Category Archives: Religion: people & places

Obscure Unitarians: Alice Locke

A writer, feminist, and pacifist, Alice Elizabeth Locke Parke was born Feb. 2, 1861, in Boston, Mass.; her father, John Locke, a lawyer, was from New Hampshire and her mother Harriet was from Nantucket.

She graduated from Rhode Island Normal School in 1879. She taught in the public schools in Cumberland, Smithfield, and North Kingstown, R.I., in 1880-1882.

She married Dean W. Park, Sept. 27, 1884, and they had two children, Carl J. (b. Oct. 13, 1885, Colo.) and Harriet (b. Feb. 7, 1887, Colo.). Dean was a mining engineer and graduate of M.I.T., and the family lived in a number of places, including Montana, Colorado, Mexico, and Texas, following his jobs. Alice moved to Palo Alto in 1906 while her children were attending Stanford Univ.; Dean died in Palo Alto May, 1909, in a bicycle accident.

In 1910, Alice gave her occupation as “writer” for “papers, etc.” She was active with the California Equal Suffrage Assoc., and participated in the successful 1911 campaign for women’s suffrage in California. Subsequently, she continued to be active in suffrage work outside of California.

She was branded as a “subversive” by the New York State Legislature, which noted that she belonged to the National Women’s Suffrage Party, and branded her a “sympathizer” of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In 1912, she wrote a letter to the editor of Pacific Unitarian in support of the IWW.

She later said that she could not remember when she became a pacifist, and called it a family tradition. She opposed the Spanish-American War, and displayed a peace flag on her house during the First World War. She helped form the Palo Alto branch of the Women’s Peace Party (WPP); Jessie Knight Jordan, wife of David Starr Jordan, the president of Stanford University, was also involved with the WPP. In 1915, she went to Europe on the Ford Peace Mission. With the entrance of the U.S. into the war in 1917, the Palo Alto branch of the WPP disbanded; Park then joined the American Union Against Militarism, and began holding meetings of the Palo Alto branch in her house beginning April 16, 1917; and when the Palo Alto branch publicly supported conscientious objectors, she was threatened with arrest.

She went to meetings of the People’s Council in San Francisco (of which Rev. William Short, formerly minister of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, was an officer); she was presiding at a meeting in August, 1917, with David Starr Jordan on the speaker’s platform, when the meeting was raided by police. She continued her pacifist activities throughout the war, sometimes enduring illegal searches by the police. After the war, in 1919, she planned a meeting at the Palo Alto Community House (which Edith Maddux, another Palo Alto Unitarian, helped organize) to call for the release of all political prisoners.

She was an early member of the Women’s Alliance of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, joining before 1910. However, she and Marion Starr Alderton withdrew from the Palo Alto church in June, 1920, in protest against “the attitude taken” by the church in the First World War.

She described her religion thus:

My religion is humanity — humanitarianism — confident that the present time is all that we are sure of and our duty, our progress and our usefulness are all here and now — If we think earnestly of the present and try to do all we can right here and now — we are at least sure of immediate results. My religion is boundless — Nothing human is alien to me. (quoted in Eichelberger; see Notes)

She died Feb. 17, 1961, just after her hundredth birthday.


Notes: 1900, 1910, 1920 U.S. Census; Birth, Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States, town clerk office, FHL microfilm 592,869; Thomas W. Bicknell, A History of the Rhode Island Normal School, 1911; “School Officers and Teachers in Public Schools, 1880-1881,” Twelfth Annual Report of the Board of Education…of Rhode Island, Providence, R.I.: E. L. Freeman & Co., 1882, p. 9; “School Officers and Teachers in Public Schools, 1881-1882,” Thirteenth Annual Report of the Board of Education…of Rhode Island, Providence, R.I.: E. L. Freeman & Co., 1883, p. 9; Class of 1884 M.I.T.: 25th Anniversary Book, Boston, 1909, p. 114; “Dean W. Park” obituary, The Mining World, Chicago: Mining World Co., May 22, 1909, p. 991; Eunice Eichelberger, “‘Hearts Brimming with Patriotism,’” ed. Robert W. Cherny, California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression, Univ. Neb. Press, 2011, pp. 321-332; Pacific Unitarian, July, 1912, pp. 271-272; “The Ford Peace Party,” Revolutionary and Subversive Movements Abroad and at Home, Albany: N.Y. Legislature, 1920, p. 98 (for the meeting of the People’s Council that was raided, see also San Francisco Daily Call, Aug. 9, 1917); Board of Trustees minutes, archives of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto; Nancy L. Roberts, American Peace Writers, Editors, and Periodicals: A Dictionary, Greenwood Press, 1991, p. 216.

Park deserves additional research (though such research lies outside the scope of my current research interests). Sources for further research include the Alice Park papers at the Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. (mssPK 1-338), and the Register of the Alice Park Papers 1883-1951 at the Hoover Institution, Stanford Univ. There is a Masters thesis on her, written by Paige G. Greenfeld: Yours for Women and Peace: The Feminism of Alice Locke Park, San Diego State University, 2003.

Obscure Unitarians: Annie Upton Lawrence Corbert

A schoolteacher and supporter of women’s suffrage, Ann Upton Lawrence was born on Nantucket Is., Mass., on Oct., 1840, to Frederic W. Lawrence and Susan Hussey. Since her birth is recorded in the Quaker manner as “10th month” (rather than “October”), perhaps her family were Quakers; a Quaker upbringing could help explain her lifelong support of equal rights for women.

Her life can be traced through the U.S. Census. In 1850, she was living on Nantucket Is. with her father and mother, and younger siblings Amelia and Everett; her father was working as an accountant. By 1860, she was living with her father in San Francisco, and working as a school teacher; her father was working as a clerk, and they shared a house with William H. Lawrence, a mariner, and his wife and child.

Annie married Edward W. Corbert before 1866. In 1870, she and Edward were living in San Francisco, where Edward worked as “Assessor, Int. Rev.”; they had two children, Louise (b. c. 1866, Calif.), and Sadie (b. c. 1869, Calif.). In 1880, she and Edward were living in Martinez with Louise, Sadie, and Anita Lawrence (b. June, 1874, Calif.). By 1900, Annie was widowed and living with Anita in Palo Alto; Anita was working as a teacher. And in 1910, Annie was still living with Anita, as well as with her son-in-law, John Byxbee; John was the Palo Alto city engineer for whom Byxbee Park is named.

Annie supported women’s suffrage. She was president of the Santa Clara County Equal Suffrage Assoc. in 1900, and said in her presidential address of that year, “We are simply waiting and watching, and working to strengthen our forces and our cause, so that at the golden moment we may be ready to spring into place.” She continued working for equal suffrage through the successful campaign in 1911 which gained California women the right to vote: “Mrs. John F. Byxbee, Mrs. George Rosebrook and Mrs. Annie L. Corbert entertained at a suffrage tea Thursday afternoon at the Byxbee home in Alma Street.”

Her civic activities were not limited to equal suffrage. She also found time to support the schools and the public library, and she belonged to the Palo Alto Woman’s Club, the Civic League, the Peace Society, and the Historical Society.

She was active in the early days of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, and was one of the early members of the Women’s Alliance. She helped run the Unitarian “Post Office Mission” in Palo Alto. She sang in the church choir, and her “clear true alto” voice was “always a power in quartette singing, even to the time of her last illness.” She divided her time between San Francisco and Palo Alto, and was also an officer for the San Francisco branch of the Women’s Alliance.

Her obituary in the Pacific Unitarian gave three samples of her religious philosophy, things she said not long before she died:

“As a church we should ask ourselves, continually, What is the church for—are we doing something worthy, or are we marking time.”

“I have found that we must not judge people. Minds are different, and we must not condemn as unworthy that which does not suit our own ideas.”

“The human soul is a lonely thing. It must stand by itself at the last.”

Notes: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 U.S. Census; Vital Records of Nantucket, Massachusetts, to 1850, vol. II—Births (G-Z), Boston: New England Historical Genealogical Society, 1926, p. 235; Gayle Gullett, Becoming Citizens: The Emergence and Development of the California Women’s Movement, 1880-1911, Univ. of Illinois Press, p. 109; San Francisco Call, Aug. 20, 1911; Pacific Unitarian, Aug., 1916, p. 262; Pacific Unitarian, March, 1915, p. 137.
N.B.: In the printed record, her married name is often spelled “Corbett,” but when she signed her name she wrote “Corbert”; furthermore, she signed her first name “Annie,” not “Ann.”

Obscure Unitarians: Effie June Scott and Edward Curtis Franklin

Effie June Scott Franklin — A professor of French and German, she was born Aug. 5, 1871, in on a farm in Carlyle Township, Kansas. Her father, Dr. John W. Scott, came to Kansas in 1857, and was active in the free state fight, serving in the first state legislature; Dr. Scott served in the Civil War as surgeon of the Tenth Kansas, and after that war was president of the company that laid out the town of Iola, Kansas.

Effie’s family family moved to the town of Iola, Kansas, in 1874. She graduated from high school in Iola, Kansas, in 1887. She had two older brothers: Angelo C., the eldest; and Charles F. Scott, ten years older than Effie, who represented Kansas for several years as a Republican in the U.S. Congress.

After graduating from high school, Effie taught in the Kansas City, Kansas, schools, and then taught high school in Leavenworth, Kansas. She then began studies at the University of Kansas, receiving her A.B. in 1891. Subsequently she pursued graduate study at Cornell and at the University of Berlin. She was assistant professor of French and German at the University of Kansas for two years until her marriage in 1897; William Carruth was at that time professor of German.

She married Edward Curtis Franklin on July 22, 1897, at Central Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado. She and Edward had three children: Anna Comstock (b. Sept., 1898), Charles Scott (b. c. 1902), and John Curtis (b. c. 1905).

Politically, she was a progressive who supported “woman suffrage.”

She was active in the Unitarian church in Lawrence, Kansas, and was a delegate from the Lawrence church to the National Conference of Unitarians in 1911 (the family lived in Washington, D.C., 1911-1913 while Edward worked for the government Hygenic Laboratory).. Prof. William Carruth was also a member of the Lawrence, Kansas, church before he moved to Palo Alto.

Effie moved to Palo Alto in 1903 when her husband accepted a position as professor at Stanford. She was an early member of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, and was active in the Women’s Alliance.

When Maria Protsman Scott, Effie’s mother, died in 1907, she was staying with her daughter in Palo Alto; however, it doesn’t appear that Maria was living with the Franklins.

In 1914, a classmate from the University of Kansas visited the Franklins, as well as former Kansans Jennie and Helen Sutliff, and William and Katharine Carruth. She wrote: “At Stanford I spent several days with the Sutliffs and Franklins and had a pleasant visit with Dr. and Mrs. Carruth. … Dr. Franklin was soon to leave for New Zealand where he was going at the request of the British government, in company with fourteen other American scientists of note. Dr. and Mrs. Franklin have a very handsome big daughter Anna, a high school girl, and two younger boys, Charles and Jack.”

Effie was an accomplished pianist, and she was elected an honorary member of the Stanford Music Club in 1916.

She died at her home in Palo Alto on March 31, 1931.

Notes: 1900, 1910 U.S. Census; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, 1931, p. 14; William E. Connolley, History of Kansas Newspapers, Topeka: Kansas State Printing Plant, 1916, p. 47; William E. Connelley, A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, vol. 3, Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1919, p. 1360; Iola Register, May 30, 1902; Jan Onofrio, Kansas Biographical Dictionary, St. Clair Shores, Miss.: Somerset Pub., 2000, p. 142; The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Michigan Chapter of Beta, October, 1893, p. 118; Iola Register, July 30, 1897, p. 8; John William Leonard, Woman’s Who’s Who of America, 1914-1915, New York: American Commonwealth Co., 1914, p. 305; Christian Register, Oct. 19, 1911, p. 1095; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, March, 1907, p. 224; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, Dec., 1914, p. 91; Stanford Daily, Jan. 25, 1916, p. 2.


Edward Curtis Franklin — A renowned chemist who grew up in Kansas while it was still part of the frontier, he was born in Geary City, Kansas, on March 1, 1862. He was raised in Doniphan, Kansas, where his father owned a saw mill and grist mill. At the time he was young, that part of Kansas still had the flavor of the frontier, to which some ascribed his later “noticeable impatience with convention.” As a boy, he enjoyed the outdoors, including hunting, fishing, swimming in the Missouri River, and collecting fossils; this love of the outdoors was to remain with him his whole life, and he was an active mountain climber who belonged to the Sierra Club, and summited a number of 14,000 foot peaks. He and his brother William, later a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made their own batteries, a two-mile long telegraph line, and their own telephone in 1877, only a year after A. G. Bell patented his tel-phone.

After he graduated from high school, he worked for a pharmacy in Severance, Kansas, from 1880-1884, then at age 22 entered the University of Kansas. He received his S.B. from the University of Kansas in 1888, studied at the University of Berlin 1890-1891, and received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1894. He was a professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas from 1891 to 1903, and worked for a gold mining company in Costa Rica for a time in 1897. He was professor of chemistry at Stanford from 1903 to his retirement in 1929. As a chemist, he was best known for his work on ammonia and other nitrogen compounds. He was considered an excellent teacher who delivered exceptionally clear lectures.

He married Effie Scott on July 22, 1897, in Denver, Colorado, and they had three children: Anna Comstock (b. Sept., 1898), Charles Scott (b. c. 1902), and John Curtis (b. c. 1905).

He was an early member of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto. He hosted the monthly social gathering of the Unitarian Church, entertaining “the company with some experiments with liquid air.” Theologically, Unitarianism was a good fit for Franklin: “Even as a youth…Franklin was inclined to be a ‘free thinker’ and agnostic.”

After his wife Effie died in 1931, he lived with his daughter, Anna Franklin Barnett, in Palo Alto. In the last three years of his life, he took long auto-mobile tours of the U.S. and Canada, and died just two months after returning from the last such trip. He died Feb. 13, 1937.

Notes: Alexander Findlay, Journal of the Chemical Society, 1938, p. 583; Howard Elsey, Biographical Memoirs, Nat. Academy of Sciences, 1991, pp. 67-75; Stanford Daily, Feb. 15, 1937, p. 1; Jan Onofrio, Kansas Biographical Dictionary, St. Clair Shores, Miss.: Somerset Pub., 2000, pp. 139 ff.; obituary, Stanford Daily, Feb. 15, 1937; John William Leonard, ed., Men of America: A Biographical Dictionary, New York: L. R. Hamersly & Co., 1908; Pacific Unitarian, April, 1909, p. 186. Photo of Edward from a U.S. Government Web site,, accessed May 23, 2017.


Anna Comstock Franklin Barnett — A physician and graduate of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto Sunday school, she was born Sept. 12, 1898, in Lawrence, Kansas, daughter of Effie Scott (q.v.) and Edward Curtis Franklin (q.v.).

Her family moved to Palo Alto in 1903. In 1905, Anna was “one of the first pupils of the Sunday-school” of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

She received her A.B. from Stanford University in 1920, and her M.D. from Stanford in 1924. On July 12, 1924, she married Dr. George de Forest Barnett; he was a physician and professor of medicine at Stanford. They had two children, Margaret A. and Edward F. After the death of her mother in 1931, Anna’s father came to live with her.

Anna joined the faculty of Stanford School of Medicine. Her husband, who had also taught at Stanford School of Medicine, died in 1955. Anna continued to live on campus after her own retirement.

On Oct. 1, 1968, the Stanford Daily reported: “The badly decomposed body of Dr. Anna Barnett, a retired Medical School professor, was discovered in the hills behind Stanford Friday morning. The body was found near Stanford’s antenna farm at 7 a.m. by Eleanore Norris, a resident of Palo Alto, who was strolling in the area near Stanford’s antenna farm. Dr. Barnett, despondent over eye trouble and a scheduled eye operation, disappeared September 13. She left a note indicating she was contemplating suicide. A morphine overdose was determined as the cause of death.” The date of death on the death certificate was Sept. 27, 1968.

Notes: 1900 U.S. Census; Christian Register, Dec. 17, 1925, p. 1236; Stanford University Alumni Directory, 1921, 1931; Stanford Daily, April 30, 1924, p. 1; Stanford Daily, Oct. 1, 1968, p. 4; Carl T. Cox, “Anna Com-stock Franklin,” The Orville, Sutherland, Cox Web site: Ancestors, descendants, and Family Information, I17378, accessed May 25, 2017. (N.B.: Anna’s biography was added an hour or so after Effie’s and Edward’s biographies were posted.)

Obscure Unitarians: Emily Sophia Elliot Pardee Karns Dixon

Emily Elliott was born March 3, 1853 in Kane County, Ill., daughter of Wilson and Maria J. Elliot, both born in New Hampshire. Her family left Illinois and moved to a farm in California’s Central Valley when Emily was six; it seems likely that the family traveled overland on the Oregon Trail or the California Trail. In 1860 she and her parents were living in Elkhorn Township, San Joaquin County; her father was working as a farmer, and the Elliot family shared their home with another farmer and three farm laborers.

Though not listed as a graduate, she studied at the California State Normal School c. 1870. In 1870, she was living in San Francisco and “attending school”; the State Normal School was then in San Francisco. Emily taught school in Oakland for seven years.

She married Dr. Enoch H. Pardee on July 19, 1879, when she was 26 and he was 52; Enoch’s 22 year old son George was not pleased when his father remarried. Enoch was mayor of Oakland and a co-founder of the Unitarian church in Oakland. Enoch and Emily had one child, a daughter Eleanor (“Nellie”), born in 1880. Enoch died in 1896, and four months Nellie, then age 15, also died. After a legal battle with Enoch’s son, Emily received a third of Enoch’s substantial estate. Enoch’s estate was valued at approx. $275,000, or roughly $8 million in 2016 dollars; so Emily received the equivalent of $2.6 million.

For the next few years, she traveled extensively. She married William A. Karns, a lawyer, in Baltimore on March 21, 1898. The couple moved to San Jose where William practiced law.

Emily settled in Palo Alto in 1903. In August, 1906, William filed suit for divorce on the grounds of desertion. A bitter legal battle ensued, during which Emily revealed that she had indeed left her husband, but had done so on advice of a physician. William was denied a decree of divorce. Then in 1913, Emily filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion and failure to provide. This time, William did not appear at the trial because he was a fugitive from justice, and Emily received a divorce decree under which she retained control of extensive property interests.

Emily supported woman suffrage, and in 1911 was the president of the Palo Alto Suffrage League. She was one of the early members of the Woman’s Club of Palo Alto. and served as president. She was active with the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the local chapter was organized at her house in 1924.

In 1916, she married a third time, to James Leroy Dixon, who was some twenty years younger than she (b. c. 1874). Leroy was a Stanford graduate, and in 1916 was principal of the high school in Lakeport, Calif.; by 1919 he was teaching at San Francisco Polytechnic High School. Their marriage lasted only three years.

She was an early member and later president of the Women’s Alliance, and was active in the national Unitarian Women’s Alliance. In 1908, she hosted the Sunday school picnic on the ten-acre grounds of her Palo Alto house. She later gave the house grounds to the City of Palo Alto as a park to memorialize her daughter Nellie. In 1909, Emily was a delegate to the Pacific Unitarian Conference in Seattle.

She died on Feb. 5, 1940, in Palo Alto.

Notes: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1920 U.S. Census; John W. Leonard, Woman’s Who’s Who of America, New York: American Commonwealth Co., 1914; Historical Sketch of the State Normal School at San José, Sacramento: State Office, 1889; “How Palo Alto’s Pardee Park Came To Be,” Pardee Home Museum Newsletter, Nov., 1999, pp. 2-3; “The Pardee Home Histo-ry,” Pardee Home Museum,, accessed May 23, 2017; Emily Karns Dixon, Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, 1948, p. 758; San Francisco Call, July 9, 1913, p. 2; Stanford University Alumni Directory, 1921; Calif. State Board of Education, Directory of Secondary and Normal Schools, Sacramento: Calif. State Printing Office, 1916, p. 33; Calif. State Board of Education, Directory of Secondary and Normal Schools, Sacramento: Calif. State Printing Office, 1919, p. 117; Pacific Unitarian, Aug., 1909 p. 294. N.B.: In early records of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, she appears as Emily S. Karns, later as Emily Karns Dixon.

Religious Diversity in Silicon Valley

(Excerpts from a talk I gave at the UU Church of Palo Alto)

Over the past seven years, I’ve been exploring the religious diversity of Silicon Valley. This project started out because I was supporting the middle school class that goes to visit other faith communities. But over the years, it has taken on a life of its own, and has helped me better understand the role of religious organizations play in strengthening democracy, and it has also caused me to substantially revise my definition of what religion is.

So that’s what I’d like to do today: explore religious diversity in Silicon Valley, and maybe go on some interesting tangents.

And I’m going to start off by setting a limit around this exploration: I’m NOT going to look at solo practitioners of religion, or individual spirituality. This happens to be an important limit, since we are in an era of anti-institutionalism in which an increasing number of individuals refuse to identify with any organized religious community, even when they profess to have some kind of individual religiosity.

The role of faith communities in democracy

But I AM interested in exploring religiosity as it is expressed in a faith community, because I believe that faith communities can help sustain democracy. James Luther Adams, a theologian and sociologist, studied the role of voluntary associations — including faith communities — in democracies, and he concluded that they played a fundamental role in keeping democracy healthy. Among other things, he studied the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s (he even visited Nazi Germany himself in the mid-thirties), and found that one of the ways that the authoritarian Nazi regime came to power was by severely limiting voluntary associations. Thus Adams found that the right of free association is in fact critical to democracy; free association is critical at keeping authoritarianism in check.

This should be a major concern for us in the United States today. What we saw in the past two presidential administrations was a willingness to extend the powers of the presidency to an unprecedented degree; the rapidly rising use of executive orders is perhaps the most prominent example of this. The current presidential administration seems to be further extending the use of executive orders, further extending the powers of the presidency, and this administration seems to have tendencies towards centralization of power and decision-making in a smaller group of people. This should cause us to pay attention to the possibility of rising authoritarianism. This is coupled with a wider cultural tendency: some of the greatest popular culture heroes today are people in the business world who rule their business as authoritarian regimes, and these authoritarian business leaders are taken as positive examples to be emulated.

I find these trends and tendencies to be moderately alarming. Out of my alarm, I think, springs my deepening interest in voluntary associations such as organized religion. Although there is a lot of talk today about “resistance,” such talk strikes me as promoting a negative or passive approach, which is doomed to fail. Instead, I would like to promote positive responses to authoritarian trends; rather than merely saying, “Authoritarianism is bad,” I want to be able to say, “Here are some interesting and fun things we can do that strengthen democracy.”

And one of those interesting and fun things we can do to strengthen democracy is to celebrate the vibrancy of religious diversity, as it expressed in faith communities.

What is a “faith community”?

When I talk about “faith communities,” I mean something quite specific. A “faith community,” in my definition, is a voluntary association in which people have come together around matters of religion and spirituality. This definition is tailored for the U.S. context; it would work less well in certain European countries where there are still established churches funded by the government; and it would work less well in certain East Asian contexts where religion is less tied to voluntary associations.

But here in the United States, there is a strong connection between religion and voluntary associations, and defining a “faith community” as a voluntary association in which people have come together around matters of religion and spirituality — this definition proves to be useful and interesting.

At this point, you should be asking yourself: “What does he mean by ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’?” It may look like I’ve been avoiding a firm definition of these terms, but as it happens, I do have a fairly precise definition in mind, a definition which works well in the context of a discussion of religious diversity, a definition which is primarily functional but not ontological or metaphysical. Therefore, from a functional standpoint, I’m not going to insist on a strong distinction between “religion” and “spirituality,” because in our democratic society we don’t have a distinction between these two terms that is widely accepted.

Here’s my functional definition: “religion” is what we point at when we say the word “religion.” This may sound like I’m avoiding the issue, but I’m not; I find that mostly when I point at something that looks like religion, most people will say, “That’s religion.” Sure, there are things that we point at which we can’t get wide agreement on as to whether they constitute religion or not. If I point at Scientology, some people will say, “That’s a religion,” and others will say, “That’s a massive con game.” So my definition does not have really crisp boundary lines. But mostly, when I point to a Christian church or a Jewish synagogue, or a Shinto shrine, or a Sikh gurdwara, or a Hindu temple, or Humanist gathering, or a Neo-Pagan ritual, most of us are going to say, “Yes, that’s something to do with religion.” We may go on to say, “That is a kind of religion that I think is disgusting or heretical or appalling,” but we acknowledge that it is religion.

Now I want to go a little farther, and place religion in a broad category that includes various kinds of cultural production. This broad category also includes the arts; and I would include organized sports as an art form, too. I find it helpful to think of religion as part of a broader category of “Arts and Religion,” and there has been some interested scholarly study of how certain art forms and certain sports activities look a great deal like religion.

To sum up, then: a faith community is a voluntary association that does religion, where “religion” is defined as what I point to when I say the word, and where religion is part of a broader category of cultural production that we can call “Arts and Religion.”

And I think you will find all this becomes very useful when we start looking at religious diversity. So let’s do that — we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s start looking at religious diversity in Silicon Valley.

Religious Diversity in South Palo Alto and Midtown

Let’s begin with our immediate neighborhood. Recently, I went looking for all the faith communities near our congregation, in a rectangle one mile wide by mile-and-a-half long, bounded by roughly by Oregon Expressway to the north, El Camino Real to the west, San Antonio Road to the south, and Highway 101 to the east. I came up with more than thirty faith communities that met regularly within this rectangle. I was astounded at this number — that’s a lot of faith communities located in such a small area.

Now let’s look at the religious diversity that is represented in this rectangle.

Denominational diversity

When Americans think of religious diversity, they usually think of how many denominations they can find. So we’ll start with denominations, though really the concept of denomination really works best for Protestant Christianity, and not so well for other types of faith community. Here are the denominations represented in this rectangle:

— 9 mainline Protestant Christian faith communities
— 1 Roman Catholic faith community
— 1 Orthodox Christian faith community
— 12 other Christian faith communities
— 1 Post-Christian faith community (that’s us)
— 4 Jewish faith communities
— 1 Muslim faith community
— 2 Buddhist faith communities
— 4 New Religious Movements (one of which would probably identify itself as Christian)
— 35 total denominations identified

The amazing diversity of Christian faith communities

Not surprisingly, the majority of these faith communities are Christian, as is true of American society as a whole: most of the faith communities in the U.S. are Christian. But don’t make the mistake of lumping together all these Christian faith communities as some kind of monolith. Christianity arguably has as much or more internal religious diversity as any of the major world religions; you could make a strong case that Christianity is as diverse or more diverse than either Hinduism or Orisa Devotion, and that’s saying a lot.

Compare, for example, an Orthodox Christian worship service, with its incense and chanting and elaborate decorative arts and music — compare that with the simplicity of Quaker silent meeting for worship. Or compare the social structure of Roman Catholicism, with its tradition of strong central authority, with the radically decentralized congregational polity of the Disciples of Christ. Or compare the cool emotional tenor of Lutheranism to the ecstatic worship of some Pentecostal groups. Compare the religious narratives of the Latter Day Saints, with the religious narrative told by a liberal Baptist church; the Latter Day Saints draw on the Bible and the Book of Mormon, whereas the Baptists are going to limit their narrative to what they find in the Bible.

Religious liberals and secularists often close their eyes to the religious diversity within Christianity by reducing Christianity to one statement: “Christians believe in God and Jesus.” This is a mistake on two levels. First, it trivializes the vast differences in Christian beliefs about God and Jesus. If you believe that all Christians believe the same things about God and Jesus, remember the amazing diversity of Christianity; so I’d challenge you to rethink that belief, because it doesn’t hold up.

There’s a second problem with reducing Christianity to one statement: “Christians believe in God and Jesus.” To do so reduces Christianity to a belief system, but no religion can be reduced to a belief system. The scholar Ninian Smart has come up with seven dimensions of religions. These seven dimensions are:

1. the practical and ritual dimension
2. the experiential and emotional dimension
3. the narrative dimension
4. the doctrinal and philosophical dimension
5. the ethical and legal dimension
6. the social and institutional dimension
7. the material dimension (which includes the arts and material culture)

So even if it were true that all Christians believe exactly the same thing about God and Jesus, you cannot reduce religion to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension, while ignoring the other six dimensions. Now it is true that you will find some religions emphasize one or more of these seven dimensions, and certainly Christianity emphasizes the doctrinal dimension. (Parenthetically, it is worth mentioning that most atheists are very similar to Christians, insofar as they emphasize the doctrinal dimension of religion.) But that being said, the person who is serious about investigating religious diversity needs to take into account all dimensions of religion — not just the dimensions that most concern them, but all dimensions.

For those who wish to study religious diversity seriously, a helpful analogy might be made between Christianity and arachnids. Now, there are people who are creeped out by spiders, and these people have some level of arachnophobia, that is, an irrational fear of spiders. Ssimilarly, there are secularists, atheists, and even some Unitarian Universalists who have some level of “Christian-phobia,” an irrational fear of Christianity.

When an arachnophobe sees a spider, they become immediately and irrationally fearful and say, “Ugh, a spider, step on it!” Compare the arachnophove to someone like Jack Owicki, a very knowledgeable amateur student of arachnids — when Jack sees a spider, he is able to appreciate it for what it is, classify it by family and genus and maybe even species, and determine its place in the wider ecosystem. If you want to be serious about studying religious diversity, you have to act towards Christians the way Jack Owicki acts towards spiders; in other words, don’t let your irrational fears get the better of you.

Diversity of race, ethnicity, language

Next, let’s consider the fact that many faith communities deliberately limit themselves in one way or another by linguistic, racial, and/or ethnic boundaries.

This is a troubling concept to many Unitarian Universalists, and other religious liberals. We like to think that our religion should be open to everyone, and one of our ideals is that we would like our faith community to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our immediate surroundings. When we do this, we are following the example of Protestant Christianity, from which historically we emerged. Protestant Christianity, like Catholicism and Buddhism, is proselytizing religion: it seeks to draw new people in. Proselytizing religions assume that everyone could join their religion, and they actively figure out how to incorporate new people. Compare this to a religion like Zoroastrianism, which does not actively seek out converts, and doesn’t have an established procedure for accepting converts.

Thus we find that different faith communities have quite different approaches to racial and ethnic diversity: some strive for diversity, some avoid diversity. And this also makes clear that we should not automatically assume that our own religious assumptions translate to other faith communities.

And in fact, it is useful and very interesting to look at faith communities in terms of what racial, ethnic, and/or linguistic groups they serve. Let’s start by looking at some of the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of faith communities in South Palo Alto:

— 2 faith communities aimed at Korean Americans (Bridgway and Cornerstone), including both Korean and English speakers
— 4 faith communities consisting primarily of those born Jewish, including many who speak or read at least some Hebrew
— 1 faith community aimed at Chinese Americans (Central Chinese Christian), apparent emphasis on Chinese speakers
— 1 faith community aimed at Russian Americans (Holy Virgin), apparent emphasis on Russian speakers
— 1 faith community aimed at Japanese Americans (Palo Alto Buddhist Temple)
— 1 faith community consisting primarily of Gujaratis (Hatemi Masjid)
— 1 faith community aimed primarily at blacks (University AME Zion)

— We also find 2 Pentecostal faith communities that are multiracial both in their ideals and in practice (Abundant Life and Vive Church).

As it happens, most of the remaining faith communities in South Palo Alto, including our own faith community, are Anglophone congregations that are mostly white racially. But we should remain aware that there are ethnic white faith communities, too; for example, there are still some Roman Catholic parishes that cater to one specific white ethnic or national group, such as Irish Americans or Italian Americans.

In short, we can categorize faith communities by which linguistic group, which racial group, and/or which ethnic or national group they predominantly serve. This becomes particularly important in certain religious traditions, such as Therevada Buddhism, where individual faith communities will serve one linguistic and/or national group, for example, a Cambodian Buddhist faith community or a Sri Lankan Buddhist faith community.

Further ways to categorize faith communities

Let’s take a step back, and review some of the ways we can categorize a given faith community:

We can say which broad religious tradition they consider themselves a part of.

Here in the U.S., we can often categorize by denomination.

We can categorize by dominant socio-economic class.

And by now you may well be thinking about other ways to categorize different faith communities.

— Stance on same-sex relationships: If you know something about mainline Protestant denominations, you will know that local churches may differ as to whether they accept LGBTQ persons or not; so there might be two churches of the same Christian denomination fairly close to one another, one of which if fully accepting of LGBTQ persons, and another of which condemns homosexuality as a sin. You can find similar divisions on LGBTQ persons in Buddhist and Jewish and other faith communities.

— Worship style: We can also categorize faith communities by the style of their services. Are they informal, or formal? Are they friendly, or reserved? Look up faith communities on Yelp, and you will find them rated based on these categories.

And there are still other useful ways to categorize faith communities.

Finding religious diversity near you

All this is actually leading us to a super important question:

How do you go about finding faith communities near you?

Living here in Silicon Valley, of course we think that the best way to find neighboring faith communities is by doing a Web search. There are two main problems with this: first, the Web is generally not a trustworthy source of unbiased information about religion; and second, it can be hard to find geographically targeted information about religion on the Web. There is another problem: Some faith communities have no Web presence at all, either because they are trying to avoid notice, or because it just isn’t a priority for them.

Fortunately, there is one pretty good source of localized information about religion on the Web, and that is the online review site Yelp.

Here’s how to generate a geographically restricted listing of fatih communities using Yelp.

Bring up on your Web browser. In the search box labeled “Find” at the top of the screen, type in “Religious Organizations.” In the search box labeled “Near,” type in your location. And voilà: Yelp generates a little map of your area, and a list of religious organizations that have reviews.

Now there are problems with Yelp: there are often duplicates of the same religious organization under slightly different names; the category of religious organization includes things that I would not consider a faith community; some faith communities are not listed on Yelp; their geographical restriction works only moderately well. But overall it’s better than any other online resource, and it’s a great starting point. Yelp may help you will turn up faith communities that do not have a Web page, or only an obscure Facebook page, faith communities that you might otherwise miss.

So: you can start your Web search with Yelp. But online resources will only take you so far, and should be supplemented with on-the-ground research, such a driving or walking in the area, and asking friends and neighbors if they know of any additional faith communities.

Obscure Unitarians: Bertha Chapman Cady

A writer, biologist, and sexuality educator, she was born July, 5, 1873, in California. There she knew John Muir, and went hiking with him in the Sierra Nevada mountains. She received her A.B. in English from Stanford University in 1895, and her A.M. in entomology in 1902. After graduating from Stanford, she taught high school from 1900-1907; was assistant in nature study at the Univ. of Chicago, 1907-1909; taught biology at Calif. State Teachers College in Chico in 1918; was a lecturer at Stanford 1921-1923.

She married Vernon Mosher Cady on Dec. 15, 1908, at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago. The Abraham Lincoln Center was a Unitarian church and community center with permanent and transient residents; Bertha and Vernon had both lived in the Center in the summer of 1908. They were probably wed by Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones. They had two children: Carol (b. c. 1910) and Jean (b. c. 1913).

She was a graduate student at Stanford 1920-1922, and received her Ph.D. in entomology (at age 50) in 1923. Subsequently, she worked for the Girl Scouts as a naturalist from 1924-1936.

Bertha’s career encompassed biology and education. She and her husband co-wrote The Way Life Begins: An Introduction to Sex Education (New York: American Social Hygiene Assoc., 1917). As the Girl Scout National Naturalist, she wrote for, or wrote in their entirety, many Girl Scout publications.

While she was at Stanford earning her Ph.D., she was active with the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto. She taught the 4th and 5th grade Sunday school class at the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1921-22.

She died Jan. 26, 1956.

Notes: “John Muir,” Guide to Nature, Feb., 1914, Sound Beach, Conn.: Agassiz Assoc., 1909, p. 312; Stanford University Alumni Directory, 1921; Unity, Chicago, Unity Publishing, Abraham Lincoln Center, Jan. 7, 1909, p. 293; Oakland Tribune, Dec. 9, 1908 (gives the name of the officiating clergy as “Lloyd Paul Jones”); Tiffany K. Wayne, American Women of Science Since 1900, vol. 1, Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2011, p. 275; 1920 U.S. Census; Stanford University Alumni Directory, 1931.

Obscure Unitarians: Isabel Dye Butler

A key figure in the history of Unitarianism in Palo Alto, and a Mexican-American (but not an immigrant), Isabel Dye was born July 9, 1840 (other sources say June, 1840), in an old adobe house in Santa Cruz, California, the child of Job Francis Dye and Ecolástica Rodriguez.

Isabel’s mother, Ecolástica Rodriguez, born in 1822, was a Mexican citizen — this was before Mexico ceded California to the U.S. — and reportedly the daughter of the Minister to Mexico from Spain. As a young beauty, Ecolástica owned a Parisian lace dress, allegedly worth $1,000 when new (roughly $24,000 in 2015 dollars).

Isabel’s father, Job Francis Dye, was born in Kentucky in 1807, and traveled over land to southern California, arriving in Jan., 1832. In 1839, he lived in Monterey, where he met and married Ecolastica; ran a distilling business in Santa Cruz in 1840, where Isabel was born. The family returned to Monterey when Isabel was barely a year old; she was carried by her father on a pillow on his saddle.

Not long thereafter, Job received a land grant from the Mexican government of 26,700 acres along the Sacramento River in what is now Tehama County. The family stayed in Monterey, but Job had 1,000 head of cattle and 200 horses on the Central Valley ranch, called “Antelope Rancho.”

When she was about five years old, Isabel’s mother drove her around in old Monterey, bringing baskets of food and clothing to poor people. She continued doing charitable and benevolent work throughout her life.

In 1848, Job went to fight with General Fremont of the U.S., and Isabel Fremont and his troops march into Monterey. She gave a loud “Hurrah!” when she saw them, only to be slapped on the face by Alvarado, an older relative on her mother’s side. She participated in the raising of the new flag in Monterey.

The Gold Rush prompted Job to move to Antelope Ranch in 1849, to take advantage of economic possibilities there. Isabel, however, went to school at Notre Dame Convent in San Jose, a part of the first class of students in that school. Her chief attainments at school were facility in a number of languages, and skill at the piano.

Within a few years of the move, Job and Ecolástica apparently divorced, for Job married a second wife in 1853. Isabel went to live with her father in Tehama County, and at this time broke with her mother’s Catholic religion.

Isabel married John Strange Butler Jan. 15, 1859, in Tehama County, Calif. John was born Nov., 1829, in Indiana; he came to California in 1852, and after mining for three years started the first newspaper in Red Bluff, Tehama County, Calif.

She and John had four children of their own: Thomas (b. c. 1860), Minnie (b. Dec., 1861), Charles E. (b. April 14, 1868, Idaho; d. Dec. 20, 1897, Palo Alto), and Isabel (b. Jul., 1872). She also took care of 28 orphans over the course of her life. The first orphan she took in was in the early years of her married life; after whites massacred local native Americans, there were several babies left alive, and Isabel took one in.

After starting the newspaper, John S. then turned to farming until in Sept., 1862, Job Dye asked him to help sell cattle to miners headed to the silver mines in Idaho. He decided to start a newspaper in Idaho with his brother Thomas, and by Sept., 1863, they began publishing the Boise News. The rest of the family joined him in Idaho, and Isabel and John’s third child, Thomas E., was born in Idaho in 1868.

Thomas and John tried to maintain political neutrality in their newspaper, but it was quickly apparent that they were die-hard Republicans, in a state dominated by Democrats who supported the Confederacy. Even though they were financially successful, they felt pressure to sell out to a Democrat. They went on to start two other newspapers elsewhere in Idaho. In 1870, John finally decided to leave Idaho and return to California. The family settled in Oakland, where John established a job and book printing business.

In Feb., 1877, Isabel came into a large amount of money. The San Francisco Call reported the story this way: “In 1877, Isabel came into a large amount of money: “Fortune has showered its gifts profusely on Mrs. I. Butler, wife of John S. Butler, a printer, of Oakland. Mrs. Maria Isabel Toomes, of Tehama county, came to San Francisco in ill-health some time ago for medical treatment. Six months heretofore she removed to Oakland and recovered rapidly, but two months ago she was seized with typhus fever and sank under it. She was accompanied to the city by her adopted daughter, an invalid, about 20 years of age, and by a housekeeper. Mrs. Butler, living next door to the sick lady, was Samaritan-like in her attentions, and, on her death-bed, Mrs. Toomes summoned her lawyer, and devised all her property, real and personal, to Mrs, Butler, merely stipulating that her adopted invalid daughter, Nellie Toomes, should be provided for and maintained during her life out of the estate.” (quoted from the Call in the Isabella County Enterprise, Mount Pleasant, Mich., Feb. 21, 1877)

The truth was less romantic. Maria Toomes was the wife of Albert G. Toomes, a partner of Isabel’s father, Job Dye, back in the Red Bluff days’ Albert and Job had received adjacent land grants from the Mexican government. Maria Toomes had grown up in Monterey, and probably knew Isabel there. in any case, Isabel inherited $141,000, equivalent to $3.1 million in 2015 dollars.

The Butlers moved to Palo Alto in the early 1890s. Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes, then serving part-time as the associate minister at the Unitarian Church in Oakland, and part-time helping start up new congregations throughout northern California, came to preach in Palo Alto several times in 1895. On Feb. 12, 1896, thirty people met in the Butler’s living room to form a “Unity Society,” a lay-led Unitarian fellowship; John became the Treasurer of the Committee on Executive and Finance. One wonders if the Butlers had been members of the Unitarian church in Oakland, and whether they helped bring Wilkes to preach in Palo Alto to help start up the new Unity Society.

The Unity Society did not last more than a year or two. But a core of Uitarians remained in Palo Alto, and finally in 1905, with the help of funding from the American Unitarian Association, a new Unitarian church was formed. Once again, the initial meeting was held in the Butler house.

Both Butlers were active in the new church. John once again became the Treasurer of the new organization. For her part, Isabel was one of the charter members of the Women’s Alliance. They were the largest single contributor to the fund to purchase a lot for the Unitarian Church building in 1905 ($200, about $5250 in 2015 dollars).

Isabel died June 4, 1913, after which John moved back to Oakland; he died there Oct. 30, 1916.

Notes: 1900 U.S. Census; Ewald Flügel, “Isabel Dye Butler: Memorial Address given at the Unitarian Church, Palo Alto,” Pacific Unitarian, July, 1913, pp. 264-266; Federal Writers Project, Works Progress Administration, California: A Guide to the Golden State, New York: Hastings House, 1939; “Job Francis Dye,” An Illustrated History of the State of Idaho, Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1899; Ronnie R. Hayes, Idaho World: A Pioneer Chronicle of the Territory 1863-1918, dissertation, Univ. of Montana, 1982; obituary, Oakland Tribune, June 6, 1913, p. 10; Tehama County Genealogical and Historical Society, “Mexican Land Grants in Tehama County,”, accessed Nov. 30, 2016; obituary, The Grizzly Bear, Los Angeles: Native Sons of the Golden West, July, 1913, p. 26; Harvard College Class of 1890, 1903-1909, 1909; “Active Veteran Printer Passes,” American Printer and Lithographer, New York: Oswald Publ., Nov. 20, 1916, pp. 54-55; death notice, San Francisco Call, June 6, 1913.

Obscure Unitarians: Mabel and Louise Mead

Mabel Mead lived in Palo Alto for less than a year, but her life story is interesting enough to recount in some detail. A schoolteacher for many years, she was born Dec. 30, 1870, in Ledger, New York to Louise and Alexander Mead (Greeley Daily Tribune, May 12, 1961).

She received her B.S. from Cornell in 1898 (Fifteenth Annual Register, 1905-06, Stanford University); her sister Mildred was at Cornell at the same time she was (Cornell Era, April 21, 1900, class notes, p. 257). By 1900, at the age of 29, she was a schoolteacher, living with her parents in Greeley, Colo. (1900 U.S. Census).

A short digression to tell something of her mother, Louise Mead:

Louise was born Mar., 1851, in New York. She married Alexander Mead c. 1870 in New York state. In 1880, Louise and Alexander were living in Greeley, Colo., where Alexander was an agricultural implements dealer. By 1900, Louise and Alexander were running a rooming house in Greeley, with seven children: Mabel (b. Dec., 1870, N.Y.); Edgar (b. Sept., 1872, N.Y.); Ella (Jul., 1874, N.Y.); Mildred (b. Jul., 1875, N.Y.); Worthen (b. Sept., 1880, Colo.); Alexandra (b. July, 1884, Colo.); and Wilhemina (b. Sept., 1889, Colo.) (U.S. Census, 1880, 1900; in the 1900 Census her name is misspelled Luiese). The family Moved to Greeley sometime between 1875 and 1880. Alexander Mead was a Trustee for the city of Greeley for the year 1883. A Unitarian church had formed in Greeley, Colorado, in 1880; perhaps the Meads were members. (David Boyd, A History: Greeley and the Union Colony of Colorado, Greeley Tribune Press, 1890).

The Cornell Alumni News, vol. 7, Dec. 21, 1904 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University), ran the following notice: ” ’98 B.S. The marriage of Miss Mabel Mead to R. J. Wright was celebrated at Greeley, Col., this fall. Mrs. Wright is now connected with the social settlement work in the Italian District of Denver. She has charge of the North Side neighborhood house, the centre of settlement work in the northern part of the city.” But I found no other mention of R. J. Wright, and Mabel had resumed the name Mead by 1905. Perhaps this mysterious event precipitated her removal to Stanford for a year of study?

In any case, by autumn, 1905 she was a student at Stanford, living with her mother Louise at 742 and later 750 Bryant St. (Directory of Palo Alto, Mayfield, Stanford University, Jan., 1906; Cornell Alumni News, vol. 3, no. 25, March 28, 1906). She studied Romanic Languages (Fifteenth Annual Register, 1905-06, Stanford University); however, her name does not appear in later alumni directories.

She lived in Palo Alto for less than twelve months. While living in Palo Alto, she and her mother Louise were two of the early members of the Women’s Alliance of the newly formed Unitarian church (Women’s Alliance records).

By fall, 1906, she was teaching German, Spanish, and “physical culture” at a high school in Orange, Calif. (Cornell Alumni News, Oct. 3, 1906). She married Tracy C. Marsh before 1917; they had one son, Alexander Mead Marsh who was born c. 1913 (1920 U.S. Census). After her husband died in Nevada, she moved to Sutler, Calif., where she taught school until her retirement sometime before 1935; then she moved back to Greeley, where she was “prominent in civic and club work” (Greeley Daily Tribune, May 12, 1961). Back in Greeley, she lived with Edgar, Ella, and her son (1940 U.S. Census). In 1961, at age 90, she moved to Aberdeen, Md., to live with her son (Greeley Daily Tribune, May 12, 1961). She died in Annadale, Va., Feb. 2, 1975 (Cornell Alumni News, May, 1975, p. 80).

Further research might uncover additional information about Mabel Mead Marsh. It would, for instance, be interesting to search the membership records of the Greeley Unitarian church to see if the Mead family had been members there. It might also be possible to track down records of the Denver settlement house where she worked. However, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever find out what happened with R. J. Wright, and why she decided to attend Stanford at the age of 36.

Mabel Mead Marsh

Above: Detail from a photograph in the collection of the Denver Public Library (call. no. Z-7616) showing Mabel Mead Marsh in a horse-drawn coach in Greeley, Colo., between 1890 and 1900; Mabel is at the back, right of center.

List of faith communities near Palo Alto

There are two basic ways to track down faith communities in your area. One way is to find all the faith communities in a relatively small geographic area; that’s the approach I took in an earlier post. The other way is to try to find representatives of as many different kinds of faith communities within, say, and hour’s drive of your location. In this approach, you only need to find one representative of each kind of faith community; so, for example, once you find one Roman Catholic church, you ignore the rest and move on to another kind of faith community.

To carry out this second kind of search, you need some kind of general listing of different types of faith communities. But generating such a list proves to be a challenge.

The biggest challenge is identifying types of Christian churches; Christianity is a wildly diverse religion, with hundreds of self-identified denominations. Believe me, you don’t want to be chasing down every single Baptist denomination. Instead, what’s needed is a higher-level taxonomy. Fortunately, the World Council of Churches provides a useful taxonomy, which we can accept as reasonably authoritative since it was developed by Christians to describe themselves. Obviously, those groups that do not belong to the World Council of Churches might not approve of it; but it provides a useful and reasonably good taxonomy. And we can take a similar approach for other religious groups: look at how Jews organize themselves, for example, for a basic taxonomy of Judaism.

But then how do we choose still broader categories? What are the top-level divisions of religions? To answer this question, I mostly followed the broad divisions of religions used by Harvard’s Pluralism Project. This project, started by scholar Diana Eck, has been investigating religious diversity in the United States since the 1990s; and in the course of their work, they have developed a practical division of world religions.

Combining these various taxonomies, I developed a general list of types of faith communities. Based on that list, I tried to track down one or two local faith communities for each major division within the taxonomy within an hour’s drive of our faith community, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto. The list proved to be a great help in tracking down more obscure faith communities: because I knew what I was looking for, I could do more effective Web searches.

Even if you don’t live near Palo Alto, you may find my list of faith communities useful for tracking down different types of faith communities in your area. You’ll probably have to revise this list for your area; but it should prove to be a useful starting point. It took many hours to research this list; and I hope I save you some of those hours of research, so you can put your time into refining the list, and finding faith communities.

The main thing I took away from this exercise: the United States has an absolutely amazing diversity of religious groups.

Now, here’s the list (updated and corrected 11/2; 11/3; 11/4; more additions and corrections 11/8):



A: Baha’i faith communities
B: Buddhist faith communities
C: Christian faith communities
CC: Post Christian communities
including Unitarian Universalism
D: Confucian communities
E: Daoist faith communities (Taoist)
F: Hindu faith communities
G: Islamic faith communities
H: Jain faith communities
I: Jewish faith communities
J: Native religions and cultural traditions
K: New Religious Movements
including Humanism and Neo-Paganism
L: Orisa devotion
M: Other traditions
N: Zoroastrian
O: Sikh


General categories for world religions modified from that of the Pluralism Project (here, and here).



A: Baha’i faith communities

Founded in the nineteenth century as a reform of Islam. As of 2016, there are nine continental “Houses of Worship,” serving broad areas. Many local faith communities meet in members’ homes.

Baha’i of Palo Alto
Meets in members’ homes.
Web site



B. Buddhist faith communities

Buddhism may be divided up into schools; the schools often stay within linguistic boundaries, or within the boundaries of one of the historic East Asian nations.

B-1: Theravada

Therevada Buddhism uses as its core texts books in the ancient Pali language. Therevada Buddhism is strongest in Southeast Asia, particularly Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, etc. In the U.S., many Therevada Buddhist groups consist of immigrants from these areas. The Therevada Buddhist faith communities are separated here by dominant linguistic/ethnic group.

B-1.a: Cambodian Therevada Buddhism:

B-1.b: Laotian Therevada Buddhism: Wat Lao Buddhaxinaram
14671 Story Rd., San Jose
No Web site, phone: 408-926-8000. Yelp page

B-1.c: Myanmar/Burmese Therevada Buddhism: Kusalakari Monastery
40174 Spady Street, Fremont
Web site Facebook page

B-1.d: Sri Lankan Therevada Buddhism: Buddhivara
402 Knowles Ave., Santa Clara
Resident monks. Web site

B-1.e: Thai Therevada Buddhism: Wat Buddhanusorn
36054 Niles Blvd., Fremont
Web site

B-1.f: Western culture Therevada Buddhism: Vipassana movement: Insight Meditation Center of the Mid-Peninsula
108 Birch Street, Redwood City
Web site
This center intends to separate Buddhist meditation from Asian cultural forms.

B-1.g: Therevada Buddhism originating in other countries


B-2: Mahayana

The largest division of Buddhism, which includes a number of smaller subgroups. Mahayana Buddhists generally accept a larger number of sacred texts than do Therevada Buddhists. Mahayana Buddhism was historically strongest in China and Chinese-speaking countries, as well as Japan, Korea, etc. The various Mahayana schools of Buddhism spread across linguistic and national boundaries to some extent, especially in the United States; however, even in the U.S. Buddhist schools typically trace their lineages back to a language or country, and they are so divided here.


B-2.a: Chinese Mahayana Buddhism

Tien Hau Temple
125 Waverly Place, San Francisco
No Web site, phone: 415-986-2520.
The oldest Buddhist temple in the U.S.; dedicated to the goddess Tien Hau (according to this NY Times article, 10 October 2008).

Amitabha Pureland: Amitabha Buddhist Society of U.S.A.
650 S. Bernardo Avenue, Sunnyvale
Web site
In Pure Land Buddhism, entering the “Pure Land” is equivalent to attaining enlightenment.

Chan Buddhism: The older tradition from which Japanese Zen Buddhism came.
Heart Chan Meditation Center
4423 Fortran Court #130, San Jose
Web site

B-2.b: Indian Mahayana Buddhism

Triratna Buddhist Community: Founded by Dennis Lingwood, who was a Buddhist monk in India fro 25 years and took the name Sangharakshita, the Triratna Buddhist Community is now a world-wide movement.
San Francisco Buddhist Center
37 Bartlett St., San Francisco
Web site

B-2.c: Japanese Mahayana Buddhism

Buddhist Church of America: Palo Alto Buddhist Temple
2751 Louis Rd, Palo Alto
Web site
The Buddhist Church of America was founded over 100 years ago by Japanese immigrants to the U.S. Theologically fairly liberal.

Nichiren Buddhism: San Jose Myokakuji Betsuin
3570 Mona Way, San Jose
Listing on denominational Web site | Phone: 408-246-0111

Soto Zen: Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center
1972 Rock St., Mt. View
Web site
Zen Buddhism (Chan Buddhism in Chinese) emphasizes direct practice through a form of meditation called zazen. It is the most familiar form of Buddhism to most Americans, to the point that many Americans assume that all Buddhists are like Zen Buddhists.

B-2.d: Korean Mahayana Buddhism

Chong Won Sa Korean Buddhist Temple
719 Lakehaven Drive, Sunnyvale
Facebook page

B-2.e: Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhism

Chua Giac Minh
763 Donohoe St., East Palo Alto
Web site 1 Web site 2

B-2.f: Mahayana Buddhism originating in other countries


B-3: Vajrayana Buddhism

Vajrayana Buddhism was historically centered on the region around the Himalayas; but there are schools in other countries, e.g., Japan.

Bodhi Path Buddhist Center
2179 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park
Web site
Karma Kagyu lineage, as taught by Shamar Rinpoche

Dechen Rang Dharma Center
1156 Cadillac Ct., Milpitas
Web site
Nyingma tradition, lineage of H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche

Karma Thegsum Choling Buddhist Meditation Center
677 Melville Avenue, Palo Alto, CA
No Web site, phone 650-967-1145

B-3.a: Japanese Vajrayana Buddhism

Shingon Buddhist International Institute
Northern California Koyasan Temple
1400 U St., Sacramento
Web site

B-3.b: Other Vajrayana Buddhist lineages


Shambhala International: See New Religious Movements with roots in Indian Religions



C. Christian faith communities

The different divisions of Christianity is taken from the World Council of [Christian] Churches on its Web site here. Christianity is a wildly diverse religion, and local faith communities may belong to a group not listed here; or belong to two or more groups; or in some other way not fit into these divisions.


C-1: African Instituted Churches (or African Independent Churches)

A loose grouping of Christian churches that were organized by Africans and for Africans, in response to white missionary work on the continent of Africa. Beliefs and organizations vary widely. A few AIC churches have started congregations in North America.

Celestial Church of Christ (Aladura): Oakland Parish
4001 Webster Street, Oakland
Page on denominational Web site

The Church of the Lord (Prayer Fellowship) Worldwide: —

Zion Christian Church: —


C-2: Anglican churches

C-2.a: The Anglican Communion: The Anglican church began in England, splitting from the Roman Catholic church c. 1530. At the 1930 Lambeth Conference of Anglican churches, it was agreed that the Anglican Communion is a “fellowship, within the one holy catholic and apostolic church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional churches in communion with the see of Canterbury.” Local Anglican churches range from “high church” or “Anglo-Catholic” congregations, where the services look a great deal like Roman Catholic services, to “low church” congregations, where the services are much simpler.

The Episcopal Church (USA): Originally the only Anglican denomination in the U.S., but recently some more conservative parishes have split away (see Convocation of Anglicans in North America below).

The Episcopal Church (USA): Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church
600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto
Web site
The Episcopal Church (USA) oversees the vast majority of Anglican churches in the U.S.


C-2.b: Convocation of Anglicans in North America (Church of Nigeria, Anglican): “The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) was established in 2005 as a pastoral response of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) for Nigerian Anglicans living in the United States and Canada. In 2006, CANA began welcoming biblically orthodox American and Canadian Anglican parishes and clergy … [T]he resulting Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is an emerging province in the Anglican Communion. CANA is a founding member of ACNA and enjoys close relationships with ACNA’s bishops, clergy, and congregations. The Diocese of CANA East was welcomed as a diocese in the ACNA in June 2013.” The “biblically orthodox” North American parishes referred to above split from the Episcopal Church (USA) primarily around ordination of women and lesbian and gay persons. The Province de l’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda turned over jurisdiction of its North American parishes to CANA in 2015.

Anglican Church of the Pentecost
475 Florin Rd., Sacramento
Apparently a new church plant, using another church’s building. Web page on denominational Web site


C-2.c: Continuing Anglican churches: These churches are outside the Anglican Communion. In the U.S., they typically have split from the Episcopal Church (USA) to retain more conservative liturgies or practices.

Anglican Province of Christ the King: St. Ann Chapel
541 Melville Ave, Palo Alto
Web site


C-3: Assyrian Church

Though similar to other Eastern Christian churches, services of the Assyrian Church of the East differ in details. The liturgy is typically given in Aramaic, an ancient predecessor to the Syrian language.

Mar Yosip Parish
680 Minnesota Ave., San Jose
Web site


C-4: Baptist churches

Baptists tend to value congregational independence, so services and beliefs may vary widely.

C-4.a: American Baptist: American Baptists split from Southern Baptists during the period leading up to the Civil War. American Baptist beliefs vary widely, with some very conservative congregations, and some congregations that are more liberal than conservative Unitarian Universalist congregations.

First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
305 N. California Ave., Palo Alto
According to the Web site, “a welcoming, inclusive community of faith.” Web site

C-4.b: National Baptist Convention: A historically Black denomination.

Jerusalem Baptist Church
398 Sheridan Ave., Palo Alto
A historically Black church. Web site

C-4.c: Southern Baptist: One of the largest Christian groups in the U.S. Some Southern Baptist congregations are aimed at specific ethnic groups, e.g., the congregations below are aimed at Korean-Americans.

Avenue Baptist Church
398 Sheridan Ave., Palo Alto (in Jerusalem Baptist Church, above)
A new “church plant” with a Korean-American pastor. Web site

Southern Baptist: Cornerstone Community Church
701 E. Meadow Dr., Palo Alto
Self-described as “mostly comprised of Korean-Americans.” Web site

C-4.d: Primitive Baptist: Primitive Baptists use no musical instruments in their services. (Primitive Baptist Universalists, sometimes called the “No-Hellers,” constitute a sub-group of Primitive Baptists; they are not closely related to Universalists.)

Golden Gate Primitive Baptist Church
2950 Niles Canyon Road, Fremont
Web site | Facebook page


C-5: Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)

The Disciples of Christ seek to be inclusive of all Christians, and since they creeds as divisive they do not use creeds.

First Christian Church of Palo Alto
2890 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Web site


C-6: Evangelical churches

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Web site notes: “It took until the middle of the 1940s before a “new evangelicalism” began to emerge, which was able to criticize fundamentalism for its theological paranoia and its separatism. Doctrinally, the new evangelicals confessed the infallibility of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, vicarious atonement, the personality and work of the Holy Spirit, and the second coming of Christ. These are the theological characteristics which are shared by the majority of Evangelical churches today in the world. The other distinctive feature is the missional zeal for evangelism and obedience to the great commission (Matthew 28:18-19).” The WCC further notes: “In regions like Africa and Latin America, the boundaries between ‘evangelical’ and ‘mainline’ are rapidly changing and giving way to new ecclesial realities.”

Within the U.S., the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is one body that promotes cooperation among Evangelical churches. For member denominations of the NAE, see this Web page; most of these denominations are listed under other categories for the present listing.

See also: C-22: Non-denominational churches


C-7: Lutheran

According to the Web site of the Lutheran World Federation, “To be Lutheran is to be: Evangelical [i.e., they ‘proclaim the ‘good news’ of Christ’s life”]; Sacramental [i.e., they center their worship in both proclamation and celebration of the sacraments]; Diaconal [i.e., they believe in service to the world]; Confessional [i.e., they confess the Bible as the “only source and norm” for Christian life]; Ecumenical [i.e., they promote Christian unity].” Lutherans acknowledge their commonality with other Christians, and their uniqueness: “While the central convictions of the Lutheran tradition are not uniquely ours, its distinctive patterns and emphases shape the way in which we respond to the challenges and questions we face today.”

ELCA: Grace Lutheran Church
3149 Waverly St., Palo Alto
According to their Web site, “an inviting and diverse Christian community.” Web site

ELCA: First Lutheran Church
600 Homer Ave., Palo Alto
According to their Web site, “we welcome people diverse in sexual orientation and gender identity.” Web site

Missouri Synod: Trinity Lutheran Church
1295 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
No Web site.


C-8: Methodist churches

Methodism grew out of the reform movement started by John and Charles Wesley. “The Wesley brothers held to the optimistic Arminian view that salvation, by God’s grace, was possible for all human beings. … They also stressed the important effect of faith on character, teaching that perfection in love was possible in this life.” — World Council of Churches Web page on Methodist churches. The Wesley brothers wrote hundreds of hymns, some of which are among the most popular English-language hymns.

African Methodist Episcopal: St. James AME Church
1916 E. San Antonio St., San Jose
Facebook page

African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion): University AME Zion church
3549 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto
Web site

Christian Methodist Church: Lewis Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
1363 Turlock Lane, San Jose
Facebook page

United Methodist Church: First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto
625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto
Web site


C-9: Holiness movement churches

Began as a reform movement within American Methodism in the early nineteenth century. “Instead of only some especially gifted persons in the church entering into a carefully disciplined life of holiness, all believers were to do this; they were to present themselves to God as living sacrifices in the midst of the regular routines of life.” — World Council of Churches Web page on Holiness churches.

The Salvation Army grew out of this movement, but it has a unique structure and mission, and is listed separately below.

Church of God (Anderson, IN): New Beginnings Church of God
1425 Springer Rd., Mountain View
Web site

Church of the Nazarene: Crossroads Community Church
2490 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Web site

The Christian Holiness Partnership (CHP) is an international organization which facilitates cooperation between Holiness churches.


C-10: Moravian and Historic Peace Churches

A grouping of churches that all have a historic commitment to non-violence and peacemaking. “In 2013, the Moravian and Historic Peace Churches, including Mennonites, Brethren, — and Friends (Quakers), decided to be represented in the governing bodies of the WCC as one confessional family and gather as such during confessional meetings at WCC events.” — World Council of Churches Web page on Historic Peace Churches.

C-10.a: Church of the Brethren

(closest church is in the Central Valley)

C-10.b: Mennonites

Mennonite Church USA: First Mennonite Church of San Francisco
290 Dolores St., San Francisco
Web site

Old Order Amish: (closest community is in the Central valley)

U. S. Mennonite Brethren: Ethiopian Christian Fellowship
2545 Warburton Ave., Santa Clara
Page on denominational Web site

C-10.c: Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)

Friends General Conference (FGC):

Local Quaker meetings that are affiliated with FGC are often (but not always) unprogrammed meetings — that is, they have silent meeting for worship. The closest affiliated monthly meeting is in Sacramento.

Friends United Meeting (FUM): Berkeley Friends Church
1600 Sacramento St., Berkeley
Web site

Most Quaker meetings and Quaker churches affiliated with FUM are programmed meeting — that is, they have a sermon as well as unprogrammed time for spoken ministry. They tend to be more conservative theologically.

Other Quaker groups:

Pacific Yearly Meeting: Consists of liberal, unprogrammed meetings along the Pacific coast of North America, but is not affiliated with Friends General Conference.

Palo Alto Friends Meeting
957 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto
Web site

C-10.d: Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Church

Moravian Church in America: Guiding Star Fellowship
Meeting location: 957 Colorado Avenue, Palo Alto (Palo Alto Friends Meeting)
Page on denominational Web site


C-11: New Church movement (Swedenborgianism)

Churches that draw inspiration from the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. “The life of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was steeped simultaneously in the rational world of the physical sciences and a deep Christian faith.” — from the Web site of the Swedenborg Foundation

Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco
2107 Lyon Street, San Francisco
Web site


C-12. Old-Catholic churches

Catholic church bodies (mostly national churches) that separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Clergy and bishops are permitted to marry; women may be ordained.

Ecumenical Catholic Communion: (closest church is in southern California)

Polish National Catholic Church: (closest church is in the Midwest)


C-13: Orthodox Churches (Eastern)

Eastern Orthodox Churches are distinguished from the Roman Catholic Church in a number of ways. First, Eastern Orthodox Churches do not recognize the supremacy of the Pope. Eastern Orthodox churches are organized into independent national churches or language groups, each under the leadership of a Patriarch; the Patriarch of Constantinople has a position as “first among equals” but does not have supremacy over the other Patriarchs.

Eastern Orthodox differ from Roman Catholics in other ways. The Eastern Orthodox do full immersion baptisms of infants, and children are also confirmed as infants, thus allowing them to partake of the eucharist (take communion). Many Eastern Orthodox churches venerate icons, and some of the most beautiful objects in Orthodox churches are the icons, pictures of saints. Unlike Roman Catholic priests, Eastern Orthodox priests may marry; women may become diaconesses (but not priests).

C-13.a: Antiochian Orthodox (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East)

The Antiochian Orthodox church “traces its roots to first century Antioch (modern-day Antakya, Turkey), the city in which the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26),” according to their Web site. An excellent description of their services may be found here:

Orthodox Church of the Redeemer
380 Magdalena Ave., Los Altos Hills
Web site
This congregation was originally affiliated with The Episcopal Church (USA), but beginning in 1960, “disturbed by the controversial teachings of Bishop Pike, which strayed from traditional Christian theology,” they eventually discovered the Antiochian Orthodox church and changed affiliations (as told on their Web site).

C-13.b: Armenian Apostolic Church

St. Andrew Armenian Church
11370 S. Stelling Rd., Cupertino
Web site

C-13.c: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

The services are meant to be full of beauty, with many beautiful ritual objects, elaborate vestments (ritual clothing for those who preside at the worship service), and beautiful music. “Worship is not simply expressed in words. In addition to prayers, hymns, and scripture readings, there are a number of ceremonies, gestures, and processions. The Church makes rich use of non verbal symbols to express God’s presence and our relationship to Him. Orthodoxy Worship involves the whole person; one’s intellect, feelings, and senses.” — description of worship on the Archdiocese Web site Congregants stand for the entire 3-hour service.

Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
1260 Davis St., San Jose
Web site

C-13.d: Orthodox Church of America

Originally Russian Orthodox, but became independent in 1970. The services are much like the Greek Orthodox services (see above).

Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church
1220 Crane St., Menlo Park
Web site

C-13.e: Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA (Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate)

These are the Russian Orthodox congregations that chose to remain under the administration of the Patriarch of Moscow, when the Orthodox Church of America was granted independence.

St. Nicholas Cathedral
2005 15th Street, San Francisco
Web site

C-13.f: Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia split from the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate after the Russian Revolution of 1917, when the latter pledged support to the Bolsheviks.

St. Herman of Alaska
161 N. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale
Web site

Traditional Russian Orthodox services are in Old Church Slavonic, an old language that is now only used for church services. In many Russian Orthodox services, everyone stands for the entire service (except those who are too old, or who have physical disabilities), and the services can last for 2-3 hours. While some people dislike standing that long, for others standing so long can bring on a meditative or ecstatic state of awareness.

C-13.g: Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America

St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church
18870 Allendale Ave., Saratoga
Web site

C-13.h: Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA

St. Michael Parish
345 7th St., San Francisco
Web site


C-14: Orthodox Churches (Oriental)

Each of the Oriental Orthodox Churches — Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syriac, Armenian, etc. — is independent.

C-14.a: Armenian Apostolic Church (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin)

St. Andrew Armenian Church
11370 South Stelling Rd., Cupertino
Web site

C-14.b: Coptic Orthodox

One of the most ancient Christian traditions — probably the oldest still-existing Christian group, dating back about 1,900 years — the Coptic Orthodox church is based in Egypt, and the Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches are its “daughter churches.” According to the BBC, “Coptic services take place in the very ancient Coptic language (which is based on the language used in the time of the Pharaohs), together with local languages. The liturgy and hymns remain similar to those of the early Church” (link).

St. George and St. Joseph Coptic Orthodox Church
395 W. Rincon Ave., Campbell
Web site

C-14.c: Eritrean Orthodox

Eritrean Holy Trinity Orthodox Tewahdo Church of Santa Clara County
403 S. Cypress Ave., San Jose
Web site (mostly in English)
Web site (mostly not in English)

C-14.d: Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Debre Selam St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
1565 Lincoln Ave San Jose
Web site

C-14.e: Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

“The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church traces its origins back to the work of the Apostle St Thomas in the south-west region of India (Malankara or Malabar, in modern Kerala). … During the Portuguese persecution, the Indians who wanted to maintain their eastern and apostolic traditions appealed to several Oriental churches. Thus started the connection with the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, in 1665. … in 1912, as a symbol of freedom, autocephaly and apostolic identity, the Catholicosate was established and an Indian Orthodox metropolitan was elected as the head (Catholicos) of the Malankara Church.” — World Council of Churches, Web page on Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

See: C-23.a: Mar Thoma church

C-14.f: Syriac Orthodox

St. Thomas the Apostle
1921 Las Plumas Ave., San Jose
Web page


C-15. Pentecostal churches

Pentecostal churches trace their roots back to the Asuza Street Revival, which took place in 1906 in Los Angeles. The name comes from the story of Pentecost, in the New Testament book of Acts, in which the spirit of God came into the followers of Jesus after Jesus’ death. Thus Pentecostals emphasize the workings of the Holy Spirit in the lives of human beings. Currently, Pentecostalism is perhaps the fastest-growing Christian group.

Some Pentecostal churches may include time for spiritual experiences like speaking in tongues, divine healing, etc. Many Pentecostal churches do not have such activities, but they do believe that each person can have a direct experience of God. Many Pentecostal groups are rightly proud of their racial diversity.

C-15.a: “Holiness” churches

“The earliest Pentecostals drew from their Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness roots, describing their entrance into the fullness of Christian life in three stages: conversion, sanctification, and baptism in the Spirit. Each of these stages was often understood as a separate, datable, ‘crisis’ experience.” — World Council of Churches, Web page on Pentecostal churches

Church of God in Christ: Abundant Life Christian Fellowship
2440 Leghorn St., Mountain View
A mega-church with average attendance of approx. 4,500 people per week. (An historically Black denomination, now racially diverse.) Web site

Church of God (Cleveland, TN): Redwood City Church of God
2798 Bay Road, Redwood City
Web site

International Pentecostal Holiness Church: The Father’s House
133 Bernal Rd., San Jose
Web site

C-15.b: “Finished work” churches

“Pentecostals, from the Reformed tradition or touched by the Keswick teachings on the Higher Christian Life, came to view sanctification not as a crisis experience, but as an ongoing quest.” — World Council of Churches, Web page on Pentecostal churches

Assemblies of God: Pathway Church
1305 Middlefield Rd., Redwood City
Web site

International Church of the Foursquare Gospel: Word of Life Foursquare Church
7160 Graham Ave., Newark
Web site

Redwood City Hispanic Foursquare Church / Centro CO3
3399 Bay Rd., Redwood City
Facebook page

C-15.c: “Oneness” or “Jesus’ Name” churches

In the the baptismal formula, “Oneness” Pentecostals use “the formula ‘in the Name of Jesus Christ’ recorded in Acts (cf. Acts 2:38).” — World Council of Churches, Web page on Pentecostal churches

Pentecostal Assemblies of the World: Christ Temple Community Church
884 San Carrizo Way, Mountain View
No Web site, phone: 650-965-7396

United Pentecostal Church: First United Pentecostal Church
878 Boynton Ave, San Jose
Web site


C-16: Reformed churches

The Reformed tradition has its roots in the Swiss reformation of John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, etc. Worship services emphasize sermons and the spoken word. Communion may happen monthly, quarterly, or on some other schedule, but there will rarely be communion every week. “There is no stress on a special elite person or group that has received through direct revelation or by the laying on of hands extraordinary powers of authority. … The level of education required for the Presbyterian or Reformed minister is traditionally high.: — World Council of Churches, Web page on Reformed churches.

C-16.a: Congregational

In congregational churches, each congregation is quasi-independent; there is la relatively flat ecclesiastical hierarchy. Congregations join together in local associations to provide mutual support and guidance; congregations also belong to national bodies or associations of congregations.

National Association of Congregational Christian Churches: Grace North Church
2138 Cedar St., Berkeley
Web site

United Church of Christ: See: C-21. United and Uniting Churches

C-16.b: Presbyterian

Presbyterians are governed by “courts,” groups or committees consisting of pastors and ruling elders “presbyters”). In the local congregation the “court” is called the “session”; at the regional level, the “court” is called the “presbytery”; the national or highest level, various presbyteries come together in a “synod.” This is a somewhat more formal structure than that of Congregational churches.

Presbyterian Church USA: First Presbyterian Church
1140 Cowper St., Palo Alto
Known as a liberal church with a social justice orientation. Web site

A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO): Menlo Park Presbyterian
950 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park
Recently broke with Presbyterian Church USA to join a more conservative Presbyterian group. Web site

C-16.c: Reformed

Governed in much the same way as Presbyterian churches.

Reformed Church in America: New Hope Community Church
2190 Peralta Blvd., Fremont
Web site

Originally named the Reformed Dutch Protestant Church.


C-17. Restorationist churches

A grouping of loosely related churches, which in some way seek to restore the Christian church to earlier norms.

Latter-Day Saint movement, or Mormon churches: Founded by Joseph Smith, as a movement to restore Christianity to what it was during the time of Jesus and his followers. Most churches in the Latter-Day Saints movement accept the Book of Mormon, as revealed to Joseph Smith, as a scripture on a part with the Bible.

Community of Christ: Formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Community of Christ San Jose Congregation
990 Meridian Ave., San Jose
Web site

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon): The largest and best-known Mormon group. Local groups are lay-led (i.e., there are no professional clergy). Members in need can rely on their local Ward (or congregation) for food, financial support, etc.

Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints in Palo Alto
3865 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
They host the annual Christmas creche. 650-494-8899 No Web site


Jehovah’s Witnesses: “As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we strive to adhere to the form of Christianity that Jesus taught and that his apostles practiced.” — Jehovah’s Witnesses Web site Jehovah’s witnesses have many distinctive beliefs and practices, e.g., they do not celebrate Christmas or Easter; do not see Jesus as God; have communion only once a year; etc.

Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall
4243 Alma Street, Palo Alto
650-493-3020 No Web site


C-18: Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic Church is perhaps the most familiar Christian body to many in the U.S., with its distinctive hierarchical organization, and its distinctive worship service, called the “mass.”

St. Thomas Aquinas Parish
3290 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Web site
(English mass at 10:30 a.m.)
(Latin mass with Gregorian chant at 12:30 p.m.)

This parish has two other locations:

Our Lady of the Rosary Church
3233 Cowper St., Palo Alto, CA 94306
(Spanish mass at 9:30 a.m.)

St. Albert the Great Church
1095 Channing Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301

There has been a long tradition in the U.S. of ethnic Catholic churches, where a Catholic church is formed to meet the needs of an ethnic group, often with at least some masses in a language other than English, and/or cultural references. Religiously, these are Roman Catholic churches; but with great differences in music and worship style (i.e., in the emotional dimension of religion). In many cases, now a single Catholic church will offer masses aimed at several different ethnic groups in several languages.

St. Joseph Parish
582 Hope St., Mountain View
Web site
This parish has masses in English, Spanish, Tamil; and bilingual English/Spanish.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
5111 San Felipe Rd., San Jose
Web site
Services in the Igbo language.

C-18.a: Eastern Catholic Churches

Eastern Catholic Churches are churches that were once affiliated with Oriental Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox Churches, but are now affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Catholic Churches typically have worship services that are more like Orthodox services than they are like Roman Catholic services.

St. Elias the Prophet Melkite Greek Catholic Church
4325 Jarvis Ave., San Jose
Web site


C-19: The Salvation Army

A Christian church with a unique organizational scheme, and a unique mission. The Salvation Army organizes itself on quasi-military lines, with the church hierarchy adopting military authority and titles. The mission of the church is strongly oriented to social justice, including help for the needy, disaster preparedness and relief, etc.

The Salvation Army: Redwood City Salvation Army
660 Veterans Blvd., Redwood City
In addition to other services, worship Sundays at 11:00 a.m. Web site


C-20: Seventh Day Adventist church

Seventh-Day Adventists hold worship services on the seventh day, i.e., Saturday. They grew out of the Millerite movement of the early nineteenth century.

Seventh Day Adventist: Seventh Day Adventist Church of Palo Alto
786 Channing Ave., Palo Alto
No Web site


C-21: United and Uniting Churches

C-21.a: United Church of Christ: Formed in 1957 as a merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The United Church of Christ is quite liberal, ordaining women, supporting same-sex marriage, etc.

First Congregational Church of Palo Alto
1985 Louis Rd., Palo Alto
Web site

C-20.b: International Council of Community Churches

Havenscourt Community Church
1444 Havenscourt Blvd., Oakland
Facebook page


C-22: Non-denominational churches

These are local faith communities that, for one reason or another, decline to affiliate with a larger denomination.

Peninsula Bible Church
3505 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Web site
Evangelical Christian; theologically, historically associated with premillennial dispensationalism.

Stanford Memorial Church
Web site
A deliberately non-denominational church with “Protestant Ecumenical Christian worship” that aims to serve the diverse religious community of Stanford University.


C-23: Other Christian churches

C-23.a: Mar Thoma church

This church traces its origins back to the year 52, when Thomas, one of the followers of Jesus, established Christianity in India. After splitting from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in the 1950s, the church went its separate way. The worship services are designed to take “the worshipper out of the mundane world into the dimensions of spirit to worship in spirit and truth”: a full description of the service may be found here.

Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar): Mar Thoma Church of Silicon Valley
3275 Williams Rd, San Jose
Web site

See also: C-14.e: Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church



CC. Post-Christian communities

Post-Christian faith communities may defined as those communities that were once considered Christian, but which have diverged from Christianity to the extent that they can no longer be considered Christian. Some scholars class these groups with New Religious Movements, but this classification doesn’t work well. E.g., for Unitarians and Universalists, these groups started out in the 18th century as Christian groups, so they are clearly not new religions; yet they are no longer Christian.

CC-1: Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA)
505 E. Charleston Rd., Palo Alto
Web site

First Unitarian Church of San Jose
160 North Third St., San Jose
Web site

Sunnyvale UU Fellowship
1112 S. Bernardo Ave., Sunnyvale
Web site

Redwood City UU Fellowship
2124 Brewster Ave., Redwood City
Web site



D: Confucian communities

“What Westerners label ‘Confucianism’ is known by Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese followers as the ‘Scholarly Tradition.’ Confucianism does not have a strong institutional presence in [the United States], mostly because of the deep connection the tradition has had with the social and political structures of East Asia. For some, however, the scholarly values and symbols of Confucianism serve as important reminders of the cultural and philosophical legacy of their ancestors, and as relevant touchstones for thinking about ethics and modern life in the United States.” — The Pluralism Project of Harvard University

D-1: Confucian temples

No known Confucian temples in the United States.

D-2: Confucius Church

Founded in China by Chen Huanzhang in 1912, a number of Confucius Churches were established in the Chinese diaspora, including in the United States. They combine the Confucian practices and worldview with Western-style church organization.

Salinas Confucius Church
1 California St., Salinas
No Web site; phone 831-424-4304
I can find no evidence of recent activity at the Salinas Confucius Church, so I am also including the following:

Confucius Church of Sacramento
915 4th St., Sacramento
No Web site, phone 916-443-3846


N.B.: The Confucius Institutes at Stanford and other universities are not faith communities, but rather a scholarly group dedicated to promoting Chinese culture and language. Web page of Stanford group



E: Daoist (Taoist) faith communities

Daoist temples may be dedicated to a specific Daoist deity, such as Guan Yin. Many Daoist temples have been set up by Asian immigrants, and in these temples adherents may carry out rituals and practices passed down over the generations. There are also a few Daoist groups organized by persons of Western descent, and these are more likely to practice their religion based on their own interpretations of Asian texts and practices.

Kong Chow Temple
855 Stockton St., San Francisco
Dedicated to Guan Di. Wikipedia page

Ma-Tsu Temple of U.S.A.
30 Beckett St., San Francisco
Web site

Tian Yuan Taoist Temple
509 28th Ave., San Mateo
No Web site, phone: 650-578-8568

Tin How Temple
125 Waverly Place, San Francisco
Web page on Chinatownology Founded in 1852, probably the oldest extant Chinese temples in the Bay Area (the oldest Chinese temple in California is in Weaverville).



F. Hindu faith communities

Hinduism is a complex religion, that includes many different deities and many different practices. “The peoples who today call themselves “Hindus” have many forms of practice, both in India and around the world. The brahmins of Banaras and the businessmen of Boston, the ascetics and yogis of the Himalayas and the swamis of Pennsylvania, the villagers of central India and the householders of suburban Chicago—all have their own religious ways.” — Harvard University Pluralism Project

But there are religious assumptions held by most Hindus: “the universe is permeated with the Divine, a reality often described as Brahman; the Divine can be known in many names and forms; this reality is deeply and fully present within the human soul; the soul’s journey to full self-realization is not accomplished in a single lifetime, but takes many lifetimes; and the soul’s course through life after life is shaped by one’s deeds.”

Geographically, Hindus are a majority in India, Nepal, and Bali (in Indonesia). Countries with a significant Hindu presence include Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Fiji.

In the U.S., Hindu temples may have a variety of deities, or a given temple may be devoted to only one or two deities.

Hindu Temple and Community
450 Persian Dr., Sunnyvale
Web site
Variety of deities.

Shirdi Sai Darbar
255 San Geronimo Way, Sunnyvale
Web site

See also: K-5.a through K-5.e for New Religious Movements originating in Hinduism.



G: Islamic faith communities

Muslims may consider Islam to be non-sectarian. Yet some Muslims also find discernible sectarian differences. The different types of Islam here are taken from, which designates types simply as a way for practicing Muslims to determine where they might feel most comfortable praying.

G-1: Sunni

Yaseen Foundation (Muslim Community Assoc. of the Peninsula)
Mosque: 621 Masonic Way, Belmont
Community center: 1722 Gilbreth Road, Burlingame
Web page on Salatomatic | Web site

G-1.a: Barelwi Sunni

G-1.b: Hanafi Sunni

G-1.c: Deobandi Sunni


G-2: Shia

G-2.a: Ismaili Shia

G-2.b: Bohra Ismaili Shia

998 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto
Web page on Salatomatic | Related Web site

The Dahwoodi Bohra are primarily from a region of India. They have distinctive dress for both men and women.

G-2.c: Jafari Shia

Masjid Al Rasool
552 South Bascom Ave., San Jose
Predominantly Persian. Web site on Salatomatic


G-3: Sufi

G-3.a: Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi

Jamil Islamic Center
427 S. California Avenue, Palo Alto
Web page on Salatomatic

G-3.b: Jerrahi Sufi


G-4: “Non-denominational”

There are a number of “nondenominational” Muslim groups in the U.S. These often have formed because there are too few Muslims to have separate groups.

Taha Services Masjid
1285 Hammerwood Ave., Sunnyvale
Predominantly Indian/Pakistani. Web page on Salatomatic

Muslim Community Association
3003 Scott Blvd., Santa Clara
Web page on Salatomatic (called the “largest and most active” mosque in the Bay Area) | Web site



L: Jain faith communities

Jainism is best known for the principle of ahimsa, which may be translated as non-violence, or as doing no injury to other living things. Lay Jains are typically vegetarians, so as to prevent them from doing injury to other beings. Monks take ahimsa further than that: wearing cloths over their mouths to prevent them from inhaling and thus harming small insects; not eating vegetables such as carrots where harvesting the vegetable kills the plant; etc. There are two main divisions of Jains: “white-clad,” in which the monks wear distinctive white garments; and “sky-clad,” in which the monks reduce possessions to a minimum by not even owning or wearing clothing.

Jain Center of Northern California
722 S. Main St., Milpitas
Web site



I: Jewish faith communities

Jews trace their history back for thousands of years, but contemporary “rabbinical Judaism” emerged from “Temple Judaism” after the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Jewish sabbath lasts from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Worship services involve reading from the Torah, in Hebrew.

I-1: Orthodox

Generally more conservative in practice and belief. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women are often seated separately. Only men may be rabbis.

Congregation Emek Baracha
4102 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Web site


I-2: Conservative

The name “Conservative” means that this group aims to conserve Jewish tradition, while bringing into alignment with modernity. Conservative Jews affirm the religious equality of women, and women may become rabbis.

Kol Emeth
4175 Maneula Ave., Palo Alto
Web site


I-3: Reform

A liberal religious Jewish group that is often aligned with Unitarian Universalists on social issues.

Congregation Beth Am
26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
Web site


I-2,3: Conservative and Reform

Congregation Etz Chayim
4161 Alma St, Palo Alto
They “meld Reform and Conservative traditions.”
Web site


I-4: Reconstructionist

Reconstructionist Jews hold that Jewish law and custom should be aligned with modern thought and life. Very liberal in terms of both practice and belief, many Reconstructionist Jews interpret Jewish practices broadly, and may not adhere to traditional theism.

Keddem Congregation
Most services are at Kehillah Jewish High School, 3900 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
According to their Web site, “Reconstructionist Judaism may be considered a ‘maximalist liberal Judaism’.”
Web site



J: Native religions and cultural traditions

In the Bay area, this will include the religion of the Ohlone people; it may also include the religion of other Indian tribes or First Nations or indigenous groups, when people of those groups have settled in the Bay Area.

Scholar Stephen Marini distinguishes between “high sacred rituals of tribal religion” and expressions of “traditional spirituality on social occasions.” Marini further points out that inter-tribal powwows are a type of social occasion, “a public ritual gathering of one or more clans or tribes dedicated to skill competitions, feasting, and dancing” where outsiders can experience first-hand the power of Native sacred song, dance, etc. See: Stephen Marini, Sacred Song in America (University of Illinois Press, 2005), p. 18.

Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS)
Web site
Organization for LGBTQ natives. Sponsors annual powwows in San Francisco.

Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day Powwow and Market
Web site
Annual powwows in October (Columbus Day weekend), for nearly 25 years.

Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations (SKINS)
San Francisco State University
Facebook page
Sponsored a powwow in 2016; check for future events.



K. New Religious Movements

The categories in this section are taken from Christopher Partridge, New Religions: A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects, and Alternative Spiritualities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). There is a huge diversity of New Religious Movements, and just a few examples are given for the categories below; see Partridge’s book for additional examples.

K-1: New religions with roots in Christianity

Church of Christ, Scientist: Christian Scientists do not have paid clergy. Instead, lay people known as Readers lead their worship services. The Readers read from Christian Science texts, and from the Bible. There are set readings for each week of the year. The congregation also sings hymns during worship services. Services take place on Sundays and Wednesdays. At the Wednesday services, members of the congregation may give testimonials about how their faith has helped them in their life, including how their faith has helped them cure physical ailments. Christian Scientists avoid most medical care, believing that physical ailments can be cured through religious practice.

First Church of Christ, Scientist
3045 Cowper St., Palo Alto
Web site

Unity: A combination of Christianity and “New Thought,” Unity uses insights from all world religions, sort of like Unitarian Universalists, but they still consider themselves Christian. They place an emphasis on meditation, which is always part of their services.

Unity Palo Alto
3391 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Web site

Some scholars consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a New Religious Movement; see C-17. above.

Some scholars consider the Jehovah’s Witnesses a New Religious Movement; see C-17. above.

Some scholars consider the New Church a New Religious Movement; see C-11. above.


K-2: New religions with roots in Judaism

Some scholars consider Reconstructionist Judaism a New Religious Movement, see I-4. above.


K-3: New religions with roots in Islam

Nation of Islam: Muhammad Mosque No 26
5277 Foothill Blvd., Oakland
Facebook page

Some scholars consider Baha’i a New Religious Movement; see section A. above.


K-4: New religions with roots in Zoroastrianism


K-5. New religions with roots in Indian religions

K-5.a: Vedanta Society: Founded in 1895 by Swami Vivekananda, the Vedanta Society is arguably the oldest form of institutional Hinduism to be established in North America. It was affiliated with the Ramakrishna Order of India.

Vedanta Society of San Jose
1376 Mariposa Ave, San Jose
Web site (shared with 2 other Bay Area Vedanta Societies)

K-5.b: Self-Realization Fellowship movement: Founded in 1925 by Swami Yogananda in Los Angeles. Since then, has split into several different groups.

Ananda Church of Self Realization: Ananda Palo Alto
2171 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Web site
This faith community bases its practices Hinduism, and they trace back to a Hindu teacher, Yogananda. But they also consider Jesus Christ a holy person. Yoga is a part of what they do.

K-5.c: ISKCON [International Society for Krishna Consciousness]: Founded in 1965 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and known informally as the Hare Krishna movement.

ISKCON of Silicon Valley
1965 Latham Street, Mountain View
Web site
ISKCON Silicon Valley has a charitable free meals distribution program called “Free Veg Meals for All”; more info here.

K-5.d: BAPS: “Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a socio-spiritual Hindu organization with its roots in the Vedas” (link).

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
1430 California Circle, Milpitas
Web site

K-5.e: Brahma Kumaris: Started in the 1930s by “Om Baba,” this group sees its mission as primarily spiritual education.

Mediatation Center
821 Anacapa Court, Milpitas
Facebook page Denominational Web site

K-5.f: Dhammakaya Foundation: Originating in Thai Buddhism, the movement is noted for their form of meditation known as Dhammakaya meditation.

Dhammakaya Meditation Center Silicon Valley
280 Llagas Rd., Morgan Hill
Web site

K-5.g: Shambhala International: Followers of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Shambhala Meditation Center of San Francisco
1231 Stevenson St., San Francisco
Web site


K-6: New religions with roots in East Asian religions

Cao Dai: a syncretic Vietnamese religion founded in the 1920s.

Cao Dai Temple of San Jose
947 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose
Predominantly Vietnamese language. Web site

Jeung San Do: A syncretic religion that is part of the Chungsan family of Korean religions: “The Chungsan family of religions is neither Buddhist nor Confucian nor Christian; nor is it simply an organized form of Korea’s folk religion. … The Chungsan religions are distinguished…by the unique god they worship [who is addressed as Sangjenim] and the unique rituals they say their god has told them to perform.” — Don Baker, “The New Religions of Korea,” Korean Spirituality (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), p. 85.

Jeung San Do dojang
3419 Grand Ave. #202, Oakland
No Web site, phone: 408-709-0045

Rissho Kosei-kai: A liberal New Religious Movement from Japan based on Buddhism with approx. 3 million adherents. Included here primarily because Rissho Kosekai and UUism had strong ties in the 1960s-1970s.

Rissho Kosei-kai of San Francisco
1031 Valencia Way, Pacifica
Web site

Shinnyo-en Buddhism
3910 Bret Harte Drive, Redwood City
Web site for the whole denomination (no separate Web site for the Redwood City location)
Based on Buddhism, founded in Japan in the 20th C.

Soka Gakkai International (SGI): Based on Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Japanese Buddhism, SGI claims approx. 20 million adherents.

SGI-USA Silicon Valley
1875 De La Cruz, Santa Clara
Web site

Tenrikyo: “Tenrikyo has drawn influences from many religious traditions, but it displays many distinctly Shinto themes.” — Ian Reader, Esben Andreasen, and Finn Stefansson, “The New Religions of Japan,” Japanese Religions Past and Present (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1993), p. 122.

Tenrikyo Cupertino Fellowship
880 Chesterton Ave., Redwood City
No Web site, phone: 650-366-4971; listing on denominational Web site


K-7: New religions with roots in indigenous and pagan traditions

Native American Church: Originating the the Plains States in the late nineteenth century, combines Native American traditions with Christian elements.

Medicine Path Native American Church
Once you register for a ceremony, they send you the location
Web site

Neo-Pagan and Wiccan: A diverse group, some of whom are solo practitioners, others of whom gather into small groups. There is no standardization, but many Wiccans and Neo-Pagans have ceremonies on the solstices and equinoxes, as well as on the “cross-quarters.” Many Neo-Pagan groups are quite small, some Neo-Pagans experience discrimination; thus these groups may remain secretive.

South Bay Circles
Meet at various locations
Web site

Some scholars consider Santeria, Candomble, and Vodou to be New Religious Movements. See section L. below.


K-8: New religions with roots in Western esoteric traditions

Spiritualism: Spiritualists believe that it is possible to communicate with those who have died. National groups include National Spiritualist Association of Churches. Listed here because in the late nineteenth century, some prominent Universalists became Spiritualists, and through the twentieth century some Unitarians and Universalists held spiritualist beliefs.

National Spiritualist Association of Churches: Golden Gate Spiritualist Church
1901 Franklin St., San Francisco
Web site


K-9: New religions with roots in modern Western cultures

Ethical Culture Society: Ethical Culture Society: Unitarian Universalism and Ethical Culture Society have historical connections; some local congregations are affiliated with both Ethical Culture and UUism. Some observers have termed Ethical Culture a “post-Jewish” religion (analogous to a “post-Christian” religion like Unitarian Universalism).

Ethical Culture Society of Silicon Valley
Meet in member’s homes and other locations.
Web site

Humanist communities: Some Humanist communities may have originated as splinter groups from UU congregations.

Humanists in Silicon Valley
1180 Coleman Ave., San Jose
Web site

Sunday Assemblies: A new group similar to Humanists. Calling themselves “a secular community service organization,” they have monthly “assemblies” that loosely resemble Protestant or Evangelical Christian services (congregational singing, a light rock band, etc.) but with no mention of a deity or the supernatural.

Sunday Assembly Silicon Valley
Meets at various locations.
Web site



L: Orisa devotion

A syncretic religion, combining aspects of Yoruba and perhaps other African religious traditions with Western traditions. A central feature of this extremely diverse religious tradition is Orisa devotion; an orisa (also spelled orisha or orixia) is a deity that is one embodiment of the ultimate deity.

Adherents of Orisa devotion may avoid contact for a variety of reasons. For example, speaking of Santeria, Michael Atwood Mason, author of Living Santeria: Rituals and Experiences in an Afro-Cuban Religion (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Inst. Press, 2002) writes, “…immigrants to the United States have often hidden their involvement in the religion in an attempt to assimilate themselves into American soceity. Within the religion itself, secrecy also protects ritual knowledge.” (p. 9). Anthony Pinn, in Varieties of African American Experience (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1998) points out that when Vodou came to New Orleans it was characterized as “evil,” and public celebrations were banned.

About Botanicas: A botanica is a store that sells supplies for practitioners of Orisa devotion, and often for other traditions as well. Followers of Orisa devotion may not belong to formal religious organizations, and/or may not welcome contact (see above). However, the Harvard Pluralism Project lists botanicas as religious centers for this religious tradition; a botanica may host or sponsor classes or events or ceremonies.

Terminology: The term “Orisa devotion” is used here as being the most inclusive; this follows in the scholarly tradition of books such as Orisa Devotion as World Religion ed. Jacob K. Olupona and Terry Rey (University of Wisconsin Press: 2008). The Harvard Pluralism Project calls this “Afro-Caribbean” religion, a term which may exclude African-trained Yoruba practitioners in the U.S., and/or Brazilian Candomble practitioners. Scholar of religion Stephen Prothero calls this “Yoruba religion,” though other West African peoples such as the Fon also venerated Orisas.

L-1:Yoruba tradition (origins in contemporary Nigeria and West Africa)

L-2: Santeria (origins in Cuba)

Botanica El Trebol
“Santeria, Orishas…”
1864 W San Carlos St., San Jose
Web site

La Sirena Botanica
1918 Brewster Ave., Redwood City
Yelp page


L-3: Vodou (origins in Haiti)

L-3.a: Hatian Vodou

Legba’s Crossroads
“Haitian Vodou services and supplies” based in San Francisco; the store is onlin, though, so no publicly accessible bricks-and-mortar location in SF
Web site

L-3.b: Louisiana Vodou

L-4: Candomble (origins in Brazil)



M: Other traditions, including Shinto

M-1: Shinto

“Originating in Japan’s prehistory, Shinto is the Natural Spirituality or the practice of the philosophy of proceeding in harmony with and gratitude to Divine Nature. The Shinto Shrine is an enriched environment where we can feel deeply refreshed and renewed.” — Web site of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America (Seattle) In the U.S., there are half a dozen Shinto shrines in Hawai’i, and one in Seattle, according to a 2010 blog post titled “Shinto Shrines Worldwide Outside of Japan,” on the Shinto: Faith of Japan Web site.

M-1.a: Konkokyo (a sect of Shinto), Konko Churches of North America: “Kami and Us, completing each other, Live the Faith! Konkokyo (the Konko Faith) is a belief system characterized by an accepting and non-judgmental view of humanity. It teaches belief in a divine parent (called Tenchi Kane No Kami) who is the life and energy of the universe —
indeed is the universe — as well as a loving parent who wishes only the happiness and well-being of all human beings, the children.” — Konko Church Web site

Konko Church of San Jose
284 Washington St., San Jose
Page on denominational Web site



N: Sikh faith communities

Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak in northwestern India, which in his day included both Hindus and Muslims; Nanak was famous for saying there are neither Hindus nor Muslims, implying that all persons have access to the divine. Many Sikh gurdwaras (temples) are devoted to providing food to anyone who needs it, and many gurdwaras have a communal meal after the service that is open to anyone.

Types of Sikh communities are taken from W. H. McLeod, Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

N-1: “Orthodox” Sikhs

Gurdwara Sahib
3636 Murillo Ave., San Jose
Web site

N-2: Nirankari Sikhs A reform movement, which recognizes Baba Dayal as a renewal of the line of Gurus, without, however, disputing the orthodox doctrines of (a) the succession of the first ten Gurus, and (b) the presence of the eternal Guru in the sacred scripture.

N-3: Namdhari Sikhs A reform movement which holds to a different succession of Gurus than do the orthodox; distinctive ritual and dress.

Nihang: a quasi-military order; not different in belief from orthodox Sikhs, the Nihangi are typically unmarried so that they might devote themselves to defending the Khalsa.



O: Zoroastrian faith communities

An ancient religion, originating in Persia. Central rituals involve fire. Note that non-Zoroastrians are NOT allowed in Fire Temples.

San Jose Darbeh-Mehr
10468 Crothers Rd., San Jose
Web site


This list of faith communities is from:
Neighboring Faith Communities: A Process Guide
A curriculum for grades 6-8
Compiled by Dan Harper, v. 0.8.3
Copyright (c) 2014-2016 Dan Harper

South Palo Alto faith communities

For our “Neighboring Faith Communities” class for middle schoolers, I continue to think about ways to communicate the incredible religious diversity in our area. My latest effort: a map that shows faith communities in South Palo Alto, an area roughly bounded by U.S. 101 on the northeast, Oregon Expressway on the northwest, El Camino Real on the southwest, and San Antonio Rd. on the southeast. (I did go a little past these arbitrary boundaries to include some additional faith communities.)

The map below shows the approximate boundaries of the area I researched, a rectangle about 2 miles by 2-1/2 miles. Our faith community, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA), is circled in red. All the faith communities shown are within about a half hour’s walk of our congregation. You can click on this map to go to an interactive map on Mapquest (I’ve also embedded the Mapquest map at the very end of this post).

Neighboring Faith Communities near UUCPA

Below is the list of the 35 faith communities I found in this area. I suspect I missed some; if you can identify other faith communities in this area, please let me know about it in a comment. (Updated 10/20/16 based on Erp’s comment.) Continue reading