Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs in the New Religious Landscape of England*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs in the New Religious Landscape of England*

Article excerpt

In 2001 Wilbur Zelinsky published a stimulating article in the Geographical Review extolling the exceptional nature of the American cultural landscape of religion. He argued that the United States is a land without the homogenizing effect of European state religions. New peoples have brought new religions and made a highly diversified and pluralistic impact on the American cultural landscape. Places of worship range from Episcopalian cathedrals to storefront churches, from megachurches to ethnic churches, and an almost random scatter of sites where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and a wide variety of other religions are represented, with an equal variety of signage in the streetscape. Zelinsky described a unique pluralistic religious landscape.

On the other side of the Atlantic, dramatic changes are happening as well to the European, particularly the English, Christian cultural landscapes of religion. The homogenizing effect of state religion, to which Zelinsky referred, is being deconstructed and in some cases reconsecrated under the impact of new religious influxes. The ethnic minority populations of the United Kingdom and other Western European countries have expanded dramatically (Peach 1997). Embedded within these minority ethnic populations, especially those of South Asian origin, has come a great expansion in "new" religions--Islam (Peach 1990b), Hinduism, Sikhism--and with them the new "cathedrals" of the English cultural landscape: Muslim masjids, Hindu mandirs and Sikh gurdwaras. Exotic religious buildings, some of exquisite beauty, have been built on unlikely inner-city sites. The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, handcrafted in the Gujarat in India from white Romanian marble, was shipped to England and assembled into an astonishingly beautiful temple off London's North Circular ring road--opposite an IKEA furniture store. The elegant Dawoodi Bohra Shi'a Masjid in Northolt is hidden away in a London industrial estate. The largest Sikh gurdwara in the Western world has been built almost under the flight path of Heathrow Airport in suburban Southall.

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The extent of the transformation brought about by the appearance of the Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh places of worship can be gauged from reading John Gay's account of The Geography of Religion in England: "Hinduism has not made any real impression on the English social landscape" (1971, 199). "The future for the Eastern Religions in England ... rests almost entirely with the Muslims and the Sikhs,... the Hindus leave their religion behind in India" (p. 201). Gay was correct about the Muslims' and Sikhs' future impact on the English social landscape. But although, of the three religions, the Hindus have produced the fewest places of worship (Figure 1), their impact has been among the most spectacular (Figure 2).

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A considerable literature has developed on the cultural landscape of religion in England since Gay's 1971 book. Largely these studies are analyses of particular buildings rather than an attempt at an overall geography. Among the notable contributions are those on a London Hindu temple (Vertovec 1992, 2000), on the Hare Krishna Bhaktivedanta Center set up by Beatle George Harrison in a rural manor in Hertfordshire (Nye 1998), on a Jain temple in Leicester (Gale 1999), on an Ahmadiyya mosque in a London suburb (Naylor and Ryan 2002), and on the politics of planning (Gale and Naylor 2002). This literature links up with that of scholars in Australia (Dunn 2001), Canada (Isin and Siemiatycki 2002), and Singapore (Kong 1993a, 1993b, 2002). Important papers have also been presented at conferences (Dwyer 2000; Phillips and Brown 2000). This article follows more the North American tradition of studying the religious landscape, that of Zelinsky (1961, 1988, 2001) and Diana Eck, the Harvard sociologist of religion (1997, 2002), but also David Sopher (1967, 1981), James Shortridge (1976), and G. …

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