Saturday, July 26, 2014

the runner-up religions of america


protojournalist |  Glance at the map above, Second Largest Religious Tradition in Each State 2010, and you will see that Buddhism (orange), Judaism (pink) and Islam (blue) are the runner-up religions across the country.

No surprises there. But can you believe that Hindu (dark orange) is the No. 2 tradition in Arizona and Delaware, and that Baha'i (green) ranks second in South Carolina?

The map — created by the and published recently in — "looks very odd to me," says Hillary Kaell. She is a professor at in Montreal who specializes in North American Christianity. "These numbers, although they look impressive when laid out in the map, represent a very tiny fraction of the population in any of the states listed."

True that. Christianity is the Number One religious tradition across the board. A showed that 77 percent of Americans identify as Christians. But a deeper look into the stories behind the map's data reveal a bit more about a nation in flux.

Faith And Race In South Carolina
Louis E. Venters, an assistant professor of history at and author of the forthcoming book Most Great Reconstruction: The Baha'i Faith and Interracial Community in Jim Crow South Carolina, makes an observation similar to Hillary's. "To put the map in context," he says, "let's acknowledge at the outset that it doesn't take very much to be the second-largest religion in South Carolina. It is a solidly Christian, and particularly Protestant, state, and all the minority religions combined comprise only a tiny fraction of the population."

But, Louis says, "whatever the size of the Baha'i faith in South Carolina — relative to other minority religions — I think its history is quite compelling and worthy of attention in itself."

From as far back as 1910, Louis says, "the Baha'is were virtually unique in Jim Crow South Carolina in attempting to create an interracial religious community — for which they suffered harassment and violence."

By the 1960s, he says, there were local Baha'i organizations in many towns in north Georgia and South Carolina. The tradition spread. "The Louis G. Gregory Baha'i Institute in Georgetown County, founded in 1972 and named for the black Charleston native who first brought the religion to South Carolina," says Louis, "became a cultural and educational hub for the South Carolina movement. And Radio Baha'i WLGI — broadcasting from the same site beginning in 1985 — has brought its teachings and ethos to a large section of the state."

 The story of Louis Gregory and his wife, Louisa, is chronicled by PBS in . In 2003, the Baha'i community designated Louis Gregory's childhood home as a museum.

Louis Venters says, "The Baha'i community today is relatively well-known in South Carolina for its long record of interracialism, strong attention to community service and the education of children and youth of all backgrounds, and contributions to interfaith dialogue."

He adds: "Although the map may have come as a surprise to those who aren't familiar with this history, to me — and I think to most Baha'is in South Carolina — it makes pretty good sense. And if it brings to light one of the South's oldest and most successful experiments in interracial community-building, so much the better."

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