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The California Missions  

Steven W. Hackel

Twenty-one colonial-era missions traversed California stretching northward from San Diego to just beyond San Francisco. Founded by Franciscan missionaries beginning in 1769, these missions—along with four presidios (forts) and three pueblos (towns)—were central to Spain’s attempt to incorporate the Pacific Coast of northern New Spain into its enormous transatlantic colonial empire. Established in the late 18th century, just as Spain was secularizing missions elsewhere in New Spain, the California missions were cultural and institutional throwbacks and controversial from their inception. They prompted consistent and occasionally violent resistance from Native Californians. Furthermore, Europeans who visited Spanish California saw them as repressive colonial institutions. Indeed, during their sixty years of existence, the missions proved most adept at damaging the culture and shortening the lives of California’s Native Americans, the very people missionaries thought they would save by bringing them into the Catholic faith. By the time that Mexican government officials secularized the missions in the 1830s and parceled their lands and resources out to Mexican settlers, associates of the Mexican ruling elite, and a small number of Natives, California missions had shown themselves to be transformative and lethal agents of change. In the 21st century, their legacies are increasingly seen as negative, forever linked to the indefatigable and uncompromising missionary Junípero Serra, who was controversially canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.

Article

Slave Conspiracies in the British Colonies  

James F. Dator

Slave conspiracies in the British colonies developed alongside the institution of slavery. They were terrifying events for colonists and enslaved people alike. For historians, they are complicated events to study because white British authorities left behind an archival record written from the perspective of the ruling class, which usually comprised slaveholders who were anxious to maintain their power and interpreted alleged plots in ways that accorded with their racialized view of the world. Nonetheless, studying these conspiracies tells us a considerable amount about the social climate of the period. Thus, studying them illuminates not only the emotions of fear and terror that haunted these societies but also the role that culture, economy, and political values played in their development.

Article

Antisemitism in US History  

Britt P. Tevis

Antisemitism in the United States—whether acts of violence, social exclusion, cultural vilification, or political and legal discrimination—has resulted from antidemocratic currents refracted through bigoted beliefs about Jews. Prejudiced conceptualizations of Jews positioned them as outsiders to the nation, emphasizing Jews’ refusal to accept the supremacy of Christ; depicting Jews to be racially distinct (i.e., inferior or dangerous); and imagining Jews as greedy, dirty, untrustworthy, scheming, manipulative, powerful, and dangerous. Antisemitism has consistently been (and continues to be) connected with anti-Black racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. Throughout US history, non-Jews deployed bigoted ideas about Jews for personal, professional, social, and/or political gain. As a result, with degrees of variation, Jews in the United States endured personal hardships, faced collective discrimination, and confronted political intolerance.

Article

Chicago  

Ann Durkin Keating

Chicago is a city shaped by industrial capitalism. Before 1848, it was a small commercial outpost in Potawatomi country, and then it expanded with the US economy between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Between 1848 and 1929, Chicago grew from under 30,000 to more than 3 million, fueled by the construction of railroads, warehouses, and factories. Working-class immigrants built their own neighborhoods around industrial sites and along railroads, while a downtown dominated by skyscrapers emerged to serve the needs of corporate clients. Since 1929, Chicago remained an industrial powerhouse and magnet for Black and Latino migrants, even as its economic growth depended more and more on commerce and the service industry.

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Jews in the US Armed Forces  

Jessica Cooperman

Jewish service in the American military parallels that of many other Americans. Jews have served in colonial militias, in the American Revolution, and in all American military conflicts since the establishment of the country. In the United States’ early years, the total number of Jewish military personnel, like the Jewish population of the country as a whole, was very small. As the size of the American Jewish population grew during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, so did the number of Jews who served in the American Armed Forces. Jews responded to the country’s calls to arms alongside other Americans, even as they faced challenges that differentiated them from their compatriots. Like other racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups, Jews had to struggle against prejudices in the military, and like other immigrant communities, they have sometimes had to balance patriotism against transnational ties. Jews in the United States, however, always understood military service as part of the bargain of modern citizenship. They volunteered for service and responded to calls for conscription in order to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, and they used military service both to express their commitment to the United States and to assert their rights as equal members of American society.

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The Jewish Experience in the American South  

Josh Parshall

Jews began to arrive in the present-day South during the late 17th century and established community institutions in Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, in the colonial era. These communities, along with Richmond, Virginia, accounted for a sizable minority of American Jews during the early 19th century. As Jewish migration to the United States increased, northern urban centers surpassed southern cities as national centers of Jewish life, although a minority of American Jews continued to make their way to southern market hubs in the mid-19th century. From Reconstruction through the “New South” era, Jews played a visible role in the development of the region’s commercial economy, and they organized Jewish institutions wherever they settled in sufficient numbers. In many respects, Jewish experiences in the South mirrored national trends. Jewish life developed similarly in small towns, whether in Georgia, Wisconsin, or California. Likewise, relationships between acculturated Jews and east European newcomers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries played out according to similar dynamics regardless of region. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Jewish life in the South resulted from Jewish encounters with the region’s particular history of race and racism. The “classical” era of the Civil Rights movement highlights this fact, as southern Jews faced both heightened scrutiny from southern segregationists and frustration from northern coreligionists who supported the movement. Since the 1970s, overall trends in southern history have once again led to changes in the landscape of southern Jewry. Among other factors, the continued migration from rural to urban areas undermined the customer base for once-ubiquitous small-town Jewish retail businesses, and growing urban centers have attracted younger generations of Jewish professionals from both inside and outside the region. Consequently, the 21st-century Jewish South features fewer of the small-town communities that once typified the region, and its larger Jewish centers are not as identifiably “southern” as they once were.

Article

The Jewish Working Class in America  

Daniel Walkowitz

Between 1881 and 1924, when federal immigration restrictions were introduced, two and half million Jews from East Europe entered the United States. Approximately half of them settled in New York City where they soon comprised the largest Jewish settlement in the world. The Lower East Side, where families crowded into tenements, became the densest place on the globe. Possessing few skills, Jewish immigrants took jobs with which they had some prior familiarity as peddlers and as workers in the burgeoning garment and textile industries. With the rise of clothing as a mass consumer good, the garment industry emerged as the leading industrial sector in the city. Jewish workers predominated in it. But conditions of sweated labor in shops and factories propelled worker protest. A Jewish labor movement sprung up, energized by the arrival of socialist radicals in the labor Bund. Women workers played a major role in organizing the Jewish working class, spearheading a series of major strikes between 1909 and 1911. These women also staged “meat riots” over inflated beef prices in 1902 and “rent wars” in the early 1930s. To be sure, garment work and the labor movement also shaped the experience of Jewish immigrants in cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. Jews notably worked in other apparel industries, but the alternative for many (especially in small cities without a garment industry) was peddling and shopkeeping. Self-employed, but situated within and integrated in the working-class community, both sectors reflected the nontraditional nature of the Jewish working class. Jewish peddlers and petty shopkeepers increasingly morphed in a second generation into a middle class in higher status white-collar work. But despite this mobility, Yiddishkeit, a vibrant Jewish working-class culture of Jewish proletarian theater, folk choruses, journalism, education, housing, and recreation, which was particularly nourished by Bundists, flourished and carried a rich legacy forward in the postwar era.

Article

Elizabeth Seton, American Saint  

Catherine O'Donnell

Elizabeth Bayley Seton is the first native-born US citizen to be made a Roman Catholic saint. Canonized in 1975, Seton founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first vowed community of Catholic women religious created in the United States. Seton’s sainthood marked the culmination of a role she first served during her life: a respectable, benevolent face for a church whose local leaders were eager to demonstrate its compatibility with American culture. Seton’s founding of the American Sisters of Charity was a more practical achievement and one that shaped the Catholic Church in the United States in tangible ways. Starting in 1809, when Seton began a school and vowed community in Emmitsburg, Maryland, the Sisters of Charity expanded throughout the United States, eventually running hundreds of schools and orphanages and offering both a spiritual home and a career path for women who chose it. Seton’s life is expressive for what it reveals about her era as well as for her distinctive achievements. Her prominence led to the preservation of decades of correspondence and spiritual writings. Through them it is possible to see with unusual clarity the ways in which the Age of Revolutions and the rise of Napoleon variously disrupted, reinvigorated, and transformed Catholic traditions; to observe the possibilities and constraints Catholicism offered a spiritually ambitious woman; and to witness changes in the relationship between Protestants and Catholics in the United States. Finally, Seton’s rich archive also renders visible one woman’s experience of intellectual inquiry, marriage, widowhood, motherhood, spiritual ambition, and female friendship.

Article

The African American Denominational Tradition: The Rise of Black Denominations  

Dennis C. Dickerson

From the formation of the first independent African American Protestant denomination in the 1810s and 1820s to the opening decades of the 21st century, independent African American denominations have stood at the center of black religious life in the United States. Their longevity and influence have made them central to the preservation of black beliefs, practices, and rituals; have provided venues to promote movements for black freedom; and have incubated African American leadership in both the church and civic spheres. They have intertwined with every aspect of American and African American life, whether cultural, political, or economic, and they engaged the international involvement of American society and the diasporic interests of black people. Parallel assemblies composed of black ministers pastoring black congregations that remained within white denominations also emerged within the traditional white denominations, including the white Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational Protestant groups, plus the Catholic Church. Although they eschewed withdrawing from the white denominations, their extramural bodies functioned as a virtual black ecclesia, or institutional bodies, even though they remained smaller than the growing independent black denominations. Together, the black preachers and parishioners in independent black denominations and inside traditional white denominations maintained churches characterized by proud histories and long records of frontline involvements in black freedom pursuits.

Article

Japanese American Buddhism  

Michihiro Ama and Michael Masatsugu

Japanese Buddhism was introduced to the United States at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893, but the development of Japanese American Buddhism, also known as Nikkei Buddhism, really began when Japanese migrants brought Buddhism with them to Hawaii and the continental United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It has been influenced by, and has reflected, America’s sociopolitical and religious climate and the US relationship to Japan, to which generations of Japanese Americans, such as Issei (literally, first generation, referring to Japanese immigrants), Nisei (second-generation American-born offspring of the Issei), and Sansei (third generation), responded differently. While adapting to American society, Japanese American Buddhists maintained their cultural practices and ethnoreligious identity. The history of Japanese American Buddhism discussed in this article spans from the late-19th Century to the 1970s and is divided into three major periods: the pre-World War II, World War II, and the postwar eras. Japanese American Buddhism is derived from the various Buddhist organizations in Japan. The Nishi Hongwanji denomination of Jōdo Shinshū, a form of Pure Land Buddhism known as Shin Buddhism in the West, is the oldest and largest form of ethnic Japanese Buddhism in the United States. In Hawaii, Nishi Hongwanji founded the Hompa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii (HHMH) in Honolulu in 1897. On the continental United States, it established the Buddhist Mission of North America (BMNA) in San Francisco in 1898, currently known as the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA). Other Japanese Buddhist organizations also developed in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. They include the Jōdo-shū, another sect of Pure Land Buddhism; Higashi Hongwanji, another major denomination of Jōdoshin-shū; Sōtō-shū, a Zen Buddhist school; Shingon-shū, known as Kōyasan Buddhism; and Nichiren-shū. The characteristics of Japanese American Buddhism changed significantly during World War II, when approximately 120,000 persons of Japanese descent living in the West Coast states were incarcerated because of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The postwar period witnessed a rapid transformation in the status and visibility of Japanese Buddhism in the United States. This transformation was driven by the promotion of ethnonational Buddhism by Nisei and by the growth of interest in Zen Buddhism among the general American public. The positive reception of Japanese Buddhism in the United States reflected and reinforced the transformed relationship between the United States and Japan from wartime enemies to Cold War partners. While they experienced greater receptivity and interest in Buddhism from nonethnics, they could no longer practice or espouse Jōdo Shinshū teachings or adapted practices without clarification. Debates concerning the authenticity of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism and Japanese American Buddhist practices were interwoven within a longer history of American Orientalism. By the 1960s, Japanese American Buddhist communities were transformed by the addition of a small but vocal nonethnic membership and a new generation of Sansei Buddhists. Demands for English-speaking ministers resulted in the creation, in 1967, of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, the first graduate-level training program in the United States endorsed by Nishi Hongwanji. This article is an overview of Japanese American Buddhism with a focus on the development of the Nishi Hongwanji Shin Buddhist organizations in the United States. English scholarship on the development of other Japanese Buddhist organizations in the United States is still limited. Throughout the history of Japanese American Buddhism, Nikkei Buddhists negotiated with America’s political institutions and Christian churches, as well as with Euro-American Buddhists, over Buddhist and cultural practices to maintain and redefine their ethnoreligious tradition. Buddhist temples provided the space for them to gather and build a community of shared faith and cultural heritage, discuss their place and the role of Buddhism in American society, and express their concerns to America’s general public.