Faculty Profile E. Allen Richardson
E. Allen Richardson, Ph.D.
Professor of Religious Studies
Cedar Crest College Professor of Religious Studies Allen Richardson, Ph.D., has revised his 1988 work in a new edition titled, Strangers in this Land: Religion, Pluralism and the American Dream. The book, published by McFarland & Company of North Carolina, has a foreword by Diana Eck, Ph.D., director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and a foremost expert on the topic.
"When I first read Allen Richardson's Strangers in This Land, it was exciting and enlightening fare. Richardson was far ahead of his time in calling attention to the growing religious diversity of the United States and the challenges it poses to the complex vision of America," Eck wrote in the foreword. "It is timely to have this new version of Richardson's provocative book to set our current questions in the context of a longer historical perspective."
Richardson has been on the ground floor of researching a question that has existed since colonial times: What does it mean to be American? For some, America is a place where people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds can come to be free from oppression-with no strings attached. For them, the diversity that exists is to be celebrated and appreciated. For others, being American means assimilating into a Christian society that ascribes to a uniform set of values and practices.
This long-lasting national struggle with diversity is captured by two contradictory symbols both in view of the New York harbor, Richardson said. On one hand the Statue of Liberty welcomes people from all countries with the famous words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Meanwhile, the immigrants who came through Ellis Island often had their names "Americanized" and in many cases were encouraged to forget their old identities, he said.
The lasting societal debates of our day over free speech, alternative religions, and immigration continue to draw from the nation's struggle with the question of what it means to be American, and these issues will only intensify as the population of the United States becomes increasingly diverse, Richardson said. Strangers in this Land traces the history of this debate and the continuing impact it has had on the questions of religion, pluralism, and the American dream.
Following graduation from the University of Arizona in 1979 with a Ph.D. in Oriental Studies and a specialization in South Asia, I began to explore the transplantation of mainstream Asian religions to the United States. This Asian diaspora had happened because of major changes in U.S. immigration law. In 1965 under the Johnson Administration, the first amendment to the Johnson Reed Act of 1924 was passed, reopening migration to the United States from the Eastern Hemisphere in more than 40 years. This legislation has dramatically changed the religious landscape of America.
As a result of my research in this area I wrote, East Comes West: Asian Religions and Cultures in North America (Pilgrim Press, 1984), exploring patterns of adaptation of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Muslims. Four years later I wrote a sequel, Strangers in This Land: Pluralism and the Response to Diversity in the United States (Pilgrim Press, 1988). This text examined the conflict about religious diversity that, originating in the colonial period, continued to shape our nation's history. Strangers in This Land was used by a new program on American religious diversity, The Pluralism Project, at Harvard University. This project has evolved as a clearinghouse of information about the new patterns of religious diversity in America.
I am currently engaged in a revision of Strangers in This Land which will be republished by McFarland Press. The revision incorporates recent data on the growth of religious diversity in the United States as well as my own continuing research on Hinduism in America. I have also prepared several online publications for the Pluralism Project.
I have been invited by Cambridge University Press to write a chapter on American religious diversity in the 19th and early 20th centuries for their forthcoming publication, Religions in America.
In addition to these interests, I have continued to study a Hindu devotional sect, the Vallabha Sampradaya, that was the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation. I work closely with the Pushti Margiya Vaishnava Samaj of North America in Schuylkil Haven, Pennsylvania and have assisted them in a number of programs including an annual retreat for students in college and graduate school.
Beyond these interests, I have written in the area of American abolitionism and recently edited the first publication of a travel journal to northern Iran written in 1849: Letters from a Distant Shore: The Journal of Sarah Ann Breath (Gorgias Press, 2009).
In addition to these interests I have begun to explore ways within which Cedar Crest students can combine study abroad experiences with Religious Studies courses. In January 2008, I took 27 students to Egypt and in March 2009 took 8 more to India. I hope to repeat both grips semi-annually. Affiliates Grant Pluralism Project of Harvard University ( 2003 ) (P.I.'s E. Allen Richardson & Catherine Cameron), to study transplanted Hindu tradition in Pennsylvania at Vraj Hindu Temple in Pottsville, PA.
Second grant to E. Allen Richardson to study Gujarati Temples in metropolitan Houston, TX. Details at: http://www.pluralism.org/affiliates/richardson/index.php
Letters from a distant shore: the journal of Sarah Ann Breath. (2009) Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press.
Richardson, E. Allen (2009) Invited article: Asian religions in the United States during the Nineteenth and the first half of the Twentieth Century. For The Cambridge History of Religions in America series.
Strangers in this land: pluralism and the response to diversity in the United States. (2009) Second edition to the 1988 edition. New York: McFarland Press.
I am a Historian of Religion which, as a discipline, has grown through the twentieth century through the work of Rudolph Otto, Mircea Eliade and others. Historians of Religion are concerned with the unique, cultural contexts of religion and frequently work closely with Anthropologists of Religion. The History of Religions is often distinguished from theology which is the faith based exploration of religion. As a Historian of Religion I am also an Indologist and work closely with the religious and cultural traditions of India.
These disciplines have brought me to emphasize the role of transplanted religious traditions in diaspora in the United States. Three of the courses in Religious Studies at Cedar Crest College emphasize the role of Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims in America. We explore patterns of adaptation and assimilation and the ways in which transplanted religions both continue the rituals, doctrine and patterns of sectarian growth in the United States but at the same time initiate their own unique blend of religion and culture. For example, most Hindu temples in the United States have an educational component and provide classroom instruction to second generation Hindu youth. In India, this function is unnecessary since children grow up in a Hindu milieu and learn about religion in a wide variety of ways through the dominant culture.
I am also a strong proponent of experiential education. Most of my classes take field trips and visit Hindu and Buddhist temples or mosques in the United States. Students enrolled in Rel 225 ("Buddhism in America") receive meditation instruction at Mount Equity Buddhist zendo near Muncy, Pennsylvania. Later, the class visits a Tibetan Buddhist temple in northern New Jersey and a Chinese Buddhist temple in New York state that includes the largest Buddha in the western hemisphere.
I have carried this emphasis on learning through travel and firsthand experience to develop study abroad programs. Students enrolled in Rel 101 ("Ancient Egyptian Religion") have the option every two years of enrolling in a one credit experience in a ten day tour of Egypt. Similarly, students who participate in Rel 226 ("Hinduism in America"), taught in alternate years during the spring semester, travel to India during spring break.
Some of my students who have taken these extended journeys have described them as life changing experiences. I believe that is the function of education which in itself is a journey that takes us through a variety of forms of knowledge and perception. In particular, the study of global religious traditions in modern and ancient societies helps students explore cultural differences and understand religion as a vital part both of the search for meaning and the experience of transcendence.
I maintain an active role in the College and have served on many of its major committees. In addition, I have been a participant in interfaith activities in the Lehigh Valley for almost twenty years. I helped organize a 100th anniversary celebration of the 1893 Parliament of Religions in 1993, bringing together on Cedar Crest's campus representatives of nine major religions. In addition, I help plan and produce the College's annual Hanukkah/Christmas celebration and am a member of the campus' Interfaith Council.
Recipient of the Cedar Crest College Alumnae Association's annual teaching award, 2000-2001
Mini-Grant, The Pluralism Project at Harvard University, 1999 "A World of Difference" award for community service, presented by the Allentown Human Relations Commission, 1994