American Religion and Cults

A History of American Religion and Cults

The United States of America (U.S.A) has a rich and fluid culture, made up of different communities from all over the world that have immigrated to the land and now call it home.

This unique mix of different traditions and social customs that make up American society also encompasses the numerous religions (and cults) that can be found across the American continent.


Below is a list of the history of the top 10 religions (and cults) present in the United States of America:

Abrahamic religions

The Abrahamic religions are those whose followers believe in Abraham (and succeeding prophets). There are three main Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Below is a brief history of each:

Judaism

The oldest of the three Abrahamic religions, its followers are called “Jews” (or Ya’hud, in Hebrew). Torah is the main book of Judaism and Hebrew its language. The Torah is part of a larger text known as the ‘Tanakah’ (or Hebrew Bible). The Talmud is a part of the oral tradition of Judaism.

A monotheistic religion, it is considered by religious Jews to be the covenant made by God with the Children of Israel.

There are between 5.3 and 6.6 million Jews in the United States, alone. More than 90% of American Jews are made up of Ashkenazi Jews, who descend from the Jewish populations of Central and Eastern Europe. The second largest religious denomination in the U.S.A, a significant number of American Jews identify themselves as Jews based on ethnicity rather than on religious grounds.

Jews have been present in the Thirteen Colonies (the original colonial settlements) since the mid-17th century. The English Plantation Act of 1740 first allowed the Jews to become British citizens.

Christianity

The religion was first introduced to the United States during the European colonization of native land in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spaniards and the French brought Catholicism to their respective colonies, while British and German colonizers gave rise to Protestantism.

The American Revolution split the Church of England, most of whose ministers supported the king. After independence, the different American states debated whether the Church would be supported by their respective constituencies. The Church ended up receiving a general religious tax.

Initially a Protestant-majority country, Christianity in today’s U.S.A encompasses Catholic, Mainline Protestant and Evangelical Protestant churches.

Islam

The third-largest religion in the United States, the earliest recorded presence of Islam dates back to 1528. A Moroccan slave, Estevanico, was shipwrecked near Texas. He traveled with two other survivors through the southwest and Mexican interior until he finally reached Mexico City. The Virginia statute of 1682 mentions, “negroes, moores, molatoes, and others, born of and in heathenish, idolatrous, pagan, and Mahometan parentage and country” as being potential slaves.

Old records from the American Revolution also point towards Muslim soldiers fighting in the war of independence. Yarrow Mamout is one such Muslim. Born in 1736, he was a former slave, entrepreneur and property owner in Georgetown. Originally from West Africa, he gained his freedom after 44 years of slavery, at the age of 60-years-old.

Religions from the Indian Subcontinent

Minority religions, these include Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. Buddhism was brought to America by the arrival of the first immigrants from Eastern Asia. The first Buddhist temple was built by Chinese Americans in as early as 1853. However, Buddhists in America are largely made up of converts.

Buddhism

Buddhism in America includes three main groups: the oldest and largest ‘immigrant’ Buddhists; followed by ‘import Buddhists’, who came specifically to bring people into Buddhism, and, finally, ‘’evangelical Buddhists’, who actively recruit members in America while residing in countries abroad.

Hinduism

A vast majority of American Hindus are immigrants from South Asia, Indonesia, Africa and Europe. Anandibai Joshi is believed to be the first Hindu woman to set foot in the U.S.A.

However, it was only after the Immigration and Nationality Services Act (1975) was passed that the doors were opened for Hindu immigrants who wished to work and settle in the U.S.A (including Hindu priests).

The turn of the 20th century saw an influx of Jain and Sikh immigrants into the U.S.A. By the 1970s, they were a significant number.

Church of Scientology

Incorporated by Ron Hubbard in 1953, it began as the ‘religious angle’ to the Hubbard Association of Scientology International (HASI). He announced the religious nature of Scientology in a bulletin, officially inaugurating the first Church of Scientology in 1954 in Los Angeles.

Native American Religion

The spiritual practices of the indigenous people of the U.S.A, these can vary widely depending on the differing histories and beliefs of individual native tribes. They have always been a part of the original makeup of the land. The major religions include Earth Lodge, Indian Shaker, Ghost Dance and Long-house.

The Nation of Islam

Founded in Detroit in 1930 by Wallace Fard, it is both a political and a religious movement for African Americans. He aimed to teach the downtrodden African American community a thorough knowledge of God, and put them on the path of independence. Different from mainstream Islam, its followers are taught that Fard is the ‘Mahdi’ (the one who will appear at the end of times to guide the world).

Druids

A modern religious movement, Druidism promotes harmony and reverence for the natural world. Originally from Romanistic times in the 17th and 18th centuries, the earliest Druid Orders in U.S.A can be found as far back as 1888, when the American Order of Druids was founded. There are presently about 30,000 Druids in the U.S.A.

Bahai’ Faith

The first mention of the Bahai’ Faith in the U.S.A was found in an article published in the London Times in 1845. The first Bahai’ community in the West was created by Ibrahim Kheiralla, who traveled to different states to spread the faith. In 1898, he undertook an expedition to Palestine to meet Abdul Baha, the founder of the Bahai’ Faith. Abdul Baha took it upon himself to introduce the teachings of the Bahai’ faith to the West by traveling to Europe and the U.S, between 1910-14.

Agnosticism, Atheism and Humanism

Americans without any religious affiliation make up about 31% of the total population. The growing culture of acceptance in American society has allowed people to publicly declare their irreligious viewpoints, without fear of repercussions. Surveys show that nearly 36% of the American population is irreligious. Underlying factors for these trends suggest it is more acceptable for Americans to openly claim their lack of religious affiliations than previous generations.

The Mormon Church

Mormonism originated in New York in 1820 during the Second Great Awakening. It was started by John “First Vision” Smith, who claimed to have seen a vision of God the Father, who instructed him to create his own church. The Church of Christ was formally organized in 1980. Smith was seen as a modern-day prophet.

Rastafarianism

This religion developed in Jamaica in the 1930s and became a movement in the United States shortly after. It had strong cultural, social and political effects on the African American community. One of the most influential personalities of the movement was Marcus Garvey, who soon began preaching his ideals of Black Nationalism. Rastafarianism played a strong role in the prelude to the Civil Rights Movement.