obligatory attendance at different religious ceremonies and holidays in Harlem;
  • Mid-Manhattan will visit the many auditoriums, halls, and exposition centers that publicly perform mass conversions, marriages, and other solemn events; and
  • Morningside Heights will explore the plethora of readily available institutions that offer the curious a chance to deepen their knowledge of religions.

 

On Fifth Avenue

The Experience

Almost every semester I take my students on a walking tour of Fifth Avenue, which I have presented in my fourth New York City book, Fifth Avenue : the Autobiography of a Street.[1] From Washington Square whence the famed avenue begins to 110th Street where it withers into just another avenue, one can trace through architecture the city’s evolution from a Dutch colony to today. The avenue is a virtual textbook in stone, marble, and stained glass of the succession of religious groups who dominated the city’s elite.

First came the Dutch in 1624 and whose memory is preserved at Marble Collegiate Church, which was made famous by the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale and whose life-size statue stands in front of the church. While the Dutch constitute today but a miniscule part of the city’s population, their contributions to the city are monumental. Incorporated in 1628, like most old city houses of worship, the Dutch church slowly followed the growth of the city northward until it reached its present location at Fifth Avenue and 29th Street in 1854.

First Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1846 at 12th Street , chronicles the contributions of the Scotch Presbyterians since the church was founded in 1716. “The Church of the Patriots” as it is called, cherishes its central role in the American Revolution, which the British called “The Presbyterian Revolt.”

Following the English takeover of the Dutch city in 1664, the Anglicans (Episcopalians following the American Revolution) likewise moved northward, until 1829 when their flagship church made the move to Fifth Avenue at 11th Street .

St. Patrick’s Cathedral was founded in 1815 with the arrival of the Irish, who were fleeing English colonial occupation and later the potato famine. Between 1858 and 1878 the current cathedral was constructed on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st streets. At last, the “shanty Irish” who had huddled in the Lower East Side had made it to Fifth Avenue .

BrownTemple 

Temple Emanuel

Likewise, German-speaking Jews who arrived at about the same time founded Temple Emanu’El in 1845. What began in a rented room on Grand and Clinton streets, after seven decades finally made it to the Avenue. “The Irish and Jews had to battle their ways onto the prestigious Fifth Avenue ,” I tell my students. “They were not wanted. But finally they had enough money and accumulated enough power to force their way onto the Avenue. Today, what would Fifth Avenue be without St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Temple Emanu’El ?”

In addition to these historic landmarks, there are a host of other houses of worship on or near the Avenue, ranging from the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian and Fifth Avenue Synagogue, St. Thomas Episcopal, St. Nicholas’ Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and Baptist, Methodist, Serbian Orthodox, and many others. I usually complete my walking tours at The Islamic Culture Center at 96th Street and 3rd Avenue, which was completed in 1991 and which both brings our historical tour of the city to the present and highlights one of the most contemporary and striking New York city houses of worship.

Broadway, Lenox Avenue in Harlem, and the Grand Concourse in The Bronx likewise preserve their own unique denominational histories, the histories of the neighborhoods, and of the city itself in the language of stone, marble, stained glass, and symbols.

Analysis

The most obvious response to strolling past a string of different houses of worship is, as Lowell W. Livezey writes in Public Religion and Urban Transformation is a “tangible sense of that abstract concept of [religious] diversity.” Such abstract concepts as “Freedom of Religion,” “religious diversity,” and “religious tolerance” become concrete, visible, and tangible. One can see diversity, experience it, even stop in for a visit.[2] 

For many passersby, especially those from foreign countries where one faith is dominant, the New York street experience of religious diversity is profoundly troubling. Latin American students instinctively expect every city to have a central square dominated by the Roman Catholic cathedral and governor’s palace. Indian students expect a plethora of Hindu temples along the main streets with Christian, Muslim or Buddhist houses of worship off on side streets. Catholic Paris is dominated by Notre Dame, Orthodox Moscow by St. Basil’s, Rome by St. Peter’s, Mecca by the Ka’aba and Cairo by the mosques. But in New York City there is no central dominating religious structure.

Whatever their backgrounds, the overwhelming impression one gets from walking the streets of the city is of religious pluralism, “It’s New York !” Such writers as Robert Orsi, Gods of the City,[3] Tony Carnes, New York Glory: Religion in the City,[4] and David W. Dunlap, From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship[5] celebrate the city’s religious diversity.

The Center for History and Economics of King’s College, Cambridge , sponsored a colloquium on religion and the city in July 2005 which addressed the difficulties people like my Latin American students had in understanding the modern religiously diverse city. Religious diversity, the report of the colloquium wrote, was “a reflection of a divine cosmology.” “The body of the modern city,” with all its confusion, competition, and diversity, reflected our equally confused, competitive, and diverse under­standings of God. Those practitioners of religion who refuse to accept the modern world will be relegated to obscurity while those who embrace the changing times will pastor mega-churches, mega-synagogues, mosques and temples.[6]

A second level of analysis I bring to this tour is the heroic and often miraculous pilgrimage that the various religious groups endured in their journey to Fifth Avenue . All New York religious groups, both immigrant and native-born, have followed the same six steps. It can be seen in the emer­gence of the city’s original Irish Catholics and German Reform Jews from:

  1. their first living room prayer rooms,
  2. a rented storefront,
  3. a purchased secular building (office or factory),
  4. the purchase of a disused church or synagogue,
  5. the construction of a house of worship, and finally
  6. their arrival on Fifth Avenue.

It was a long and laborious process. I refer to these steps as the “Six Step Program” inevitably followed by all immigrant faith groups until today.[7]

The competition to construct ever more monumental houses of worship on Fifth Avenue , Broadway, Lenox Avenue in Harlem and The Grand Concourse in The Bronx is what Degan Sudjic in The Edifice Complex described as the human need “to glorify your religion and to intimidate your rivals.”[8] “Architecture is about power,” he wrote, and in the competitive world of New York religion, power means a bigger and better house of worship in a prime location. As they say in the city, “it’s location, location, location!” [9]

Still another level of analysis deals with the choice of architectural styles is a revealing aspect of a particular denomination or religion, whether on Fifth Avenue or any other street in the city. St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral near 97th Street and Fifth Avenue , for example, was built at the turn of the 20th century by the Russian architect John Bergesen who adopted the classical 17th century Baroque Moscow Orthodox style. His intention was to bind the Russian immigrants firmly to Mother Moscow and resist the powerful forces of assimilation that assailed all immigrant groups to America . Ironically, when Mother Moscow went communist, St. Nicholas headed the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.[10]

St. Patrick’s Cathedral proclaims to all the history of Catholicism and the Catholics in the city, from the great age of persecution in the Dutch and English colony through their liberation until the present. Conceived during the Middle Ages when few were literate, Gothic churches were covered with statues of the great saints and theologians of the church, symbols of the lofty mysteries of the faith, and images of Jesus, Mary, and other Christian holy men and women.[11] The massive bronze central doors of the cathedral portray the history of the church in New York from the first Indian converts, the colonial period, and the present. Of course the choice of St. Patrick as the patron of the church testifies to the Irish domination of the city’s Catholics. Likewise, a south-west side window of Temple Emanu’El traces the history of the congregation through a series of images of its earlier houses of worship to the present.

Finally, religious architecture, especially when a congregation reaches the stages of constructing its own house of worship, whether on Fifth Avenue or any other prime location, inevitably confronts a major decision. Does it want to use architecture to reinforce its attachments to its homeland or does it want to use architecture to proclaim its complete Americanization? The Islamic Culture Center at 96th Street and 3rd Avenue is a strikingly modern glass and steel structure. Built by the skyscraper firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, it communicates the aspiration to firmly root Islam in the modern world and propel it into the future. David Dunlap, in From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship wrote that the new mosque was “for the 21st Century,” an interpretation he repeated in his review of the building in the New York Times.[12]

Even a casual stroll along Fifth Avenue testifies to the prominence of religion on an avenue long associated with the palatial mansions of the wealthy, prestigious hotels and expensive restaurants, exclusive stores, and world-famous cultural institutions. Religion constitutes a vital part of the urban infrastructure as the milling masses of worshippers and visitors reveals, even along this avenue so dominated by secular symbols of wealth and power.

 

In Flushing, Queens

The Experience

Located in the northern edge of Queens County on the Long Island Sound, Flushing was founded by the Dutch in 1645 and named after the town of Vlissingen in Holland . Desperate for settlers, the Dutch of New Amsterdam granted the area to a group of persecuted English dissident Quakers and Baptists and pretty much anyone else who chose to settle in the Dutch colony. The influx of diverse religious groups into Flushing eventually caused Governor Peter Stuyvesant to have second thoughts about the heretical Quakers, who tipped their hat to no earthly lord. In 1657 he attempted to suppress them. The residents of the town penned the famous “Flushing Remonstrance” on December 27, 1657 at the still existing Bowne House on Bowne Street . It demanded religious freedom for Christians of all denominations, and also for Jews and even Muslims (Egyptians), whom none of the signers had ever even seen. The Dutch West India Company took the side of the residents of Flushing and ordered the governor to permit the Quakers and all others to worship freely. Flushing thus claims to be the birthplace of religious freedom in the New World. Today still it is one of the most religiously diverse places on earth.

The old Quaker Meeting House of 1694 on Northern Boulevard is the oldest existing house of worship in New York City . It was joined by Episcopalians who founded St. George’s Church on Main Street in 1702. Under the banner of dragon-slaying the clergy and members of St. George’s attempted to bring the resident Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians and other heretics into the fold, but without success. Flushing has continued ever since to attract a host of religious groups—African Methodist Episcopal, Jewish (Reform and Orthodox), Dutch Reformed, and Catholic communities, later Adventists, Pentecostals, and Mormons, and following the 1964 immigration reform act, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim congregations, as well as Christians of all denominations from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and Latin America.

Walking the streets of Flushing, and later reading the revolutionary text of the Flushing Remonstrance leaves one awestruck that already in the middle of the 17th century New York City was in the forefront of establishing freedom of religion and tolerating religious diversity. The sheer concentration of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples of every kind, plus a host of tiny storefront chapels, prayer rooms, living room shrines, and posters advertising various religious services convinces passersby that whatever your faith, however deeply faithful to your faith you may be, no matter how convinced you are that followers of other faiths are hell bound, you live in a world of religious diversity.

However, on any given walking tour of Flushing, the dizzying diversity of religious expression is found in more than just the architecture of houses of worship. Public displays of religion abound on Flushing’s streets. In an area marked by such religious diversity, groups do not hesitate to proclaim their faith to all.

At Christmas in Flushing, on every corner, in every store, and in many front yards giant red-clad figures of Santa Claus wish you a “Merry Christmas” even before Santa on the last float of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan has officially opened the holiday shopping season. And so begins the annual orgy of cards, parties, trees, decorations, gifts, strings of lights, nativity scenes in front yards, music filling stores and streets, the Salvation Army kettles, Santa perched on rooftops, Handel’s Messiah, Fifth Avenue department store window displays, the Rockefeller Center tree, and of course the Christmas bonus.

Giving in to their children’s queries, “Why don’t we celebrate Christmas?” Jews at the Free Synagogue transformed the relative minor holiday of Hanukah to major holiday status. African-Americans at Ebenezer Baptist and Macedonian A.M.E. churches celebrate Kwanzaa as their contributions to the “Holiday Season.” Hindus at the Ganesha Temple grafted Diwali (The festival of lights) onto the season, and people of other faiths did not hesitate to wish their friends a generic “Happy Holiday.”

UTS students visit the Ganesha Temple in Flushing

BrownStudents

The public cele­bra­tion of holidays in Flushing is not just re­stricted to “the Holiday Season.” At Chinese New Year dra­gons roam the streets. St. Patrick’s Day is cele­brated by all, not just the Irish Catholics at St. Michael’s. Hindus at the Ganesha Temple host the Ganesha Parade in honor of the Hindu Elephant-God of pros­perity. As a tour guide I can always be sure that anytime I give a tour there will be a celebration of some kind.

Street religion is also on display in the many “Halal” signs on food vendors, restaurants, and grocery stores in Arabic in heavily Muslim areas of Flushing. As we approach the Muslim center on Geranium Avenue , Muslim women cover their hair, men with flowing robes and often turbans stroll by, and the sounds of calls to prayer can be heard.

Still another street experience of religion is the ever-present advertise­ments, window displays, posters, theater marquees, fliers, brochures, and the barrage of music with religious themes. One can hardly pass a bookstore without noticing a window featuring the best selling vampire novels of Anne Rice, or more, her series on the life of Jesus; the 16-volume apocalyptic Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins; New Age and cult novels and personal accounts; books on miracles, angels, ESP, magic, ghosts, and aliens; terrorism, religious wars in Palestine/Israel, North Ireland, Iraq, and Pakistan; as well as best sellers on or by Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, the Dalai Lama, Rick Warren of Purpose-Driven Life fame, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Osama bin Laden, to name just a few.

If you are not the reading type, movie marquees announce movies on religious themes ranging from the classic Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, from Interview with a Vampire to any number of “end of the world” movies such as The Rapture in a variety of languages. During the summer local pastors hand out leaflets and put up posters advertising their tent revival meetings. And if you should be able to ignore the barrage of street religion long enough to make it to the subway or bus, you will no doubt have to brush aside the fliers and brochures, leaflets and booklets before you can take a seat. Try as you may, you cannot avoid religion on the streets of Flushing, Queens.

Analysis

Numerous scholars and writers have taken the deluge of street religion as a sign of the return of new Yorkers to religion after a decades-long, if not century-long, process of secularization. Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School heralded the decline of religion in his The Secular City of 1965 and attempted to chart a path for religion in a secularized society. However, two decades later he was forced to recognize in his Religion in the Secular City that the “ Secular City ” was no longer so secular. Cox analysed the political dimension of this return—Zionism, Latin American Liberation Theology, the gay and women’s liberation movements, and the Civil Rights campaign.[13]

Another recent book chronicling the rise of religion is God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, which argues that religion has emerged from its centuries-long slumber and entered the world of economics, politics, culture, and warfare. It’s here to stay and we have to deal with it.[14] Strolling through the streets of Flushing, one might re-title their book The Gods Are Back in recognition of the multitudes of preachers and street religion laboring to attract you to his or her faith.

Nathan O. Hatch in The Democratization of American Christianity argues that “the return of God” is not a recent phenomenon, but began as a consequence of the American Revolution. The revolutionary American doctrines of separation of church and state and freedom of religion rejected the established authority of the ancient religious institution of the early 19th century “established churches”—the Puritans in New England, Dutch Reformed and Episcopalians in New York, Quakers in Pennsylvania , and Church of England in the South. Freed from hierarchical tyranny, a new “democratic religion”[15] of the masses “emanated from below,”[16] and resulted in a host of new religious movements—Mormons, Pentecostals, Fundamen­talists, Methodists, Salvation Army and Adventists. In this free marketplace of religion, “fierce religious competition” prevailed and the “movements that employed more aggressive measures prospered.”[17]

Many scholars have taken to referring to the city as a “religious shopping mall.” Micklethwait and Wooldridge write, “The great forces of modernity—technology and democracy, choice and freedom” have led to “the triumph of pluralism [which] means that all religious beliefs become competitors in the marketplace.” America led the way in “a customer-driven approach to salvation,” they write, and the world has followed the American model.[18]

The overwhelming presence of so many places of worship can challenge or even undermine the validity of one’s own religion. How can I continue to believe that my faith is the right one, when there is a sanctuary on each corner that believes the same? Are we all wrong? Or are we all right? How can we all be right? So are we all wrong?

Signs in storefront chapels are designed to attract customers. In Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture, R. Laurence Moore wrote that once clergymen recognized the threat to religion posed by the spread of mass, popular culture, “many religious leaders decided to fight fire with fire.” In short, “They entered the marketplace.”[19] Brochures, popular books, subway banners, radio advertisements, television shows and e-mail blasts—Moore devoted an entire chapter to “Religious Advertising,” a phrase intended to shock church people into recognizing to what extent American consumer culture has influenced religion.[20] Churches competed with each other to build the tallest steeple—called “steeple envy” in New York , as if to prove the truth of their doctrine by towering over neighboring churches. Consumers drift from church to cult, to another religion and back to Christ­ianity, like their style of shoes or sweatshirt changes with the fashion season.

“It’s a God-eat-God world out there” one pastor friend once told me. “The strong survive and the weak die. Ya have to give them what they want, because if you don’t there’s always that big church down the street!”

I recently came across a handy guide for harried shoppers in the religious market place, The Savvy Convert’s Guide to Choosing a Religion. A bit tongue in cheek, this religious companion to the city’s Zagat guide to restaurants, states in its introduction, “As a religion consumer, you’ll want to determine what you seek in a faith as well as acquire the tools to find it in the religion marketplace.”[21] If among the 99 religions analyzed “the right fit can elude you,” then “if you’re an entrepreneurial seeker, perhaps it’s time to start your own religion.” The guide provides “easy, step-by-step instructions” to do just that.[22]

Another aspect of the commercialization of religion is the transformation of the city streets into religious bazaars. The fifth session of the afore­men­tioned King’s College, Cambridge , colloquium was devoted to “The Street as Stage.” City streets are “urban theatres of devotion and religious practices.”[23] Ranging from Good Friday pilgrimages to processions with a giant statue of Ganesha to firecrackers exploding beside giant paper and plastic dragons and masses of Muslims before packed mosques at Ramadan, the modern religiously diverse city has witnessed a revival of street religion not seen since the Middle Ages. Such public displays of religion communicate the message that religion everywhere; it permeates the streets, parks, movie marquees, air waves, and billboards.

Robert A. Orsi argues that Catholics have always taken their religion into the streets. In The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950, he masterfully explored the “lived religion” of the Italian annual festa (which is still celebrated) as a melding of ethnicity, religion, and community values. He explores the struggle between the clergy and laity for ownership of the statue, control of the profits from the festa, conflict between the official opening Mass at the church and street festivities, and other aspects of the July celebration.[24]

But Diane Winston and John Giggie stress in Religion and the City that modern street religion is a form of advertising. Just as Madison Avenue advertisers appropriate religious symbols, themes, and holidays to market toys, diamonds and cars, religions draw on Madison Avenue to market their products.[25]

Henry Goldschmidt, in Race and religion: Among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights, also recognizes the power of street religion, and like Orsi interprets it as a dramatic expression of people laying “claim [to] the streets.” They “mark” their neighborhood as Holy Land. They “perform” their religion in the streets for all to see. The streets have truly become theaters for the performance of religion. Goldschmidt argues that for those chosen hours the neighborhood becomes “the center of the world” for the religious group.[26] Orsi calls the streets “cathedrals of the open air,” which “hallow the city—its buildings, streets, and public squares.”[27]

The streets of Flushing literally overwhelm a visitor with a sense of religious vitality. Religion is not confined to the sacred precincts of churches, synagogues, and temples, but spills out into the streets and parks becoming a part of the social lives of the neighborhoods many diverse peoples. “Come join us” the revelers seem to cry out. “Let’s turn the city into a place of worship.”

 

In Harlem

The Experience

Fifth Avenue is religious architecture heaven and Flushing is a paradise of public religion, but Harlem is the six days of the creation of the universe compressed into one neighborhood. Nowhere else in the city, or the nation or the world, can you interact with so many people of diverse religious backgrounds than in Harlem. One reason for this ease of interaction is the cultural hospitality of African-Americans. Even a hastily arranged “site visit” to a Harlem house of worship inevitably turns into a half-day cultural, gastronomical and religious experience.

The most Knickerbocker (a New York City Knickerbocker is anyone who can trace his or her ancestry to the Dutch or English colonial period—1624 to 1776) of African-American churches is the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church located at 140 West 137th Street. Founded in 1796, it was one of the first churches to move to Harlem and one of the few to construct its own house of worship during the Harlem Renaissance. “A site visit” to the church one Sunday morning began with a heartfelt greeting by the pastor himself, prime seats up front, public words of welcome from the pastor, and ended with a table full of food, introductions to half of the congregation, and a guided tour of the historic edifice. The meaning and significance of each of the words in the name: African, Methodist, Episcopal, and Zion were explained, and the thrilling events of the founding of the church were portrayed.

A site visit to Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist Church at 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue —the Broadway of Harlem—revealed a very different experience. It was founded in 1924, when the A.M.E. Zion church was already well over a century old, by migrants to the city from the Deep South. In 1930 the congregation purchased a former white Dutch Reformed Church which was constructed in 1887. Again a welcome by the pastors followed the service, coffee and cookies sated our hunger, and members of the congregation regaled us with stories of migration from the South and making their way in a hostile Northern city, and of course the teachings and beliefs of the Seventh Day Adventists.

In addition to innate hospitality, the African-American houses of worship share a second reason why site visits to Harlem are so revealing. Unlike the Irish, Italians, French, and Poles who are overwhelmingly Catholic, Scots who are Presbyterian, Russians who are Orthodox or Swedes who are Lutheran, people of African background do not share one dominant faith. Every world religion and a host of unique African-American religions compete for members. Unable to rely on ethnic or linguistic ties to reinforce their denomination or congregation, African-American faith communities must rely on charismatic preachers, crowd-attracting choirs, welcoming hospitality, and enveloping social life.

On one visit to 125th Street we met a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who claim to be the authentic descendants of the ancient Israelites. Those white people who claim to be “Jews” are imposters. “The Black race is the true Jews,” their leader preached beside their well-stocked table of books, CDs, videos, brochures, and posters. The men attending the table heartily invited the black members of our group to attend services and learn more. On our tours we encountered Black Muslims, Buddhists, Amish (yes Amish), Mormons, members of Sweet Daddy Grace’s United House of Prayer for All People, and a host of religious movements even I had never heard about. Inevitably, a simple street corner chat turned into an invitation to worship, an introductory lecture, even an invitation to dinner. A street corner encounter often turns into a street event as people cluster around to see what’s going on.

In addition to the casual visit to a house of worship or street corner conversation, most New Yorkers inevitably find themselves drawn into some form of interreligious experience. The Studio Museum on 125th Street hosts an annual Kwanzaa celebration during the week between Christmas and New Years, and invites the public to daily events.

I remember the funeral of a teacher friend of mine who was High Church Episcopalian. Soon after I arrived at St. Martin’s Church at the corner of Malcolm X and 122nd Street , I noticed a group of Orthodox Jewish girls enter the church as ill at ease as the proverbial “pork chop at a Jewish wedding.” Simply entering a Christian church is frowned upon if not condemned by Orthodox Jews, but attending a full Solemn High Mass, with incense, communion, (a high ten on the ten point smells-and-bells spectrum) was a challenging experience. I didn’t notice how they handled the kiss of peace, but I know that Orthodox Jewish women are not allowed to touch strange men even for a handshake, let alone hug them.

Invitations to Bar and Bas Mitzvah, baptisms, weddings, and funerals are daily occurrences in a religiously diverse city. Even a simple office birthday party, innocently organized by a loving secretary, can turn into a disaster when she realizes that a pepperoni and cheese pizza might not be acceptable to observant Jews (who only eat kosher meat and don’t mix meat and milk products), Muslims, and Hindus (who don’t eat meat).  

Analysis

The experience of participating in a public celebration, attendance at worship or joining an event at a house of worship is usually eye opening, often confusing, and always an inescapable part of living in a multi-religious city.

A Christian UTS student who attended an Orthodox Jewish synagogue on a study visit for my Paths of Faith class was close to angry when someone asked him to stop writing during services. “It’s for a class, I’m not Jewish,” he whispered. “But we don’t write on the Sabbath,” the worshipper responded. “But I’m not Jewish,” he repeated. “But we are, and it’s rude to violate our rules when you are our guest,” he argued. Needless to say, my student was not overly impressed with the synagogue, or with Orthodox Jews for that matter. “They were so not nice!” she told me. Already held negative stereotypes can be dangerously reinforced by a casual experience of a different religious service.

My duty as a teacher of world religions is, first, to let the student wallow in his or her confusion, and only then provide them with some guidelines for future visits. The most helpful resource I have found is Matlins and Magida’s How to Be the Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook. This book addresses participation in both “the vigorous religious rites and customs of a host of faiths [that] take place in full public view” and those that take place inside “the religious realms of our neighbors.”[28] In encyclopedic fashion the book gives the dos and don’ts for visitors to worship among Native Americans, Roman Catholics, Amish, and a host of other denominations. The Internet provides additional resources. PRLog, a free online press release service, offers a site, “How to Be the Perfect Guest at a Jewish Holiday Celebration!” that explains what is permitted and what is forbidden for strangers at Jewish holiday celebrations.[29]

By this level of street religion—streets filled with houses of worship, public celebrations of religious holidays, and participation at diverse religious celebrations—most New Yorkers have already formed deeply rooted images of what Jews, Pentecostals, Catholics, Black Baptists, or Mormons are.

Stereotype formation, both positive and negative, have long constituted a subject of academic study. My professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, George Mosse, analyzed the emergence of Jewish stereotypes in Germany in his book The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich. Stereotypes, he argues, whether of Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, Chinese, or Catholics, are the product of a long process of formation involving chance encounters, gossip, visual impressions, hearsay, and popular literature. By the time the Nazis revealed their anti-Semitic political platform most Germans were already well prepared for the liquidation of those “rich,” “devious,” “Christ killing” Jews.[30]

Ria Kloppenborg traces stereotypes of women in the religions of ancient Israel through Hinduism to modern religions. Today’s still widely held stereotype of women’s inferiority to men, limited intellectual abilities, and subservience to emotion rather than logic were legitimized by societies, cultures, and organized religions. The sight of veiled Muslim women, the absence of women at the altar in many Christian churches, and the segregation of women in mosques and Orthodox synagogues are all rapidly noted by even a casual visitor to a religious ceremony. The male powers who dominate society, culture, and religions, Kloppenborg concludes, reinforce such traditions and enshrined them in Scriptures as part of their strategy to control the masses and maintain themselves in power.[31]

Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Pricilla Warner attempted to get to the roots of their stereotypes of each other as they collaborated on a book, The Faith Club, A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew—Three Women Search for Understanding. Chapter five, “Stop Stereotyping Me!” described their first project. We “assigned ourselves a summer writing project, ‘What religious stereotypes did we carry of one another?’”[32] One of their first disagreements centered on whether the cross and crucifix, probably the most street visible and instantly recognized symbols of Christianity, was anti-Semitic. This bitterly divided the women and almost brought the effort to a halt.

 

Mid-Manhattan

The Experience

From colonial times until today, New York City has been the place where self-proclaimed prophets, preachers, reformers, and even gods have announced their new messages to the world. Barred from most churches, these saviors rented the lobby of city hall, hotel ballrooms, city parks, Castle Clinton in Battery Park, Yankee Stadium, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center .

Mid-Manhattan has more than its share of public spaces: the Manhattan Center at 34th Street and 8th Avenue, Madison Square Garden at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue , the Jacob Javits Convention Center at 34th Street and 11th Avenue , and the ballrooms of the New Yorker Hotel ( 34th Street and 8th Avenue ) and Pennsylvania Hotel ( 32nd Street and 7th Avenue ).

Just strolling around Mid-Manhattan one is bombarded with marquees, subway station advertise­ments, flood-lit street level billboards, fliers and posters announcing the arrival of some preacher, as Billy Graham once said, “out to take New York by storm.” Almost any given evening and weekend the signs outside Madison Square Garden will be announcing the arrival of some religious figure. Since 1879 when the first “Garden” was built, its multitude of halls, auditoriums, stadiums, and ball rooms have seen a steady stream of religious figures eager to bring their revolutionary reinterpretation of traditional Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, introduce the city to some newly founded religious movement or a novel adaptation of traditional faith.

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody called the city to his revolutionary “take God to the streets” revival meetings following the Civil War. His collaborator Ira D. Sankey introduced Gospel Music to the white folks of the city and redefined the meaning of worship. Father Divine brought Pentecostalism from his native Georgia and had tens of thousands of African-Americans dancing in the aisles. African-American worship has never been the same since. In 1920 Marcus Garvey attracted 25,000 to the Garden where he launched his revolutionary spiritual and cultural message of Black Nationalism. In 1957 Billy Graham filled the 20,344-seat structure for his first New York City Crusade. Although he quickly realized that New Yorkers did not feel the need to “be born again,” it launched his career as a globe-trotting evangelist and confessor to presidents.

In 1974 the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church , rented the Garden for a mammoth public presentation of his teachings to the city. The city’s major newspapers and a giant sign outside the Garden announced, “September 18th Could Be Your Re-birthday.” He later performed one of his mass marriage blessing ceremonies at the Garden and again in Manhattan Center , which I attended with a group of students. The sight of blacks and whites, Jews and Germans, Japanese and Koreans, and other individuals from long-hostile racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups was truly inspiring. At the Garden that afternoon the Reverend Moon reinterpreted the sacred Christian concept of marriage and spoke about his goal of reuniting the shattered human family of Adam and Eve.

BrownBlessing

 

Moon Marriage Blessing in Madison  Square Garden (1982)

Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there in 1979 and attempted to reignite the flagging Catholicism of the city’s millions of Catholics disillu­sioned by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. What better location to propel himself into the world as the world’s foremost “religious super-star” than Madison Square Garden , and later in Yankee Stadium.

The Orthodox Jewish Lubavitch rapper Matisyahu filled the hall in 2006 and launched a unique synthesis of traditional Orthodox Jewish beliefs and practices with ultra-modern American culture.

It was the towering, flickering neon sign on the Garden that attracted me one hot July evening in 2002 to mobilize my students to hear the nationally famous Reverend Creflo Dollar bring his cutting-edge media ministry to the city. Since 1986 his World Changers Church has attracted hundreds of thousands of African-Americans as well as whites and Hispanics to his crusades. “Renew your soul,” he cried, “revitalize your spirit,” and as his name implies, “enjoy the material benefits of this world.” “Be born again as the person God wanted you to become.” One of my students was so overtaken by Creflo’s charisma that she burst into tears.

Often greeting these performances are crowds filling the streets around the garden denouncing or hailing the preacher. The appearance by the Reverend Moon, for example, provoked a host of Jewish and Christian religious leaders alarmed at the number of Jewish, Catholic, Episcopal, and other Christian young people who were joining the new religious movement. One rabbi brought a bus load of his congregation to the Garden where they carried posters and distributed leaflets condemning Reverend Moon’s advocacy of inter-racial, inter-religious, and inter-cultural marriages. The appearance of Pope John Paul II likewise was greeted by throngs of gays, lesbians, women, married priest advocates, priest abuse survivors, and anti-Catholic Christian fundamentalists.

Almost anytime you stroll through Mid-Manhattan you will encounter advertisements announcing an appearance of a still-obscure religious personality. Some, such as Billy Graham, will use the public venues of the area as a springboard to national and global fame, others will remain in obscurity.

Analysis

Great religious movements are not born in the sacred precincts of ancient cathedrals, mosques, synagogues or temples. Moses forged the Jewish people into a nation in the wilds of the Sinai Desert, Jesus taught the multitudes in the open air, the Buddha gathered his first followers in the shade of large trees, and Mohammed preached God’s revelations in the streets and marketplaces of Mecca and Medina . In the great modern mega-cities of today, parks and street corners still play a role in the propagation of new religious movements and reforms, but giant auditoriums, sports stadiums, hotel ballrooms and movie theaters now offer state-of-the-art sound systems, dramatic lighting, an organ, and great sight lines to audiences of hundreds of thousands.

While the regular Sunday sermons at the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral go largely unnoticed, the dramatic Marriage Blessing Ceremony by the Reverend Moon spawned pages of New York Times reports, articles, and commentary. “35,000 Couples Are Invited to a Blessing by Rev. Moon” read the headline, and reporter Laurie Goodstein quoted liberally from core Unification teachings. The purpose of the ceremonies “is to unite families and hasten ‘the emergence of a new world culture based on God’s love’.” The ceremony “isn’t just a publicity stunt” she wrote, “It is absolutely at the core of who they are and what they’re about.”[33] A private ceremony in a city church would have never generated the exposure, publicity (both positive and negative), reactions, and press coverage of the Garden event. The unique Unificationist teachings on the family, marriage, inter-racial couples, and reunification became a city-wide and national topic of conversation.

The Unificationist Marriage Blessing publicized intermarriage and gave it “cosmic implications,” as Goodstein wrote in the Times. Yet in most traditional religious teachings, intermarriage (marriage between two people of different faiths) is frowned upon or even condemned. Orthodox Jews, for example, enter into a period of mourning if such a marriage takes place, often shun the couple, or hold a funeral for the Jewish partner.

Nevertheless, the Unification Church is not the only community that today is taking a new approach to intermarriage. Recognizing that such marriages are rapidly becoming the norm in the city and the nation, the Reverend Craig D. Townsend, an Episcopal priest, wrote in The Washington Post about how he “interwove” elements of the Episcopal and Jewish Reform marriage ceremony. “They are interwoven rather than blended—not to make a hybrid religious entity but to honor each faith tradition” he stressed.[34] Any references to “Christ” were eliminated to avoid “causing offense” to the Jewish participants, and each partner and the assembled congregation was encouraged “to hear all references to God in their own way.” Thus, the experience of an interfaith marriage ceremony became “an opportunity to explore, with the couple, the fundamental appeals of these faiths without moving immediately to each faith’s competitive claims to ultimate truth.” Likewise, Rabbi Devon A. Lerner, a specialist in interfaith wedding ceremonies, encourages Jewish–non-Jewish couples—which constitute a full fifty percent of all “Jewish” marriages according to Lerner—“to mix and match” and create “custom-bled ceremonies” that respect both traditions.[35] Stephen Carr Reuben provides guidelines to “make interfaith marriages work” in A Nonjudgmental Guide to Interfaith Marriage.[36] Jane Kaplan describes the personal experiences of interfaith marriages in Interfaith Families.[37]

Anne C. Rose prepared a historical investigation into the past, Beloved Strangers: Interfaith Families in Nineteenth Century America that presented such marriages as a permanent reality of the American religious landscape. What New Yorker can ignore our beloved Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, the product of an Italian Catholic and an Italian Jewish union? Evidently the compromise position between the religions of the two spouses was the Episcopal Church, which the mayor was raised in![38] Woody Allen implicitly recognized intermarriage as a fact of modern life in his play, “The Floating Light Bulb,” when he has the star comment, “My mother’s Italian, My father’s Jewish, and I’m still in therapy.”

A second result of the non-stop flurry of religious events in Mid-Manhattan is the constant exhortation to experience what Graham, Moon, Dollar, and the host of others to convert, to abandon their previous lives, embrace a new faith, have a conversion experience, or revitalize their present faith.

Billy Graham wrote in his book, Just As I Am, about his “Marathon in Manhattan.” He made no secret of his heartfelt conviction that “No other city in America—perhaps in the world—presented as great a challenge to evangelism” as New York City. “Evangelistic work in New York is like digging in flint.” “Humanly speaking,” he continued, “ New York is the most unlikely city in the western hemisphere for successful evangelism.”[39] The reasons that New Yorkers resist religious reformers of any kind, according to Graham, are several. He wrote that the vast majority of New Yorkers were either of Jewish or Catholic backgrounds. About half of them were fervently attached to their faiths, and thus resistant to Graham’s message, and the other half had rejected the faiths of their families and thus militantly “claimed no religious identity at all.” Thus, the “altar call” at the end of each of his gatherings produced but a few souls. (I was a volunteer at Graham’s 2005 event in Queens Meadows Park and was literally forced by my fellow volunteers to “make the altar call” to show the reverend that at least a few New Yorkers had been saved.)

Like intermarriage, conversion, either a “born again conversion” or conversion to a different religion, is one of the most common forms of interreligious experience in America today. New York is filled with lax or only formal members of a church experiencing a dramatic conversion experiences. Catholics become Pentecostals, Jews become Unitarians, black Baptists become Muslims, and Episcopalians become Catholics. Lukewarm people of any faith, or no faith, may experience a “conversion experience.” For Catholics and Orthodox Jews conversion to another faith is a grave sin; for many liberal Jews and Christians it is tolerated; but the modern secular culture celebrates it.

Popular literature often lauds a person’s “personal spiritual voyage” and thereby encourages others to undertake the same search for authentic religious expression. James Craig Holte writes that conversion narratives are a “central part of the Christian experience.” In The Conversion Experience in America he chronicles thirty biographies by, among others, the televangelist Jim Bakker, Dorothy Day, Malcolm X, and Aimee Semple McPherson. The terminology he employs, such as John Cogley’s conversion to Catholicism as the end of “a long pilgrimage” of faith, not only justifies conversion but even makes it a necessary rite of passage for any serious seeker.[40] Lewis R. Rambo likewise celebrates conversion as the goal of a religious “quest” in his book, Understanding Religious Conversion. In our ever- and rapidly-changing world, people labor to find a response to the many crises that they encounter. Through the discovery of a new faith they “attain a sense of power and transcendence” over these crises.[41] Rambo, as his name implies, seems to celebrate the never ending confrontation with crises and discovery of a new faith.

While such writers as Cogley and Rambo portray a positive image of conversion, the popular press and media often present a negative image. Blacks converting to militant forms of Islam in prison, nice Jews from Brooklyn transformed into radical West Bank settlers, well-raised Catholics becoming wild “holy rollers,” and the recent alcoholic Episcopalian from Texas becoming a “born again Christian,” being elected president, and declaring a holy crusade against a billion and a half Muslims, tend to reinforce the negative image of converts. Nevertheless, intermarriage and conversion have gradually and reluctantly become recognized as permanent features of modern life.

Many of the revolutionary religious ideas, which have since become almost commonplace in religious circles, were first launched at the Garden. Billy Graham’s calls for a “Born Again Religious Experience” and the Unificationist vision of the reunification of the human family through intermarriage have inspired millions, and either founded new religious movements or entered the long-established religious denominations of the city. Other novel teachings or practices that were first introduced at the Garden include Gospel Music, Pentecostalism, Transcendental Meditation, reincarnation, astrology, Tai Chi, and Jewish Orthodox Rap Music.

I often attend and take students to religious gatherings at the Garden and other Mid-Manhattan venues and ask them to listen closely for the religious innovation or teaching that might dominate the next century.  

 

Morningside Heights

The Experience

My students were convinced that it would be a short walking tour when I announced that we would only cover the area between 111th and 123rd Streets and between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway. Some three hours, a few blisters, and pages of notes later they realized that Morningside Heights was one of the richest areas in the city when it came to religion.

On the surface one can easily list the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the campus of Columbia University, the Interchurch Center, Union Theological Seminary, Riverside Church , and Jewish Theological Seminary. But behind each of these venerable names hides a plethora of centers, libraries, public programs, free classes and degree programs, as well as specialized classes for children, young adults, adults, women, men, couples, gays and lesbians, and elders.

At the majestic campus of Columbia University are undergraduate and graduate degree programs at the Department of Religion. Then there is the Department of Religion-Journalism; Jewish, Buddhist, and Islamic Studies departments; East Asian, African and Hispanic regional studies departments; and diverse courses in history, anthropology, education and philosophy. A visit to the Religion Department revealed walls filled with public and free lectures, workshops, seminars, field trips, films, dance performances, book signings and a host of other activities.

The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Columbia St. Paul’s Chapel, the Baptist Riverside Church , Notre Dame Catholic Church, and several others nearby likewise offer a host of intellectual and cultural activities appealing to the academic world.

Jewish Theological Seminary between 122nd and 123rd Streets is a Conservative seminary that was founded in 1886. In addition to its seminary branch which trains rabbis, it offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to lay people. Its General School of Jewish Education trains teachers, its Melton Research Center for Jewish Education is world famous, and it offers a rich program in distance learning and has an extensive library. Its Intensive Summer Programs for 11th and 12th grade students has as its motto “Come spend an amazing summer in the Big Apple.” Students take classes, volunteer in the community, take field trips and visit museums.

Union Theological Seminary on Broadway between 120th and 122nd Streets was founded in 1836 by the Presbyterian Church but now welcomes students of all denominations. Its offerings to ministerial and lay students and to the community are as rich as those of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Finally, the Interchurch Center on Riverside Drive between 119th and 122nd Streets has offered a rich menu of public educational programs since 1997. These institutions sponsor a rich production of academic journals and books, radio, television and on-line lectures, and websites aimed at a curious and educated audience.

Analysis

Any visitor to services at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is inevitably struck by the rigid hierarchy of the Episcopal Church. At the top is the Archbishop of Canterbury in England , who presides over a spreading global web of bishops, then pastors and assistant pastors of local churches, deacons and subdeacons, and finally the ordinary church members. Since the emergence of major world religions, such hierarchies ruled their respective religions: the High Priest in Solomon’s temple, the priests of ancient Egypt and Babylon , Greek Orthodox patriarchs, Mormon prophets and presidents, Shi’ite ayatollahs, and Roman Catholic popes. However, a simple chat with the tens of thousands of students and professors on the campuses of Columbia and the many seminaries of Morningside Heights will reveal that the vast majority of students and teachers are lay people, with no intention of entering the ministry.

One of the “legacies of literacy,” Harvey J. Graff writes in his book of the same title, has been the rise of the common people. Access to knowledge brought about by Guttenberg’s invention of the modern printing press empowered a new class and led them to protest against the intellectual, political, and religious powers that were, and eventually to seize power from them.[42] Central to the Protestant Reformation was the rise of a literate middle class in northern Europe, their protests against Roman religious, educational and even economic domination, and finally the seizure of power by Hus, Luther, Calvin, Knox and a host of others. In short order the followers of the new religious movements broke away from the centralized Catholic Church and declared their independence.

Stephen Prothero traces the migration of “Bible reading” Puritans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans, Anglicans, and others and the rise of Americans as a “people of the book” in his American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. Inspired by their reading of the Bible, Americans named cities, streets, mountains, rivers and their children after biblical figures. African-Americans enshrined the stories of Abraham, Moses, the Exodus and River Jordan in their Spirituals. Abraham Lincoln filled his speeches with biblical references. Americans were truly a Bible-filled people. Martin Luther King filled his speeches with Biblical heroes, events, and imagery to rally the nation for Civil Rights.[43] Prothero traces the powerful influence of religion in American history. “Religion is the most volatile constituent of culture,” he writes, and furthermore “one of the greatest forces for good in world history.” However he also acknowledges that religion has also been “one of the greatest forces for evil” as well. He draws the conclusion that it is the religiously illiterate, poorly educated and slaves to “blind faith” who spawn the powerful forces of evil convulsing the world today. Those with a strong religious education become “forces for good in world history.” Thus in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t, he calls for a mass campaign of in religious literacy.[44]

Noam Chomsky, in Chomsky on Democracy and Education, attributes the decline in religious literacy that Prothero laments and finds so dangerous to governments and huge corporations that literally buy the support of the major opinion makers of the world—what he calls the “bought priesthoods.” The mass media, Evangelical Christians, and much of academia have become propaganda arms of Washington and Wall Street, he argues. [45] Similarly, world Judaism serves the mouthpiece for Zionism and Islam has been harnessed to Arab political movements. During the recent Israeli war against Gaza , the American networks obediently followed the Israeli line that “No journalists were being allowed into the strip.” Ignoring the throngs of reporters who had arrived before the press blockade, the war was not news in the United States . (Luckily I was in Mexico at the time and thus watched hour-by-hour, day-by-day coverage.)

Conversations with my students reveal that they, like most New Yorkers, accumulate a heavy load of stereotypes, images, impressions, misconceptions, pre-formed, -interpreted, and -packaged information and generalizations from the press, mass media and even religious leaders. Religious wars in the Middle East, the abortion and gay rights struggle in the USA, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka, mainstream Christians and Evangelicals battling for control of Washington, and the Israeli “Jewish” atomic arsenal facing the threat of an Iranian “Muslim” arsenal are only a few examples of the pre-packaged and rigidly controlled issues of today.

However, a stroll through the educational institutions of Morningside Heights , the seminaries and secular institutions, with the throngs of lay students taking classes in world religions from academically qualified lay professors, cannot but inspire visitors that perhaps in this acropolis of education a new generation of educated, enlightened, tolerant, and broad-minded future leaders might be emerging. Long gone are those days when the clerical elite jealously and fiercely guarded the faith from the hands and minds of the great unwashed masses. Equally striking is the large number of women at these institutions. Long relegated to women’s galleries in synagogues, banned from speaking in churches by St. Paul and shrouded in veils by Muslims, educated young women are now equal to the rabbis, priests, ministers, and imams in religious education. In many cases they have even forced open the doors of sanctuaries and demanded ordination to the clergy. What unique gifts will these new female leaders bring to ancient and yet to be founded religious movements?  

The institutions of Morningside Heights, and hundreds of colleges, universities, seminaries, houses of worship, museums, foundations, libraries, and even television networks such as PBS (Religion and Ethics, Frontline, and Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett), the History Chanel, movie producers (The Power of Myth series of Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell), and publishing houses are responding to this thirst for knowledge about religion.

 

Conclusion

Samuel P. Huntington predicted in The Clash of Civilizations in 1996 that the future of post-Cold War humanity would be a cataclysmic clash between the nine great civilizations of the world, notably the Western Christian (The USA, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand), the Sinic (China, Korea, Vietnam and their respective diasporas) and the Islamic (North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Indonesia and Central Asia).[46] Armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction, convinced that their God is on their side, and filled with a messianic fervor to convert (or at least conquer) the world, the United States finds itself at war with the Muslim World, Western Europe (Catholic and Protestant) fears the rise of Eastern Europe (Eastern Orthodox), the Israelis (Jewish) and Palestinians (mainly Muslim) are locked in genocidal wars for control of Palestine, and Nigeria is being torn asunder by northern Muslims and Southern Christians. And these are only a few of the global wars between civilizations that Huntington chronicles, and it will get worse before it gets better.  

We New Yorkers have a chance, even a duty, to alert the world to this danger. UTS is in a privileged location for students to experience and learn about the religions of the world in this most religiously diverse city in the world. Perhaps from this city, Huntington ’s prophecy of a 21st Century marred by cataclysmic global wars of religion can be averted.

 

Notes

[1] Ronald J. Brown, Fifth Avenue : The Autobiography of a Street ( Elmhurst, NY : Sacred City Books, 2010).

[2] Lowell W. Livezey, Public Religion and Urban Transformation: Faith in the City ( New York: New York University Press, 2000), 133.

[3] Robert Orsi, Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape (Bloom­ing­ton: Indiana University Press, 1999).

[4] Tony Carnes and Ann Karpathakis, New York Glory: Religions in the City ( New York: New York University Press, 2001).

[5] David Dunlap, From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship ( New York : Columbia University Press, 2004).

[6] “Religion and the State IV: The City,” Center for History and Economics, Kings College, Cambridge , July 25-26, 2005, p. 2.

[7] Ronald J. Brown, A Religious History of Flushing, Queens: From the Flushing Remon­strance until Today, A Walking Tour ( Elmhurst, NY : Sacred City Books, 2007).

[8] Deyan Sudjic, The Edifice Complex ( New York : Penguin Press, 2005), 2.

[9] Ibid. 7.

[10] Brown, Fifth Avenue , 123.

[11] Ibid. p.102.

[12] David W. Dunlap, “A New Mosque for Manhattan , for the 21st Century,” New York Times, April 26, 1992.

[13] Harvey Cox, Religion in the Secular City: Toward a Post-Modern Theology (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984).

[14] John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World ( New York : Penguin Press, 2009).

[15] Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity ( New Haven: Yale University Press), 221.

[16] Ibid., 45.

[17] Ibid., 59.

[18] Micklethwait and Wooldridge, 355-56.

[19] R. Lawrence Moore , Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 17.

[20] Ibid., 204.

[21] The Savvy Convert’s Guide to Choosing a Religion ( New York : Knock Knock Books, 2008), 9.

[22] Ibid., 167.

[23] “Religion and the State IV: The City,” 80.

[24] Robert A. Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950 ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).

[25] Diane Winston and John Giggie, Faithin the City: Religion and Urban Commercial Culture ( New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002) and “Religion in the City,” Journal of Urban Studies 28:4 (May 2002): 395.

[26] Henry Goldschmidt, Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights ( New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006).

[27] Orsi, Gods of the City, 567.

[28] Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida, How To Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook ( Woodstock : Skylight Path Publishing, 2006).

[29] Lisa Friedman, “How To Be The Perfect Guest At A Jewish Holiday Celebration,” PR Log.org, September 27, 2008.

[30] George Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (New York: Howard Fertig, 1999).

[31] Ria Kloppenborg, Female Stereotypes in Religious Traditions (Leiden: Brill, 1995).

[32] Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Pricilla Warner, The Faith Club, A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew—Three Women Search for Understanding ( New York : Free Press, 2006), 56.

[33] Laurie Goodstein, “35,000 Couples Are Invited To a Blessing by Rev. Moon,” New York Times, November 28, 1997.

[34] Craig D. Townsend, “Designing An Interfaith Ceremony,” The Washington Post, December 15, 2006.

[35] Devon A. Lerner, Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony (New York: Henry Holt, 1999).

[36] Stephen Carr Reuben, A Nonjudgmental Guide to Interfaith Marriage (Bloomington, Xlibris, 2002).

[37] Jane Kaplan, Interfaith Families: Personal Stories of Jewish-Christian Intermarriage ( Santa Barbara : Praeger, 2004).

[38] Anne C. Rose, Beloved Strangers Interfaith Families in Nineteenth Century America ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

[39] Billy Graham, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (New York: Harper­One, 1997), 351.

[40] James Craig Holte, The Conversion Experience in America (New York: Greenwood Press, 1982), 32.

[41] Lewis R. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 167.

[42] Harvey J. Graff, The Legacies of Literacy: Continuities and Contradictions in Western Culture and Society (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).

[43] Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon ( New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).

[44] Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t ( New York : HarperOne, 2007).

[45] Noam Chomsky, Chomsky on Democracy and Education ( New York : Routledge, 2002).

[46] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

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