America’s Religious Landscape
Religious Diversity Transcript / 1
America’s New Religious LandscapeTranscript
Speakers:News Anchor, Ruben Martinez, Prof. Donald Miller, Reverend Chhean
NEWS ANCHOR: America’s new religious diversity today is increasingly apparent in most cities. It’s unmistakable in Los Angeles, which has become one of the most religiously complex cities in the world. From LA, Ruben Martinez reports on three immigrant religious communities trying to preserve the connections between the present and the past.
RUBEN MARTINEZ: Over the last two decades, Los Angeles has been transformed by legions of immigrants arriving from Latin America and Asia, from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. They come fleeing poverty and persecution, abandoning lands of despair for a land of hope.
But once in LA, the immigrants’ optimism doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ready to abandon their sense of history and ethnic traditions.
PROF. DONALD MILLER: As a sociologist of religion, there is no city in the world I would rather be in than Los Angeles. It is culturally, I think, the most diverse city in the world. It is literally a living laboratory of the world’s religions.
(Speaking in background)
RUBEN MARTINEZ: Donald Miller, a professor of religion at the University of Southern California, studies immigrant communities and their religious experience.
Miller and his staff created an exhibit documenting immigrant religion in Los Angeles.
PROF. DONALD MILLER: It’s a place to see all of the different world religions being represented not abstractly, but in the concreteness of their particular community and its worship here in Los Angeles.
RUBEN MARTINEZ: Amid the dizzying diversity in Los Angeles, over one hundred languages are spoken here. There are dozens upon dozens of immigrant enclaves, some in which the memory of the homeland is distant and idyllic and others where the past painfully informs the present.
The Khmer Bodhikaram is a Cambodian Buddhist temple and monastery in Long Beach, home to the largest Cambodian community in the United States. On a Buddhist holy day that coincides with the waxing moon, the faithful chant along with the monks in Pali, the ecclesiastical language of Theravada Buddhism. Approximately one hundred and fifty thousand Cambodian refugees arrived in America in the early 1980s after having experienced firsthand the terror of the Khmer Rouge regime. Their emotional wounds were still fresh and sometimes led to debilitating physical pathologies including some one hundred cases of psychosomatic blindness among Cambodian women who had witnessed the murders of loved ones. Clearly, the emotional health of the congregation was paramount, but merely replicating the religious and healing rituals of the homeland, the Reverend Chhean surmised, would not suffice. The refugees simply did not trust the distinctly Western rituals of psychotherapy or psychiatry.
REVEREND CHHEAN: In Cambodia, we’ve never seen mental health. We’ve never seen the psychiatrists. We’ve never seen the psychologists. So when the people came here they said “Hey, what is that?” And plus they have experience of paranoia from home that the Khmer Rouge tortured them and now they came here and they say “Hey maybe these people want to play games, do the same thing, they want to poison us,” or this and that. So that’s why they don’t want to use Western medication.
RUBEN MARTINEZ: Reverend Chhean decided to study psychology and he melded Buddhist healing tradition with Western style counseling. By tending to the pain of the past, Reverend Chhean appears to be gently easing the refugees and their children into their American future, albeit with plenty of old world ritual. Indeed, there is evidence that the role that religion plays for immigrants in America is changing. Instead of churches paving the way towards assimilation, today, often as not, they help the immigrants maintain ties with the old country.
This attempt to preserve tradition is evident in Los Angeles.
[End of Audio]
From “America’s New Religious Landscape.” Adapted with permission.