When it comes to religions in America there are a few major players. Christianity and its various branches, Islam, and Judaism all bring up certain images and connotations. Their influence is not to be understated and includes a wide-spanning cultural awareness as well as a significant amount of power that they can wield through their communities and practitioners. There are, however, many smaller religions that still bloom in the fields of people's hearts and minds. These alternative religions can vary wildly in their beliefs, practices, and lifestyles. As a result, they're hard to summarize in just a few words. That won't stop us from trying in this list.
Starting of the list is the 3HO group, also known as the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization or the Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere. This American society was started in 1970 by Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, who is also referred to as Yogi Bhajan. Its followers go by the moniker of the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood. The practices they espouse bear a lot in common with certain Hindu traditions and include a focus on meditation, yoga, and vegetarianism. Practitioners believe in yoga and spiritual ideas as a source of strength. You'll recognize those in the movement by the turbans and white clothes that they wear.
Adidam was an organization founded in 1972, centered around its founder Adi Da and the many devotees of the religion that he taught. The church itself went by many different names, some of which include the Dawn Horse Communion, The Free Communion Church, and The Laughing Man Institute. The religion follows an eastern view of divinity and incorporates concepts like karma, reincarnation, and chakras. For believers, God is seen as energy and consciousness that predates creation, one which is not a willfully directed creator. Like 3HO, this religion bears a lot in common with Hindu traditions.
This alternative religion is one of the bigger ones on this list, with an estimated 1.2 million practitioners in the US, as of 2012. As this school of thought does not require any formal conversion, it is easy for the average person to begin incorporating dharma practices into their daily lives. As a result, American Buddhists hail from a vast array of ethnicities and nationalities. This belief system has a variety of offshoots and variations but the core of it is found in a focus on spiritual development through practices like meditation that can be applied by just about anyone.
7. Church of Aphrodite
This Neopagan religious group was founded in 1938 and was one of the earliest of its kind in the United States, though it is now old enough that there may not be many, if any at all, adherents still around. The church believes in a singular female goddess, as evidenced by a name that references the ancient Greek goddess of love Aphrodite. The founder was a Russian immigrant, named Gleb Botkin. Central to his beliefs was the idea of love, which he defined as energy in all beings and as responsible for the creation of the cosmos. It's a rather beautiful idea.
6. Church of Daniel's Band
This church is primarily located in Michigan, with all four of its congregations based in the state. The church was organized originally in imitation of early Methodist class meetings and started as a splinter group from the Wesleyan Methodist Church because of a disagreement on the doctrine of divine healing. The name of the church is based on a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon in 1890 that relayed the story of Daniel in the Old Testament. The group stresses evangelism, spiritual perfection, fellowship, religious freedom, and asceticism, as in living life without partaking in sensual pleasures.
5. Church of Divine Science
The Church of Divine Science is a religious movement that resides within the much wider new thought umbrella, a grouping that typically believes in God being everywhere, dwelling divinely within each person. This particular church was founded by Malinda Cramer, originally under the name the Home College of Spiritual Science before changing its moniker to Divine Science. The religion defines itself as organized teaching pertaining to God and the manifestation of God in creation. It holds as a foundational truth that God is good and equally present everywhere in all of everything, which is a nice thought.
4. Church of the SubGenius
This religion is not one that is to be taken seriously. In fact, it is actually a parody of more widely known belief systems. The Church of the SubGenius teaches a complex philosophy that focuses on its prophet, a supposed salesman from the 1950s called J. R. "Bob" Dobbs. Leaders in the movement have developed complex tales about Dobbs and his relationship to various gods and conspiracies. They also have a central deity Jehovah 1 who is just one of many that fall within the group's intricate mythology of gods, aliens, and mutants.
3. Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
This is another religion, sometimes known as Pastafarianism, that makes lighthearted fun of other popular religions. In some ways its more of a social movement that aims to take the wind out of religion while opposing the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in schools. Unfortunately, it is not technically seen as a real religion in the United States, but that doesn't mean people can't still practice it. Further emphasizing how not serious this religion is, is the central belief that an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe.
Neoshamanism refers to the new forms of shamanism that are popular with westerners. It comprises a varied range of beliefs and practices that all center around attempts to transform into altered states where one can communicate with the spirit world. It borrows many ideas from indigenous cultures, particularly the indigenous cultures of the Americas. As a result of this, some members of these traditional cultures have derided religion as cultural appropriation. Still, the belief system itself is not singular and cohesive and instead acts more as an umbrella term for many different philosophies and activities.
Wicca, also known as pagan witchcraft, is a modern pagan religion that mixes in various elements of the occult alongside ancient pagan and 20th-century hermetic motifs for its structure and ritual practices. Its original core beliefs and principles were outlined in the 1940s by Gardner and Doreen Valiente. Practitioners typically believe in a Goddess and a God, known as the Moon Goddess and the Horned God, though they are also seen to have many different divine aspects. Also involved with Wicca is the ritual practice of magic and spells intended to bring about change in the physical world.
About the Author
Alice Chen is a freelance writer based out of the Toronto area. She's written for community newspapers, magazines, and websites, all the while enjoying every second of it. Now, she's on the path to honing her skills further and seeing where her writing can take her.
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