Most immigrants to America from earliest colonial times have had specific religious affiliations, and many have sought American residence because of their beliefs and practices. Hostile attitudes and policies in native countries often alienated and pushed out religious minorities, while America’s reputation for freedom drew them to its shores. Developed or developing American faith communities continued to draw foreign coreligionists, even in the face of sporadic or endemic prejudice by some Americans.
From 1620 to roughly 1800, most immigrants who established and developed the thirteen English colonies–and later the United States–were from the
Mennonite teacher in a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, school during the early 1940’s. Her students included Mennonite, Amish, and Pennsylvania Dutch children.
Middle- and upper-class Irish Protestants, Anglicans, and especially Presbyterians (usually
American independence and constitutional guarantees established a framework for a religiously neutral nation, though many states initially retained official denominations and civil rights associated with them. In 1785, only 1 percent of the American population was
The same pattern affected Scandinavian
At the same time, large numbers of
Southern Italian Catholics experienced famine and great poverty rather than intolerance, and they came to America by the thousands. About 300,000 arrived from 1880 to 1890, and average annual numbers doubled during the 1890’s. A large percentage of these were young men seeking work, who expected to return to Italy later in life. Instead, the well-established Italian American communities, and especially the ethnic Catholic churches, helped retain many of these immigrants, who often called for their families to join them.
The twentieth century was marked by religious persecution that served the purposes of totalitarian ideologies and regimes. Many of those who suffered sought refuge in America. Anti-immigration laws passed in 1921 and 1924, however, set the tone for the next four decades by severely limiting annual numbers. Bolshevik victories in the
Though theoretically tolerant of Jews and sponsors of a puppet
By its nature officially atheistic,
During the late twentieth century, wars in Somalia and other parts of Africa pitted well-supplied Muslims against minority Christians, and many of the latter fled to the United States as a result. Other African or Afro-Caribbean religious minorities in the United States faced legal restrictions on traditional practices. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in
Carroll, Brett E. The Routledge Historical Atlas of Religion in America. New York: Routledge, 2000. Record of major influxes and shifts of religious groups in America, from the precolonial era to the late 1990’s. Gaustad, Edwin S., and Leigh Schmidt. The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today. Rev. ed. New York: HarperOne, 2004. Standard overview of the topic that emphasizes the relationships of multifaith immigration to major trends in American religious developments. Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, Jane I. Smith, and John L. Esposito, eds. Religion and Immigration: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Experiences in the United States. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2003. Collection of articles focusing on the period after 1965, surveying religious conditions in immigrants’ native countries as well as experiences in the United States. Joselit, Jenna Weissman. A Parade of Faiths: Immigration and American Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Short, illustrated overview of the interplay of immigrant religious expectations and the interplay with American social and cultural history from the Mayflower voyage of 1620 to the 1990’s. Levitt, Peggy. God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape. New York: New Press, 2007. Sociological study that emphasizes the ways in which religious identities ensure strong self-identification with native countries. Olupona, Jacob, and Regina Gemignani. African Immigrant Religions in America. New York: New York University Press, 2007. Studies the range of native African religious traditions transplanted to America, especially the effects on American black communities such as the interactions of African American Christians with African immigrants. Tweed, Thomas A., and Stephen Prothero, eds. Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Collection of more than one hundred reflections by native American and immigrant cultural and political figures on the place of major Asian religions within the broader American Judeo-Christian religious landscape.
American Jewish Committee
Pilgrim and Puritan immigrants
Religions of immigrants