CITY OF GODS

From religious melting pot to the “City of Gods,” Queens is known as the birthplace of religious freedom in America. Do you know why? The answer may surprise you.

Aired on October 10, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

KNOWN LOCALLY AS THE BIRTH PLACE OF AMERICAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF FLUSHING QUEENS IS NOW SO DIVERSE THAT IT HAS BECOME A MICROCOSM OF WORLD RELIGIONS.

ACCORDING TO CENSUS STATISTICS, QUEENS ITSELF IS NOW THE MOST ETHNICALLY DIVERSE COUNTY IN THE NATION.

AND AS FAR AS RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IS CONCERNED IN FLUSHING ALONE WHICH STRETCHES NO MORE THAN 2.5 SQUARE MILES, THEY ARE CURRENTLY NEARLY 200 DIFFERENT PLACES OF WORSHIP.

IN HIS NEW BOOK 'CITY OF GODS,' AUTHOR R. SCOTT HANSON DOCUMENTS THE CHURCHES, SYNAGOGUES AND MOSQUES OF THE FLUSHING SKYLINE AND RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES THAT CALL THIS NEW YORK ENCLAVE HOME.

PRO VESER HANSON JOINS US NOW.

PROFESSOR, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU.

I WONDER IF YOU CAN ELABORATE HOW RELIGIOUSLY DIVERSE IS FLUSHING/QUEENS.

THERE ARE OVER 200 RELIGIONS DENSELY CONCENTRATE ED IN THIS DIVERSE RESIDENTIAL DISTRICT.

THERE ARE SIX HINDU TEMPLES, SEVERAL MOSQUES, SYNAGOGUES, BUDDHIST TEMPLES, OVER 100 KOREAN CHURCHES ALONE, AND SOME OF THE OLDEST OTHER CHURCHES AND SYNAGOGUES IN THE CITY.

IMMIGRATION IS WHAT'S DRIVING, IMMIGRATION AND THE IMMIGRANTS THAT FOUND RESIDENCE IN FLUSHING IS WHAT DRIVES THIS RELIGIOUS PURELYISM.

LET ME ASK YOU, THE RELIGIOUS PLURALISM THAT YOU FIND IN FLUSHING IS IT A QUILT LIKE EACH RELIGION IS A DISTINCT CITY NEXT TO A DISTINCT PIECE OR A MELTING POT WHERE IT KEEPS ITS FLAVOR AND UNITES TO FORM A MORE TASTY STEW?

SO MANY -- THE MELTING POTS COME -- I LIKE TO THINK OF IT MORE AS A MOSAIC OR PATCH WORK OR SYMPHONY EVEN.

BUT IN FLUSHING, YOU DO SEE VARIOUS ETHNIC ENCLAVES OR PARTS THAT ARE MORE KOREAN OR CHINESE OR INDIAN.

BUT BECAUSE IT'S NEW YORK AND THERE IS' NOT MUCH SPACE, PEOPLE MIX QUITE A BIT.

INCREASINGLY SO?

INCREASINGLY SO?

THEY DO.

SECOND GENERATION AND THIRD GENERATION PROBABLY EVEN MORE.

RIGHT, THEY BUMP INTO EACH OTHER ON THE SUBWAY, THE ELEVATOR AND SO ON.

SURE.

AND THEY MAY NOT INTERACT A GREAT DEAL ALWAYS, BUT AT LEAST THEY TOLERATE AND ARE AWARE OF EACH OTHER.

YOU KNOW, AS YOU WRITE THE FAMOUS THEOLOGIAN, JESUITS THEOLOGIAN ONCE ASKED, HOW MUCH PLURALISM, AND WHAT KIND OF PLURALISM CAN A PLURALIST SOCIETY STAND?

HOW DOES THE FLUSHING EXPERIENCE HELP ANSWER THAT QUESTION?

RIGHT.

MURRY WROTE AT A VERY DIFFERENT TIME IN 1960 WHEN -- AT A TIME THE COUNTRY WAS LARGELY PROTESTANT CATHOLIC JEWISH, WHITE AND BLACK.

HE WAS TAPPED TO WORKTIME, DIFFT CIRCUMSTANCES.

BUT I THINK IT'S MORE RELEVANT TODAY IN A PLACE LIKE FLUSHING AND ALSO INCREASING RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IN AMERICA, TOO.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED IN STUDYING FLUSHING FOR MANY YEARS IS THAT ANY COMMUNITY LIKE FLUSHING AND ELSEWHERE AROUND THE COUNTRY CAN ACCOMMODATE AND ABSORB A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY AND STILL TURN OUT OKAY.

THERE ARE GROWING PAINS.

PARKING IS AN ISSUE.

ON THE WEEKENDS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE WHEN PEOPLE COME TO WORSHIP AND SHOP AND SO ON, IT'S PROBABLY ONE OF THE BIGGEST ISSUES.

THERE ARE SOCIAL LIMITS, I SAID.

NEW YORKERS LIKE THEIR PRIVACY.

THEY MAY BE AWARE OF OTHERS, BUT THEY STILL WANT THEIR PRIVACY AND THEY MAY NOT ALWAYS INTERACT IN MEANINGFUL WAYS.

NOT -- YOU KNOW, THERE ARE CERTAINLY EXCEPTIONS.

MANY PEOPLE ENJOY MEETING PEOPLE FROM DIFFERENT RELIGIONS AND CULTURES AND SO FORTH, RIGHT?

THERE ARE ALSO LIMITS OF RACE AND ETHNICITY.

THERE ARE PARTS OF FLUSHING THAT ARE SEGREGATED.

THERE ARE ETHNIC ENCLAVES THAT WE JUST SPOKE ABOUT.

THERE ARE THEOLOGICAL LIMITS AS WELL.

SOME PEOPLE ARE NOT INTERESTED IN SPEAKING TO A MUSLIM IF THEY ARE AN EVANGELICAL FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIAN.

THEY WOULD RATHER CONVERT THEM, RIGHT?

SO THOSE ARE SOME OF THE LIMITS.

BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT PEOPLE CAN LIVE TOGETHER IN CIVIL COEXISTENCE.

AS WORLD HISTORY HAS TAUGHT US UNFORTUNATELY, DIVERSE PLACES, EVEN AS DIVERSE -- MAYBE NOT AS DIVERSE AS FLUSHING/QUEENS, BUT A GREAT DEAL OF RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY CAN TURN INTO A -- HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN AND HOW DO WE AVOID?

HOW HOW DO WE AVOID --

WHEN RELIGIOUS COMITY BREAKS DOWN.

GOT YOU.

I THINK PLACES ARE BEGINNING TO EXPERIENCE RAPID DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE ARE THE ONES THAT ARE MOST AFRAID OF THE OTHER AND OF RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCE AND ETHNIC DIFFERENCE.

YOU SAW PARTS OF THE COUNTRY THAT VOTED OVERWHELMINGLY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP THAT WERE CHARACTERIZED TO SOME EXTENT BY THAT NATURE, THIS KIND OF LOSS OR NOSTALGIA FOR KIND OF A CIRCA 1940s, EARLY '50s WHITE PROTESTANT AMERICA THAT IS CHANGING.

IN FACT, PRESIDENT TRUMP HIMSELF IS FROM QUEENS IRONICALLY.

AND WOULDN'T RECOGNIZE IT IN SOME WAYS TODAY.

MIGHT BE AFRAID OF THAT DIVERSITY IN SOME WAYS.

BUT THAT'S ACTUALLY WHAT MAKES AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, DIVERSITY AND IMMIGRATION.

ALL RIGHT.

WELL, PROFESSOR, YOUR BOOK IS 'CITY OF GODS,' RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, IMMIGRATION AND PLURALISM.

FLUSHING/QUEENS, A GREAT READ FOR THIS DAY AND AGE.

THANK YOU, PROFESSOR.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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