The post office near my quiet street in quintessentially suburban Bethesda, Maryland, is about to change hands: it's going to become an ashram. The local ashram needs more space, so its managers negotiated with the Postal Service to take over the West Bethesda post office when mail carriers make a scheduled move to a new facility. Some doctors' groups bid for the building, and so did the 7-Eleven chain. But the Buddhists had the juice, and they won out.
At some levels, this epitomizes the ongoing transformation of American religious demographics. Within driving distance of my home now stand a Hindu temple, a Sikh gurdwara, a Mormon temple, and several mosques. Other typical American communities, not just the downtown areas on the coasts, have similarly varied religious landscapes—and also offer places of worship for Jains, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, and others. The United States has become "the most religiously diverse nation in the world," according to Harvard's Diana Eck in her 2001 book, The New Religious America.
Today, Eck writes, the United States has more Muslims than Episcopalians, with Islamic faithful and worship houses increasing—at least 1,200 mosques—while several mainstream Protestant denominations are in mild decline. Depending on whose figures you use, Muslims have passed or are just about to pass Jews as a share of the American population. Meanwhile, contends Eck, Los Angeles has become the most complex Buddhist city in the world." America has become "the most ...