Faces of Faith: Religious diversity in metro area
By Lisa Brody
While the United States Constitution mandates a separation of church and state, America remains a country founded on religious ideals. “In Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” are the words enshrined in the Constitution, representing a foundation based upon the values of most of the world's religions.
The first settlers at Plymouth Rock were the Puritans, a group of English Protestants looking for religious freedom who sought to purify the Church of England from Roman Catholic practices, asserting that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and needed to become more Protestant, and believing they had a direct covenant with God to create the necessary reforms. When the Crown and Church of England did not agree, they sought refuge and religious freedom in the New World. A group set sail in September 1620 for Virginia, and landed in Massachusetts. Calling themselves “Pilgrims,” their landing spot is now known as Plymouth Rock.
The Puritans were a devout people, family-oriented, with a high rate of literacy. While they were the first to set their feet on American soil and establish a religious colony, in the 500 years since, millions of other 'pilgrims' seeking freedom from religious persecution, among many other reasons, have emigrated to what is now the United States, creating a multi-cultural society brimming with religious diversity.
Here in metropolitan Detroit and southeast Michigan, there is a cornucopia of religions and those who practice, from Protestants to Muslims. According to the Pew Research Center, the religious composition of adults in Michigan is 70 percent Christian, which breaks down to 25 percent Evangelical Protestant; 18 percent mainline Protestant; 18 percent Catholic; eight percent historically Black Protestant; less than one percent each Mormon, Orthodox Christian, Jehovah's Christian and other Christian faiths. The most recent Pew survey and research was conducted in 2019.
Non-Christian faiths represent about seven percent of Michigan's faith-based population, with Muslims comprising about three percent of the population; two percent Jews; one percent Buddhist; and less than one percent Hindu and less than one percent other world religions.
According to Pew, 24 percent of Michiganders report they are unaffiliated with any religious faith; three percent are atheist, meaning they do not believe in a god or gods; and three percent are agnostic, who is someone who claims neither a faith nor belief in God. Another 17 percent reported they are “nothing in particular,” the Pew study reported. According to Pew, those categories have grown over the years, with individuals aged 18-29 representing the largest group who do not believe in a god or religion, have a college or post-graduate degree, are primarily male, and make over $100,000 a year.
While 62 percent of adults in metro Detroit said they “seldom or never” participated in prayer or a scripture group, 35 percent said they meditated at least once a week, and 59 percent reported feeling “spiritual peace and wellbeing” at least once a week. Twenty-nine percent said they turned to religion for “guidance on right and wrong,” while 51 percent said they used “common sense.” Yet almost 75 percent believe in a heaven – and 60 percent believe in a hell.
“People in times of trouble turn to religion for strength, to ground them, even when a high number of them are unaffiliated,” said noted southeast Michigan demographer Kurt Metzger director emeritus, Data Drive Detroit. “The United States is a very religious country. But what are churches doing to be relevant to their communities? What are they doing for the people who need them most? Due to the COVID pandemic, there has been increased outreach, an important factor for churches in providing food and assistance.”
“I think the Detroit metro area is a melting pot when it comes to religion,” said Randall Engle, Christianity professor in the department of religious studies at Oakland University.
Unlike the Puritans in Massachusetts, and later in Virginia, Detroit and Michigan were first settled by French traders who were Roman Catholic, “which is why the oldest church in Detroit is St. Anne's (Basilica of Saint Anne de Detroit),” Engle said, which was founded in 1701 by French colonists and is considered the second oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic parish in the United States. As of 2010, the Roman Catholic Church was the largest individual Christian religion and had 1,717,296 members out of a Michigan population of 10 million residents. It has six diocese – Detroit, Saginaw, Marquette, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Gaylord – and one archdiocese in the state, and was the only organized religion in Michigan until the nineteenth century. According to Geoffrey Migiro of World Atlas, when Michigan gained statehood, the border of the Diocese of Detroit was redrawn to match the state's.
“It topped off at 24, 25 percent” of Christian religious adherents, and settled at 18 percent currently, said Bob Brutell, vice chairman of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit and vice chairman, Ecumenical Theological Seminary, as well as an adjunct professor of religious studies and history, University of Mercy Detroit. He noted while Catholic followers are diminishing, “it still is the largest aggregate church. It has over 200 parishes, with lots of resources – it has lots of buildings, giving people lots of places to meet.”
Another asset he noted is its parochial system of religious schools which can be a feeder system for worshipers. Whether the network of churches and school buildings are an asset or an increasing expense as people stay home or choose other denominations “is another issue. Some buildings are doing extremely well. St. Hugo of the Hills (in Bloomfield Hills) is an amazing parish. Our successful parishes spawn social justice units and social services,” assisting hundreds and thousands of people in the metro area, Brutell pointed out.
Engle explained that all religions, and their adherence and importance in daily life in the United States can be explained by migration patterns, which were ultimately determined by economics. An early influx of immigrants came because of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, followed by the transformation of the assembly line and the jobs brought by Henry Ford in the early 20th century.
“All ties are to ethnicity and religiosity,” Engle said, noting that John and Horace Dodge, who started the Dodge Brothers Company, were Germans with “a strong Lutheran bent. And all the people they hired were immigrants who came with a strong mix of religions.
“Detroit starts heavily Roman Catholic,” Engle said, “but after two or three generations becomes a true melting pot.”
He explained that melting pot begins to occur after the first generation, who work to maintain their identity through their religious affiliation. “Their children meet someone often from another ethnicity, and they want to start another or join another church where they both feel comfortable. It's a typical pattern which leads to new religions and congregations,” he said.
How do many identify as belonging to one religion or another? “Two generations ago, you'd say I am because my parents were X. Today, we're finding less and less of that,” said Engle. “Today, we're finding people shopping for the goods and services that a church will provide for them rather than the label. People are less concerned with the theology than the social aspects – is it close to home, can I meet people there, will they have a softball team, will they have Sunday school for little Susie? They're trying to retain members and pay the bills to keep the lights on.”
He said sometimes he has to wonder if “they're a church or a cruise ship.”
Brutell said that in the Detroit area, as well as the U.S. as a whole, Catholics emigrated in large numbers to this country between 1880 and 1930.
“They came for economic security, which is what America represented, then once they were here they needed the U.S. identity,” Brutell said, which increased steadily between the 1930s and 1960s in metro Detroit. “The Catholic Church helped provide an American identity through its social justice teachings. It supported unions in its early years; it provided education for their children – much more than it does today. It offered health care. There were hospital systems – the Ascension system, Providence, St. Joe's. It was quite a social system that Catholics depended upon, and of course, the rituals which any religious person depended upon. It regulated their lives – Sunday morning mass, weekday worship.”
According to the Archdiocese of Detroit, there are about 1.3 million Catholics in southeast Michigan, with 218 parishes, 86 Catholic schools, and five Catholic colleges and seminaries.
“As mainline churches diminish, who is picking up the baton for social services that those religious institutions provided?” Brutell asked, noting it is a difficult lift for many non-profits.
Engle said the immigrant melting pot experience is what led to a rich and diverse collection of churches throughout the metropolitan area over the last couple hundred years for many religious denominations, and it is a phenomenon which continues as assimilation continues among ethnic groups and each generation get further from its immigrant base. Today, he said, there are over 26,000 different denominations of Christianity, which can broadly be classified among three classifications: Orthodox, which include the eastern Christian religions such as Greek or Russian Orthodox; Roman Catholic, “which is one big monolith which has the pope as its leader;” and Protestants, who broke off from the Catholic Church after Reformation and there “are a gazillion different ones 'because we want to do it differently but we want to do it our way.'”
Locally, it is difficult to determine where exactly members of various religious groups reside today because not only has data from the 2020 U.S. Census not yet been released, but it did not include a question on religion so religious data questions will not be answered.
Chaldean Catholics are a separate branch of the Catholic Church, with Weam Namou, executive director of the Chaldean Cultural Center noting, “there's some differences in our faith.”
Chaldeans are Iraqi Catholics, speak and pray in Aramaic, and look to preserve the Aramaic language. Certain holidays are different. “There's such historic significance to our lineage to biblical Mesopotamia,” where current-day Iraq is, said Namou. “In our church, we understand all the history and background. It's our responsibility to tell our story.”
The last count for the Chaldean community, from the 2010 Census, was there were 180,000 Chaldeans in metro Detroit, “but we estimate it is much larger. Sterling Heights has the largest percentage of Chaldeans in Michigan.”
Many estimate the Chaldean community currently as between 250,000 and 300,000. Why so much bigger than the 2010 Census?
“In 2014, ISIS forced the Chaldeans to flee Iraq (or be slaughtered in Iraq),” said Namou. “It is believed that Michigan now has the largest number of Chaldeans in the world because of all the tens of thousands of refugees who fled all over the world. Before 2014, we were second after Iraq. It's why Michigan being our home, it's so important to have accurate numbers.”
She said now Michigan is the only area which has cultural organizations, a chamber of commerce and a support system for refugees, immigrants and those who have been here for a few generations. There are also many Chaldeans in California, among a few other states, but their community is strictly based around the church.
While in Iraq, she said Chaldeans were a minority, “we had many Muslim friends,” she said she sees the many of the younger generation seeking a stronger identity, both culturally and religiously.
“Many younger people are becoming more connected to the church – I notice it more with those who are born here than immigrants. They almost feel like they're protecting it because of what happened with ISIS – that someone tried to destroy them and their culture and they want to preserve them,” Namou explained.
But she worries about some young people who may not fit into the traditional boxes – which Catholicism is not often open nor flexible about, something Brutell also pointed out. They both noted that “spiritual” to traditionalists is not considered “religious.”
“Some young people who feel they are outcasts, gay, that they don't belong – but who want the traditional aspect, to belong – they are dying,” Namou lamented. “The community they want to be embraced by they feel rejects them. For someone who has another path as everyone else – we're all a nation of immigrants, new to this east/west path. We need to embrace God, have a personal relationship with God, however they get there.”
“The issue for Catholics is young people are not joining the Catholic Church; some are only nominally willing to call themselves Catholic,” said Brutell. “They don't want to join an institution that tells them what to do. The Catholic Church does not reflect many of their views, especially with LGBTQ issues.
“Catholic young women may not oppose the Catholic Church and priesthood and that the church is male, but they don't warm to it,” he continued. “They see other churches that are welcoming to women in leadership, LGBTQ issues, like the Episcopal Church. I think Pope Francis will have an effect; he has brought a sense of openness and collegiality – maybe not as much change as possibility.”
“The increase in younger people seeking out religion is because they're seeking connectivity,” said Oakland University's Engle. “After class, once many of my students learn I am a man of faith, many of my students want to talk to me about religion and belief. They'll say, 'I'm Lutheran – what does that mean? I'm Methodist – what does that mean?' They've grown up in a world that says the truth is whatever you want it to be and they're intrigued.”
Demographer Metzger suggests that many young people, especially those with lower incomes, may turn to religion for solace, the need to be with other people, and because they think religion will save them.
“The lower the income, the higher the involvement with religion,” Metzger said. “When you're getting kicked day in, day out, there's systemic racism, over the years, people who just don't have the options day-to-day because living is so tough – the church becomes so important because they believe the next life will be better – God is there. It probably will not get better here on earth.
“Religion gives them hope and strength and some avenue to feel better. They develop connections with others believing the same thing,” he said. “People turn towards it in a country that is already religious. The unaffiliated may not feel connected to any specific denomination, but there is an increase in prayer for their family and self, even if it's not in any formal sense.”
According to the 2010 Census, the largest Protestant denomination in Michigan was United Methodist with over 228,521 adherents, followed by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church and the Lutheran-Church-Missouri Synod.
Lutherans have been in Detroit since around 1820, with the first recognized Lutheran sermon by Rev. Frederich Schmid preaching in a carpenter shop on the site of the former Ford Auditorium. He later established the German Protestant Church, also called the German Lutheran Church, in 1837. Since 1873, it's been known as Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The Michigan Area Conference of Methodists is one of 54 Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church in the U.S., and one of 10 members of the North Central Jurisdiction, representing more than 830 local churches with approximately 130,000 members, led by Bishop David Bard.
Methodism is historically related to Protestantism, and developed as a revival movement within the Church of England during the 18th century, and according to the BBC, were named Methodists because of "the methodical way in which they carried out their Christian faith." Besides evangelism, Methodism emphasizes charity and support of the sick, poor and afflicted through works of mercy.
The Right Rev. Dr. Bonnie A. Perry was elected head of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, covering southeast and south central Michigan, in June 2019, making her the first woman and first openly gay priest elected as an Episcopal bishop in Michigan. The diocese includes 77 churches with approximately 16,000 members as of 2019.
Perry explained the Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican communion and “comes down from the Church of England, but because the Crown is the head, and after the Revolutionary War, the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted nothing to do with Americans,” as well as Americans belief in a separation of church and state, creating the Episcopal faith, where bishops were elected. “Most of those who wrote the Constitution were Episcopal,” she noted.
“Part of my call – and why I was elected to be here is because there is a need to be progressive,” Perry said. “While we're upholders to our values we cannot be paralyzed by the anesthesia of nostalgia. We're not sidestepping the really important questions – which is, how is the teaching of Jesus Christ relevant to these times that are wretched, terrible, amazing, cracked open? White people are finally getting an idea of racism, white supremacy, white privilege – what does Jesus have to say about this? What does Jesus have to say in the midst of this pandemic? What do I do with his teachings in this moment of time?”
As Perry determines her, and her flocks' – messages and responses, what is troubling her is the ability, and inability, to reach out in this time of crisis. It is a theme heard from numerous religious groups – in this time of where a pandemic is causing illness, death, isolation and economic upheaval, many people are turning to their religion for solace – at a time when the doors to congregations, churches, temples must be closed to safeguard congregants' health.
“Any time the world cracks open, people say, 'What about God, what about religion,'” Perry said. “There are a number of people, both young and old, turning to the religion. Some because they have services online and they can participate in pajamas with a cup of coffee. But religion by its nature, especially Christianity, is a communal experience.”
She said she does not take her personal preference to worship with fellow congregants over public health.
“So our buildings aren't closed. We're still worshiping, but we can't do Communion over Zoom. Communion is insanely important, but we can't touch each other,” she pointed out. “Ash Wednesday is coming up – which is so important, but this year we can't touch anyone. Jesus said the Sabbath was created for people, not people for the Sabbath. This year, I have never been so aware of our own mortality.”
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council and a part-time Orthodox rabbi, said that he has been hearing from rabbis in the Jewish community that many are experiencing a desire for connection from congregants, but with many temples and synagogues closed, people are feeling isolated and disconnected.
“Some are meeting by Zoom or outside, such as in different backyards in Huntington Woods, in small groups, for worship,” Lopatin said. During nicer weather, some local rabbis held low-key small family services in local parks. “Rabbis are working very hard on connecting with their congregants. Some are doing a better job of it than others. Temple Israel and some other Reform congregations are sending packages (to families). They're reaching out to their congregants, letting them know it's not about a building. The strength is in community – not in edifices.
“Luckily, in Detroit, there are great rabbis and they're really hustling,” he said.
As of the most recent survey conducted by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, there are approximately 70,000 Jews living in metro Detroit, most of whom are in Oakland County.
Lopatin said, “Statistically, right now, it's an hour-glass. The community is aging – as well as there are a lot of young couples, young families, singles. It does feel like there are a lot of millennials moving back and growing that demographic.
“The middle – that 30-60 year old demographic – is getting squeezed,” he said of the local Jewish community. “Hopefully the younger demographic will grow into that middle and with the growth and connection to the city of Detroit, and with Quicken Loans hiring, it will stabilize.”
He said he does see younger Jews seeking connection, whether religiously or through Jewish-identified organizations and non-profits.
Judaism's focus on spirituality – in a time of questioning during the pandemic as well as the nationwide trend toward spirituality, whether via religion, yoga, meditation, candles, or other forms – is guiding some to embrace a religion they had drifted from or never really known.
What is the difference between religion and spirituality? Primarily, religion is an organized institution, with a professional in a leadership position carrying out specified rituals emphasizing the core foundations and beliefs of the religion, which lay out the foundation for how one's life should be lived. As a community sharing the same beliefs, a religion can function as a social network, providing guidance, rituals and ways for observance.
Spirituality is more esoteric – it is a focus on one's soul and inner self. Being spiritual involves holding one's own personal beliefs and practices, including the search for the purpose of life, and each person's definition can change or vary throughout their lifetime. It can assist someone in combating life's challenges and allow them to connect with someone greater than themselves. One is being part of a group; the other is individual. Religion and spirituality are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
“Spirituality is a critical part of Judaism. Prayer and Judaism is spiritual. Judaism has to be spiritual to be meaningful – Jewish scholars have been saying that forever,” Lopatin said.
Perry, of the Episcopal Church, believes religion and spirituality are naturally entwined, and not mutually exclusive.
“Of course you can be religious and spiritual,” she said. “Religion is just interwoven, just laced through by spirituality. But, like the essence of anything, it not the entirety. The part you're missing is the wraparound of the community.”
Bishop Edgar Vann of the Second Ebenezer Baptist Church in Detroit, which has about 5,000 members, lauds the role of faith in the African American community and the role the church plays in that, but discounts any sentimentality towards spiritualism.
“Faith is very central to the African American community. It's a complete microcosm of African American life,” Vann noted, whether from Black banks, Black newspapers, Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), or other businesses. “They've all been connected in history to the church. The Civil Rights movement came out of the church.
“Churches in the African American community are called to be more than a beacon of light for faith – but a beacon of light for life. I have never, and cannot ignore, the struggles in life because the church is a microcosm of life the African American community. It's not just a house of worship – it's a symbol of life in the African American community,” he emphasized.
As for those who seek a spiritual connection? “There are people who do yoga for health reasons but they're not chanting and connecting with God,” Vann said. “I don't perceive it as a replacement for faith. There are people, especially in the younger generation, who are questioning their faith, searching. Most people intuitively have a sense that there is something higher than themselves.
“Rational people, even if they are not a believer in organized religion, believe there is a higher power. At some point, people question and may not get to the rostrum of faith I have gotten to, but still ask, 'How did the world start?' You can't have a building without an architect. The word 'faith' presupposes you'll never get all the answers – but we believe faith says 'I believe to the point of knowing even if I have doubt and fears – but I believe beyond my doubts and fears,'” Vann explained.
Politics cannot be extricated from life, faith or leadership within the African American church, Vann said, noting the church is so central to overall life in the African American community people look for leadership in politics, social justice and civil rights.
The First Baptist Church in Birmingham, like Grace Baptist Church in Birmingham, are smaller neighborhood congregations “committed to being good neighbors to all we encounter. We recognize that all people have wounds to be healed, gifts to offer, questions to ask, and stories to share, regardless of affiliation, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, finances, or ability. We are a community of people who have chosen love over judgement and hostility,” states the website for the First Baptist Church.
Mormons, a name members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are generally trying to get rid of, have about 45,000 members in Michigan, with about 20,000 in metro Detroit, split between two “stakes” or regions of 10 to 14 congregations. The two metro Detroit stakes are the Bloomfield Hills stake and the Westland stake.
The religion is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah; there are approximately 6.6 million Mormons in the United States and 16.3 million worldwide, achieved through proselytizing through two-year missions by young members, primarily males. The religion was founded in 1820 in upstate New York by Joseph Smith. Adherents self-identify as Christians, although some Christians do not consider them Christians, including Oakland University's Engle – “if a cult adds another text, they add another text. Then some Christians would say they are a cult because they follow a text in addition to the Bible,” he said.
With the Book of Mormon, their separate sacred text, they believe that Christ's church was restored through Joseph Smith and is guided by living prophets and apostles. Mormons have a health code which prohibits alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and addictive substances. They tend to be very family-oriented and have strong connections across generations and with extended family, reflective of their belief that families can be sealed together beyond death. They also have a strict law of chastity, requiring abstention from sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage and fidelity within marriage, though they are accepting of LGBT individuals and relationships.
“All of our leaders are lay leaders,” said Rachel Clawson of the Westland Stake. “Active members do all of the work. The church is comprised of active members or inactive members. When you are active, you are very active – you're there and you are involved.
“I know people in other religions who go to a church on a holiday – not in our church,” said Clawson. “You're either pretty involved or you've separated yourself from the religion.”
Clawson acknowledged that “the vast majority of people are stable, if not wealthy. They're successful, but they live very humbly,” primarily because the Church stresses higher education “and staying out of debt and having a reserve of food for emergencies or if you lose a job.”
“Metro Detroit is a beautiful mosaic of many people,” noted Petra Alsoofy, outreach and partnership manager, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. She said there are between three and seven million American Muslims, with 2.75 percent of Michigan's population Muslim – or 275,000 people, approximately.
She explained the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding acts similarly to the Pew Research Institute for the Muslim community in America, which shows the American Muslim community is “the most ethnically diverse community because it is not one ethnic group. The largest percentage, 28 percent, are African Americans – which most Americans do not even associate as Muslim. Nineteen percent are White; 23 percent are Asian, Chinese or Japanese; only 14 percent are Arabs or of Middle Eastern descent; and eight percent are Hispanics, and the largest growing community.”
Alsoofy said their research shows there is no difference between younger practitioners and older ones in terms of religiosity – “how important Muslims believers see their faith. We don't see a difference between young and old.
“When we speak of American Muslims, about half are native born and half are immigrants,” she explained. “It's a very young community – 23 percent are between 18-29.”
Dr. Dima El-Gamal, education liaison for the interfaith committee and member of the civic engagement committee at Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Township, has found it to be a “home away from home, and that is a feeling for a lot of members. Before COVID, many members of the community would attend the center many times of the week for many events – not just to pray, but to attend a lecture, to play basketball, for Friday night activities, Saturday night dinners. It is an integral part of our life. Now, the younger at heart but older at age are missing out on the spiritual connections.”
From their research, which also looks at other religions as well as Islam, Alsoofy said there is a tie between religion and politics.
“For most people their religion, their faith – for Muslims, Jews, Evangelical Christians – they have a prism of morality they are looking through to determine what is right, what's wrong,” she explained.
Similarly is economics, such as poverty and how practitioners think about poverty.
“Religion is attached to how they view those who are less fortunate and who they believe should be helping,” Alsoofy said. “Religion helps you define if you view who's fault it is if someone is poor and why. Different faith communities define it differently, with 65 percent of Jews and 61 percent of Muslims believing societal circumstances cause poverty. Only 21 percent of White Evangelicals agree.”
She said one of the ties they can correlate to how civically engaged someone is “the stronger your faith identity is, across the board, the more civically engaged you will be. For American Muslims, more frequent mosque attendance is connected to being more likely to register to vote, to vote, to attend a town hall meeting and to be civically engaged.”
To the question of “Because of my religious faith I have meaning and purpose in my life,” 75 percent of White Evangelicals agreed; 63 percent of American Muslims; 54 percent of Protestants; 37 percent of Catholics; 34 percent of the general population; and 33 percent of Jews.
Members of Eastern religions, such as Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs, live in metro Detroit, although not in large numbers. According to the 2010 census, there are about 16,100 Asian Indians in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Livingston counties.
“As the IT revolution in the last 20 years has brought people, skilled tech workers, from India, many have made the long-term decision to stay here, so the large Indian community has grown. Others have just completed their masters – who knows if they'll stay, but while they're here, they're utilizing the temples,” said Narayanaswamy Sankagiri, chair of the outreach committee for the Bharatiya Temple of Metropolitan Detroit in Troy.
“The concept of a Hindu temple is it is essentially an energy center. Once the energy center is consecrated the deities must perform worship there twice a day, morning and night. When that takes place, the public can participate,” Sankagiri said.
Worldwide, there are 1.2 billion Hindus, with over 94 percent living in India, a religion based in spiritualism, atheism and multiple deities. Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include Dharma – ethics/duties; samsara – the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth; Moksha– liberation from the cycle of life, death and rebirth; and various yoga paths and practices.
“There are 10 to 12 Hindu temples in metro Detroit; ours is the oldest and largest,” Sankagiri said, with a little more than 1,000 membership-paying families and others attending at other times. “At various times the temple serves 2,000 to 3,000 families.
“Our temple was imagined as a democratic institution serving multiple deities and various demographic variations,” he said. “While it is practically impossible to cater to everyone, the temple was envisioned to be for the seven main deities.”
He said atheism, the non-belief in God, has always been a part of Hinduism since ancient time, as has spiritualism.
“The goal of Hindu life is to reach liberation – Hindus believe that this is not just one life but that every living being goes through an infinite series of births and deaths. The goal of human life is to break out of this because every birth and death is very painful,” Sankagiri explained. “Any creature has the possibility of breaking out, but the human body gives the greater possibility to be liberated, so I must do everything possible in this life.
“Devotion is one of them, and that is where the temple comes in. Temple ritual is a practice of devotion,” he said.
Different yogas – some unlike Americans' perception of a physical yoga practice – create a path of knowledge and teachings of those who have reached liberation, “so those who do not need to do the temple rituals, they're still following the spiritual path,” Sankagiri said.
Raman Singh, a board member of the Sikh foundation, attends Gurdwara Sahib Mata Tripta in Plymouth. She said the Sikh religion is similar to Hindu and other Eastern religions philosophically, “but we believe you can only achieve liberation in this life, and believe human life is the only one that can. It is focused on the equality of all human beings, with all castes and classes being equal. We call gender equality Oneness. We have our own unique scripture that begins with the word One, for the oneness of all creation.”
Singh said there are about 3,000 Sikh in metro Detroit and 5,000 in Michigan.
Unlike Hindu, Sikh is a monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab region of India, where there are about 22 million Sikh.
The identifying uniform for observant men is a turban and beard because observant men and women cannot cut their hair, Singh explained. “For Sikh, it's an article of faith. Many women also wear a turban but it's not as common,” she said. Because of this adherence, Sikh men cannot serve in the U.S. military.
Other articles of faith are prayer and meditation, which can be done by attending a temple and being part of a community. Most Sikh are vegetarians, and tithing 10 percent of their income or time to charity is an expectation.
“Spiritualism is our purpose in life – to connect with the One, because we believe God resides within each one of us,” Singh said.