Religious Pluralism in Flushing, Queens

Randall Stephens

In 2001 Richard John Neuhaus wondered if Diana L. Eck's vision of American religion was little more than a People's Republic of Cambridge fantasy:

Eck is nothing if not an enthusiast, and the exuberance with which she details the changed religious situation lends her account a certain charm. In Nashville she visits a Hindu temple, in the farmlands south of Minneapolis she is taken with the Southeast Asian roofline of a Cambodian Buddhist temple, while outside Toledo she notices the minarets of a mosque when driving by on the interstate. “Not all of us have seen the Toledo mosque or the Nashville temple, but we will see places like them, if we keep our eyes open, even in our own communities. They are the architectural signs of a new religious America.”

Yet Eck's America is more than just a Unitarian Shangri-La in Flushing, Queens. As John Strausbaugh writes in the New York Times:

Today Flushing is chock-a-block with many Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, a few synagogues, several Hindu temples, a beautiful mosque and a brand new Buddhist temple. The free expression of religious beliefs is a tradition that goes back three and a half centuries, to Flushing’s beginnings.

Strausbaugh looks back into New Amsterdam's past for more light on the origins of religious liberty. He recounts the struggles of Quakers in the 17th century and discusses the "Flushing Remonstrance," which chastised a prickly Peter Stuyvesant that religious freedom applied to "Jews, Turks, and Egyptians," as well as Quakers and Baptists.

Strausbaugh's account of Maha Vallabha Ganapathi Devasthanam Hindu temple is particularly fascinating. "In English it’s called the Ganesh Temple for its main deity, the elephant-headed Ganesh," he writes. The temple's spokesman tells him: "We believe there is one supreme being, but according to our scripture there are also 3.3 million gods."

This all made me wonder what similar religious travelogues of other communities would look like. Of course, my hometown of Olathe, Kansas would probably not make such an interesting study. But I wonder what a popular, journo ethnography of Dearborn, Michigan [not Deerborne]; Wausa, Wisconsin; or Quincy, Massachusetts would look like.


Paul Harvey said…
Randall: I think you mean "Dearborn," Michigan, no?

More importantly, you live in Quincy, MA, don't you? And if so, what would your map look like?
Randall said…
Yep, thanks for catching that. I haven't been good at spelling since I won a spelling contest in 1st grade. Or, should I say, "a spelyng contehst in furst graid."

Quincy has undergone an interesting demographic change just in the last decade. From a predominantly white working class pop, 20-25% of residents are Chinese now. Many are first generation.

Our local paper, The Patriot Ledger, recently noted: "There are plenty of signs, from big ethnic markets like Kam Man to the popular August Moon festival, that Quincy’s Asian population is reshaping the city’s identity. Teaching Chinese to the next generation is seen as key to ensuring that the American culture does not alter what it means to be Chinese, in terms of culture and customs."

I pass a Buddhist temple on one of our major arteries and have wondered about the new religious component. Still don't hear much about it though in the local press.
Tor Hershman said…
If'in ya like to see what religion in the hisTORy of the human race en masse [past & future] looks like (IMO) just check moi's wee YouTube film

Let moi know if'in it changes.
Amala said…
Nice article and the mention of Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam. Read more about the first temple in new york: