Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2015
Even for those who visit the USA only occasionally and lack deep historical knowledge of the country, its religious pluralism and vitality are probably impossible to miss. While the German village often seems to be built around its only church, its American counterpart generally features a large number of churches, often lined up along a single street – a reflection of the great variety of religious faiths. In Europe on the other hand, despite all the changes wrought by industrialization and urban growth, flight and expulsion, the principle that there can be just one religion in one territory is still much in evidence geographically. American churches are often provided with large car parks, and these regularly fill up on Sundays, when services are held, but also throughout the day on weekdays, because a large number of activities are organized within the parishes and congregations. After the Second World War, when settlement structures changed radically as increasing numbers of town dwellers moved into homes in the country, giving rise to the vast ‘suburbs’, it sometimes seemed that the new malls in the open countryside were taking the churches' central place in social life. But before long, numerous new churches and synagogues were also constructed in these suburbs, and it is arguable that the average American suburban family continues to attend church more often than it goes to the mall. In the cities, the (often enormous) historic church buildings remain, the congregations now often consisting entirely of African-Americans or new immigrants.