Religious and Spiritual Groups
in the United States
There are more different religious groups in the United States than anywhere else on Earth. The remarkable diversity of religion in the United States makes it difficult to arrive at a good way to group them into manageable categories. The following list of links is primarily organized by the “families of religion” categories used by J. Gordon Melton in his very valuable reference work, The Encyclopedia of American Religions (Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., new edition every two or three years). Additional groupings are drawn from Handbook of Denominations in the United States, edited by Craig D. Atwood. Both of these reference works are valuable sources of information on religious groups in the United States. If you are aware of a denominational link that is not included on this page, please let me know. Also, as you are well aware, links break, occasionally they get hijacked, and, simply, “things happen.” So if you discover a problem with any of these links and are willing to do so, please let me know and help keep this page up to date. Thanks!
Here are several general resources I have found helpful:
Web Resources of the Religious Bodies Listed in the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches is an extensive resource list published by the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Note however that the internet addresses are from the 2005 edition of the Yearbook and may be out of date.
The Hartford Seminary Foundation’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research carries out extensive research on topics relevant to religion in the United States and works to be a bridge between the academic, scholarly community and the faith community.
The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) provides information on issues related to research as well as date from research studies. An interesting sire with a lot of information.
The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is a treasure trove of information on religion in the US. These two reports, based on 2007 data, make it possible to see trends in religious affiliation and observance as well as static figures. There are interactive maps as well.
The Western Liturgical Family includes Catholicism and Anglicanism. These churches are distinguished by their emphasis on liturgical worship, including the use of orders for worship that date (with modifications) back to the earliest days of the Christian church, highly patterned and formal worship, and provision of orders for worship for different times during the day and different seasons of the church year. Liturgical churches also make use of creeds that summarize their faith and celebrate seven sacraments. They also embrace belief in apostolic succession, the concept that they stand in an unbroken line of authority that reaches back to the Apostles.
- Catholics on the Net, Catholic.net, is a multi-lingual site with extensive information on all things Catholic.
- Catholic Online: Online center for Catholic information, including a specialized Catholic search engine and a well-catalogued extensive set of links
- Vatican Web Site: The official Vatican site, has information and audio and video clips
- Catholic Answers: Organization of Catholic lay people devoted to evangelization and apologetics
- The Episcopal Church: The official home page of the U.S. Episcopal Church
- The Anglican Catholic Church: Conservative Episcopal denimination dedicated to upholding the traditional Anglican/Episcopal faith in the wake of changes such as the ordination of women and gay people, and changes in the Book of Common Prayer.
- Washington National Cathedral: The “National Cathedral” in Washington, D.C., the Episcopal Church of Saints Peter and Paul
The Eastern Liturgical Family includes the Eastern Orthodox churches, the two largest of which in the United States are the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. They share the liturgical characteristics of the Western Liturgical churches but are organized along national lines.
- According to its web site, there are 540 parishes, 800 priests and approximately 1.5 million faithful in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Its mission is to “proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to teach and spread the Orthodox Christian Faith, to energize, cultivate, and guide the life of the Church in the United States of America according to the Orthodox Christian Faith and Tradition.”
- The Orthodox Church in America “traces its origins to the arrival in Kodiak, Alaska of eight Orthodox missionaries from the Valaamo Monastery in the northern Karelia region of Russia in 1794. . . . Today, the Orthodox Church in America numbers some 700 parishes, missions, communities, monasteries, and institutions throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.” It’s the unifying body for Russian Orthodoxy in the U.S.
- The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), established in 1960, brings together the canonical hierarchs of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. The purpose of the Conference is to make the ties of unity among the canonical Orthodox Churches and their administrations stronger and more visible.
- The Orthodox Page is a straightforward and easy to use page of information on Orthodox belief and practice
The Lutheran Family traces its history back to the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 1500s. Martin Luther and the German princes who supported him brought about a break with the Catholic tradition of which they were a part and began the branch of Christianity that came to be called Protestantism.
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the largest Lutheran body in the U.S. and is also the most theologically liberal. It is a diverse denomination, committed to increasing diversity and “its global, ecumenical and interfaith relationships around the world.”
- The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is theologically more conservative. It differs from the ELCA in its view on the authority of the Bible, its emphasis on the continuing validity of the historic Lutheran confessions of faith, and in its refusal to join together with other Lutheran churches over differences in belief.
- The Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church has a new web site. It differs from both the ELCA and the Missouri Synod. As its web site states, “In general, our church body has been unable to reach agreement with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) regarding fellowship, church and ministry, and gender roles. Our areas of difference with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) also include their views on Scripture, biblical interpretation, and homosexuality.”
The Reformed-Presbyterian Family also traces its heritage back to the Protestant Reformation, but primarily to John Calvin rather than Luther. It includes churches such as the Presbyterian, Reformed, and Congregationalist. They are distinguished by having “reformed” faith and a connectional system of government.
- The largest and most theologically liberal of the Presbyterian groups in the U.S. is The Presbyterian Church, (USA). “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with denominational offices in Louisville, Kentucky, has approximately 2.3 million members, more than 10,000 congregations and 14,000 ordained and active ministers.Presbyterians trace their history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. Our heritage, and much of what we believe, began with John Calvin (1509-1564), whose writings crystallized much of the Reformed thinking that came before him.”
- The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America holds the “Kingship of Christ” as its foundational principle and holds to the ”authority of the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God.”
- Like the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America “has made a firm commitment on the doctrinal standards which had been significant in presbyterianism since 1645, namely the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. These doctrinal standards express the distinctives of the Calvinistic or Reformed tradition,” thus distinguishing itself from the more liberal Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.”
- The United Church of Christ is a church that is “united and uniting, multiracial and multicultural, accessible to all, open and affirming, and a peace with justice church.” It is one of the most socially and theologically liberal Christian churches in the U.S.
- The Reformed Church in America is a small Christian denomination of Dutch ancestry.
- The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America separated in 1857 due to disagreements over free masonry and the singing of hymns, among other things. It has about 300,000 members in 1,000 congregations in the U.S. and Canada.
The Restorationist Family of churches grew out of the Restorationist Movement in the United States. That movement was also known as the Stone-Campbell movement. It began on the frontier and sought a return to the earliest and most basic Christian principles. Its leaders hoped that by doing so they could restore a measure of unity to Christianity in the US.
- The Christian Church/Disciples of Christ is the largest and best-known of the restorationist churches.
- The Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are another group within this family. They are more conservative theologically and socially than the Disciples. Some use instrumental music in their services, while others do not, believing this to be the practice of the New Testament church.
The Pietist-Methodist Family includes the United Methodist Church and as number of Black Methodist denominations, as well as the Moravian churches. Pietism centered on a biblically-based faith manifested in an emotional experience of Christian life and worship. Methodist churches trace their roots back to the work of John Wesley, the son of a priest in the Church of England (Anglican). Wesley advocated a stricter lifestyle and a methodical observance of devotions in daily life, a practice which earned him and his followers the derisive title “methodists.”
- The United Methodist Church “is an 11-million-strong global church. . . . John Wesley and the early Methodists placed primary emphasis on Christian living, on putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as ‘practical divinity’ has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today.” It is by far the largest church in this denominational family.
- The African Methodist Episcopal Church came into being because a group of people “rejected the negative theological interpretations which rendered persons of African descent second class citizens. Theirs was a theological declaration that God is God all the time and for every body. The church was born in protest against slavery – against dehumanization of African people, brought to the American continent as labor.”
- The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is another of the historic Black Methodist churches. It “came into existence as a result of the movement from slavery to freedom. During the years following the birth of Methodism, the denomination grew rapidly. The Methodist Episcopal Church South was an outgrowth of Wesley’s Methodism. Some Blacks, converted to Christianity by slave masters, accepted the Methodist doctrine as it was. However, with the passage of time, the emancipation of Blacks from slavery created the desire by Blacks to have and control their own church. This desire led formerly enslaved persons who had been members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, to start their own independent religious organization.”
- “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love,” is the motto of The Moravian Church in America. Its origins are in ancient Bohemia and Moravia in what is now the Czech Republic. It goes back to the reformer John Hus (1369-1415), who was burned at the stake for his teachings. The church came into begin in 1457.
The Holiness Family focuses on lifestyle. Followers of the holiness way in Christianity believe that inward holiness must be reflected in the outward holiness of life. This is defined as the avoidance of “worldly” things, which often include dancing, the use of alcohol, attending movies, using slang language. Usually these faith communities endorse a dress code for female members that includes not wearing pants or shorts, wearing higher necklines and longer sleeves, avoidance of jewelry and cosmetics, and wearing the hair long. Examples include many of the Churches of God, the Nazarene Church, and the Wesleyan Churches, as well as many independent churches.
- The Church of the Nazarene states that its mission is “To make Christlike disciples in the nations.”
- The Wesleyan Church “is an evangelical, Protestant denomination. . . . With World Headquarters in Fishers, Indiana, The Wesleyan Church has nearly 400,000 constituents in 4,000 churches and missions in 80 countries of the world. Formed in 1968 resulting from the mergers of several like-minded groups, dating back as far as 1843, The Wesleyan Church has its roots in John Wesley’s Methodism.”
- Christian and Missionary Alliance Church is, as the name suggests, a missionary church. It understands Jesus as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. Their focus is the “Great Commission,” attributed to Jesus: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 19–20 (NIV).”
The Pentecostal Family focuses more on specific types of religious experiences believed to arise from the action of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. Speaking in tongues is often foremost among these “gifts of the Spirit.” Others include healing, prophecy, wisdom that cannot be gained by natural means, and the ability to discern spirits (for a biblical listing, see I Corinthians 12:4-11 in the Christian New Testament). Some Pentecostal believers also embrace a holiness lifestyle, while others do not. “Full Gospel” churches are usually pentecostal. Other examples include the Foursquare Gospel, the United Pentecostal Church, Church of God in Christ, Maranatha Christian Churches, and the Assemblies of God, along with numerous independent congregations.
- The General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA) is “one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the United States. [It] was organized in 1914 by a broad coalition of ministers who desired to work together to fulfill common objectives, such as sending missionaries and providing fellowship and accountability.”
- Church of God in Christ: One of the fastest-growing Pentecostal denominations. The “church has grown from ten congregations in 1907, to the largest Pentecostal group in America. The membership of the Church of God in Christ grew from three million in 1973 to an estimated 5.2 million in 1997. Churches under the parent body in Memphis, Tennessee, are now established throughout the United States” and throughout the world.
- The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) “has been among the fastest growing church organizations in North America since it was formed in 1945 by the merger of the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. . . . The UPCI . . . traces its organizational roots to October 1916, when a large group of ministers withdrew from the Assemblies of God over doctrinal issues. . .”
- International Church of the Foursquare Gospel: Their web site notes that “Foursquare is a Biblical term used of the tabernacle in the Book of Exodus, of the Temple of the Lord in Ezekiel 40:47, and of Heaven, as described in the book of the Revelation. The term “Foursquare Gospel” was given in the inspiration of revival to the denomination’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson, during an evangelistic campaign in Oakland, Calif., in 1922. It represents that which is equally balanced on all sides, established and enduring.”
The European Free-Church Family includes Mennonites, the Amish, Brethren, Friends, and other free church traditions that began in Europe. These communities of faith go back to the “radical reformers.” These reformers emphasized belief and liturgy less than church organization and the relationship between church and state. Many were persecuted and some martyred for their convictions.
- The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is one of the “historic peace churches.” A good summary resource comes from an Australian Quaker by the name of Ted Hoare. The denomination goes back to England in the 17th Century and was founded by George Fox and Maragret Fell. “Fox called for a radical, egalitarian, spirit-filled Christianity that would not be oppressive of people on account of race, sex, or class. He maintained that the message of the early church had been lost when the church became institutionalized and believed that he, and others with him, could stand in exactly the same state as Apostles, with the same power to teach, to heal, and to prophesy that the Apostles had.”
- The Mennonite Central Committee is a worldwide outreach of several Anabaptist churches. Its priorities are “disaster relief, sustainable community development and justice and peace-building.”
- Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective: A joint statement by the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church. It provides a good, concise statement of the Mennonite perspective.
- The Amish in Northern Indiana site includes a good, accurate summary of basic Amish beliefs and practices
The Baptist Family includes those confederations of churches that have “Baptist” in their name, as well as other denominations. Many independent congregations are also in this category. These churches are gatherings of adult believers, people who have been baptized when they were old enough to understand for themselves what it meant, and who were most likely to have been fully immersed.
- The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist convention in the U.S., with more than 16 million members and 42,000 churches. It’s often known by its initials, SBC. As the name suggests, it’s the most prominent in the South, but there are SBC churches throughout the country. Theologically and socially, it is conservative.
- The American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. is sometimes known as the “Northern Baptists.” It is a diverse group with 5,5000 churches and 1.3 million members. Most of its members and churches are more liberal than their Southern counterparts.
- The American Baptist Association is a theologically conservative Baptist association began during a series of controversies in the mid-1800s. The movement to return to traditional Baptist distinctives became known as the “Landmark Movement,” and the American baptist Association is a park of that movement.
- The National Baptist Convention of America is the oldest and largest African American religious convention, with approximately 7 1/2 million members.
- The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was begun in 1990 by former U. S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as others who disagree with the increasingly-conservative stances taken by the Southern Baptist Convention. It is composed of both individuals and about 1,900 affiliated churches. It is part of a larger renewal movement among Baptists.
The Independent Fundamentalist Family derives from John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). They stress an intense concentration on the Bible. Darby believed that the church is a temporary organization that will end with the return of Christ to the Earth, a belief which is held by his followers today as well. Denominations include the Plymouth Brethren, the Rex Humbard Ministry, Berean Bible Fellowship, and a variety of independent congregations.
- The Rex Humbard Ministry was founded by Rex Humbard (1919-2007), a well-known television evangelist.
- The Berean Church Fellowship is a fellowship of churches primarily involved in establishing a worldwide network of independent churches and independent ministries.
The New Paradigm or Megachurch Family is a group of mostly-evangelical Christian congregations that share a number of characteristics. As the name “magachurch” indicates, their most noticeably feature is their sheer size. There is no agreed-upon number necesary for the designation, but many of these congregations number in the thousands. “New paradigm” suggests that they do represent something genuinely new emerging on the American religious landscape. Most have expanded rapidly and at least initially began as a cluster around the personality of an especially charismatic pastor/preacher/founder. Most are nondenominational, and those that do have ties to a denomination tend to downplay them. They exist almost exclusively in the suburbs of large, rapidly-growing cities. For an excellent discussion of this phenomenon, please see Scott Thumma’s informative essay, “Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena: Their characteristics and cultural context.”
- Saddleback Church was founded by Pastor Rick Warren in 1980 with just one other family. Approximately 20,000 people attend weekly services. Mr. Warren is well-known as the author of The Purpose Driven Life. It has several locations in Southern California and also has an on line church.
- Willow Creek Community Church is led by pastor Bill Hybels. It has several churches in the Chicago region.
- The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit is in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. Its tag line describes it as “the trendiest . . . friendliest . . . most radically inclusive worship experience in Atlanta.”
- The Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Insitute for Religion Research maintains a database of megachurch and new paradigm congregations in the United States. This useful list can be sorted by denomination, congrenation name, state or size.
The Adventist Family includes several churches that grew out of expectations that the return of Christ to the Earth was immanent. They believe that there is a cosmic struggle between good and evil which will be decisively ended with God’s victory at that time. The coming end of history as we have known it relativizes the importance of life in this world. Representative groups include the Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other smaller adventist groups and congregations.
- Seventh-day Adventists: One of the largest Adventist groups, members of the SDA church observe the Sabbath on Saturday rather than Sunday. This is the origin of the “Seventh-day” in their name. “Adventist” refers to their focus on the return of Christ to the earth.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: This is the official site for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which is the formal name of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Churches of God General Conference
- The Worldwide Church of God changed its name to Grace Communion International in 2009. It was founded by Herbert W. Armstrong in 1934. Worldwide, it has over 47,000 members. The name change reflects the denomination’s shift away from some of Armstrong’s less-accepted teachings and toward mainstream evangelical Christianity.
- You may remember or have heard of the Branch Davidian group, located near Waco, Texas. They became nationally known when their compound was entered by armed ATF agents searching for David Koresh in order to arrest him for firearms violations. A 51 day seige by the FBI followed and in April of 1993 the compound was destroyed in a fire. Koresh and about 75 of his followers died. The group has reorganized as the The Branch.
The Liberal Family typically includes adherents of one of three key ideas: unitarianism (that God is one rather than a trinity), universalism (that all will be saved), or humanism (centered on humankind rather than on God). Examples include the American Humanist Association, and the Unitarian Universalist Association. Melton also includes certain “mail-order churches” in this family.
- The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has the most “church” structure of these groups. It formed from a merger of the Unitarian who believed that God is one rather than a trinity, and Universalist Christians who believed that all persons will be saved. Some UUs think of their denomination as a very liberal form of Christianity, while others think of it as something distinct from Christianity.
- What is Humanism? is a basic introduction to the wide scope of humanist thought
- The American Humanist Association has been a primary voice for humanism in the United States for more than half a century. According to its web site, it is “bordered on one side by the transcendental views of traditional religions and mythologies and on the other by atheism and secularism, [and] the values we hold are grounded in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, informed by scientific knowledge, and driven by a desire to meet the needs of people in the here and now.”
- The Society for Humanistic Judaism, organized in 1969, is a nontheistic alternative within Judaism that “embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with an adherence to humanistic values and ideas.”
- The Secular Web is a “ nonprofit educational organization dedicated to defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet.” It is more focused on secularism than on humanism.
- American Atheists is perhaps the best-known atheist organization in the United States. Founded in 1963, it emphasizes defending the civil liberties of atheists and the absolute separation of church and state.
- Gordon Melton includes certain “mail-order churches” in the liberal category. Probably the best-known is the Universal Life Church. It offers free ordination on line. Its web site states that “The Universal Life Church wants you to pursue your spiritual beliefs without interference from any outside agency, including government or church authority.” Whatever your response to this idea, it’s made a mark on religion in the US.
The Latter-day Saints Family includes Latter-day or Mormon groups. All hold as a central belief that the church has fallen away from what it was right after Jesus’ death, and that the Latter-day Saints represent the beginning of the restoration of the true apostolic church. They also believe that the future kingdom of Zion will be in the United States rather than in the Holy Land.
- The Book of Mormon: One of the official Latter-day Saints sacred scriptures; a searchable version
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the larger of the two major branches, with headquarters in Salt lake City, Utah. It is best-known for its missionary work and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as well as Brigham Young University.
- Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) is the smaller branch, headquartered in Missouri.
The Communal Family includes those groups who have attempted to embody their faith in a dramatically different style of living in which property and goods are held in common. Communal history in the United States began in the 19th century. Perhaps best known is the resurgence of communalism in the 1960s as an aspect of the “hippie” movement. Representative groups include the Amana Church Society, the Shakers, the Oneida Community, the Hutterites, and the Farm.
- The Communal Studies Association: This organization works for the preservation, restoration, and public interpretation of America’s historic communal sites, and for increased public understanding of communalism and its potential contributions.
- The Amana Colonies: “The name Amana means to “remain faithful”. We have, in many ways, remained faithful to our communal culture; historical buildings have been preserved; the Amana Church remains active; the traditions of quality products are alive in the Colonies,” according to their web site. The site includes a brief history.
- The Family was founded in the late 1960s. ”The Family International has expanded into an international organization located in over 90 countries. Full-time members have successfully maintained a cooperative, communal lifestyle since the founding of our fellowship.”
- The Farm’s home page lists several of its activities, such as midwifery, permaculture, peacemaking and ecology.
- The Hutterites “are a communal people, living on scattered bruderhofe or colonies throughout the prairies in North America.”
- Koinonia is a Christian farm community founded in Georgia in the early 1940s. It gave rise to the Cotton patch Gospel and to habitat for Humanity. They refer to themselves as “a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.”
The Christian Science-Metaphysical Family includes Christian Science and New Thought groups. The two groups are clearly related although quite different from each other. Both hold to an idealistic philosophy that sees everything as a manifestation of Mind. In addition to Christian Science, representative groups include the International Metaphysical Association, the Divine Science Federation International, the United Church of Religious Science, and the Unity School of Christianity.
- New Thought Home Page : Information and links to a wide variety of New Thought and Metaphysical organizations. This site is a good place to begin with this topic.
- The Church of Christ, Scientist is better known as Christian Science. This official site from the “Mother Church” in Boston has accurate information about founder Mary Baker Eddy and the church she founded.
- The Association of Unity Churches describe Unity’s expression of Christianity this way: “a spiritual movement that honors all paths to God; sees God as good and everywhere present; and affirms the spark of Divinity in all of us. Unity also offers a positive, practical, progressive approach to Christianity, regarding Jesus as the great example rather than the great exception. Unity interprets the Bible metaphysically rather than literally.”
- A Course in Miracles has been a popular and much-discussed embodiment of this perspective. It is published by the Foundation for Inner Peace.
The Spiritualist, Psychic, and New Age Family emphasize the power of mind and spirit. They focus on parapsychological experience. Some practice mediumship and clairvoyance or clairaudience (seeing or hearing through supernatural means). Swedenborgian churches are included in this family, as are a range of metaphysical churches, spiritualist organizations, and many New Age groups.
- The National Spiritual Alliance of the United States of America began in 1913 and continues today as a small but active group.
- The National Spiritualist Association of Churches works to advance the cause of spiritualism in the U.S. by a single organization.
- The Lily Dale Assembly is the oldest continually-existing spiritualist community in the US. It’s southwest of Buffalo, NY.
- First New Age Community Church in Phoenix, AZ, is one example of New Age spiritual organizations.
- The General Church of the New Jerusalem is one example of Swedenborgianism. Its web site states, “We believe that God created the universe and everything in it with an ultimately loving purpose. Each thing that happens, even if it appears to be bad, is in service of the greater good of humanity — that is, drawing us closer to the Divine and evolving in spiritual consciousness.”
- The Swedenborgian Church of North America is “based on the Bible as illuminated by the spiritual teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).” One of Swedenborg’s teachings is that “all people who live good lives, no matter what their religion, have a place in heaven.”
The Ancient Wisdom Family focuses on the attainment of special wisdom that is transmitted from teachers whose lineage began in the remote past. This family includes Rosicrucianism and Theosophy.
- The Ancient and Mystical Order of the Rosae Crucis (AMORC) is a major transmitter and disseminator of the Western esoteric wisdom tradition. It is not in narrow sense a religion and Rosicrucians participate in whatever religion they choose. What it does do is to seek to tie together the many aspects of metaphysical study and demonstrate how they are connected.
- The Theosophical Society is another major embodiment of the Western esoteric wisdom tradition. The word theosophy is derived from theos (god, divinity) and sophia (wisdom). According to their web site, theosophy “is a contemporary presentation of the perennial wisdom underlying the world’s religions, sciences, and philosophies.”
The Magick Family (spelled with the k to distinguish it from stage magic) includes paganism, neo-paganism, ritual magick groups, Wicca, and Satanism. Practitioners of magick believe that change can be brought about by human will and the exacting performance of ritual. People are either controllers or controllees; there are no other options.
- The Witches’ Voice is a Neo-Pagan news and networking site. Its Mission Statement indicates that it is “a proactive educational network providing news, information services and resources for and about Pagans, Heathens, Witches and Wiccans.”
- The Witches Web is another source for information about Wicca or Witchcraft, sometimes called the Old Religion or simply the Craft. Although it hasn’t been updated for several years, the information is still helpful.
- Fairgrove Conjureworks : Rowan Fairgrove has assembled a variety of
sites related to her interests, which include both Pagan and Wiccan traditions, as well as interfaith and social service sites. In addition, The Conjureworks hosts sites for several Pagan and Wiccan non-profits in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- The Covenant of the Goddess: Organizational home page for an international organization of cooperating Wiccan groups and individuals, has basic information, FAQ, how to evaluate a spiritual teacher
- The Church of All Worlds is one of the oldest incorporated Neo-Pagan churches in the US.
- The Earth Religions Legal Assistance Network helps Earth Religion Rights activists to communicate so that they can better help followers of the Earth Religions with legal problems.
The Middle Eastern Family includes those religions that began in what is now the Middle East. Judaism is probably the best-known among this family in the United States, but the family grouping also includes Islam, Sikhism, and Baha’i, as well as some others. Some followers of Middle eastern religions in the US are people whose ethnic roots are Middle Eastern, and there are non-Middle Eastern adherents too.
- Judaism and Jewish Resources is primarily a site full of links to all things Jewish and Israeli on the Nat
- The Conversion to Judaism Home Page : Those of Jewish faith don’t go out and seek converts, but they welcome those who wish to become “Jews by choice.” This page, posted by the Conversion to Judaism Resource Center in New York state, has a lot of interesting information on becoming Jewish by choice. Note that the list of topics isn’t hot-linked; the links are at the bottom of the page, in the “blue zone.”
- United Jewish Comunities: United Jewish Communities has changed its name to The Jewish Federations of North America to better reflect its representation of 157 Jewish federations and 400 independent network communities on that continent. It “protects and enhances the well-being of Jews worldwide through the values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (charity and social justice) and Torah (Jewish learning).”
- The Zionist Organization of America is the largest US pro-Israel organization. It works to strengthen US-Israeli relations and to support the Jewish people and Israel by all possible means.
- Jews for Jesus: The major organization of “Jewish Christians” who seek to convert other Jews to their way of thinking–”We exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people everywhere.” Clicking on the About Us tab will get you a drop-down menu that’s the best way to begin learning about this group.
- Jews for Judaism, on the other hand, is an international counter-missionary organization dedicated to “keeping Jews Jewish. Founded in 1983, it “has become the Jewish community’s leading response to the multi-million dollar efforts of cults and evangelical Christians who target Jews for conversion.”
- The Islamic Society of North America maintains an official site. A good place to begin is its Statement of Position. ISNA also publishes the journal Islamic Horizons.
- Commercial sites won’t appear in these lists frequently. Discover Islam advertises posters for sale. However, the text of each poster can be read online. The posters cover the basics of Islam plus Islamic views on several social issues. The material is verified by Islamic scholars.
- The Muslim Public Affairs Council “is an American institution which informs and shapes public opinion and policy by serving as a trusted resource to decision makers in government, media and policy institutions. MPAC is also committed to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of Muslim Americans.”
- The Nation of Islam is a Muslim organization founded by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in 1930, and currently led by Minister Louis Farrakhan. Many Muslims consider the group an independent religion rather than a Muslim sect, although the group has moved closer to mainstream Islam in recent years.
- The Holy Qur’an: A browsable and searchable version. An English translation, although it is believed by Muslims to be canonical only in Arabic; uses alternate spelling, Koran
- The Baha’i Faith is the international web site for the worldwide Baha’i community. Baha’is believe that God has revealed God throughout human history through a series of divine Messengers. Bahá’u'lláh is revered as the latest of these Messengers. “His essential message is of unity. He taught the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, and the oneness of religion.”
- All About Sikhs is an excellent introduction to Sikhism worldwide.
- The Sikh Coalition works for the civil rights of Sikhs and of all persons.
- Traditional Zoroastrianism: A good introduction
The Eastern Family includes those religions that began on the continent of Asia, along with their American-born offshoots. Primary examples include Hinduism and Buddhism. Adherents of Asian religions in the United States include not only immigrants and the offspring of immigrants, but non-Asians who have chosen to follow an Asian religious or spiritual tradition. The membership of some organizations is primarily Asian, while for others it is primarily non-Asian or mixed. The first set of links are to Hindu groups. The second is the Brahma Kumaris and the final set of links are to sites maintained by Buddhist groups. There’s also a link to a Taoist organization.
- Himalayan Academy is located at Kauai Aadheenam, a Hindu monastery on Kauai, Hawaii. It’s a traditional Saivite monastery founded in 1970 and is part of the Saiva Siddhanta Church, America’s first Hundu church. It also publishes the Hinduism Today magazine. This collection of sites is a good introduction to Hinduism in general and to Saivite Hinduism especially, in the US and worldwide.
- Mantra On Net is a primarily-commercial site that retails nearly all things Hindu. The proprietors say they have “over 2,500 products ranging from audio books, audio titles of Shiva, Krishna, Hanuman, Ganesh and many other Hindu deities, books, ayurvedic soaps, comic books, DVDs, multimedia titles, custom made greeting cards and table top mounted laminations and meditation rugs and silk shawls.” You can work on on line jigsaw puzzle.
- The Hindu Universe is an extensive and colorful site with many resources on Hinduism for both Hindus and non-Hindus.
- The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers offer an ecumenical approach to Hinduism that emphasizes traditional yoga and Vedanta. The Five Points of Yoga as taught by this branch are proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, and positive thinking and meditation.
- The Self-Realization Fellowship is an approach to traditional yoga that emphasizes its scientific nature and verifiability. The founder, Paramahansa Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi helped introduce untold numbers of American’s to yoga and meditation.
- Krishna.com is an informative and accurate site devoted to the Krishna Consciousness movement.
- ISKCON News is the official news agency for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
- The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago is one of the major Hindu temples in the US. The site includes a helpful Visitors’ Guide.
- Yoga Journal is one of the best-known and respected yoga magazines in the US. You can download a free 20-minute yoga class, watch an original comedy about yoga, or find the style of yoga that’s right for you, along with many other things. This is an extensive and well-designed site.
- The Brahma Kumari World Spiritual University is the official site for the Brahma Kumari group. Many people know very little about the Brahma Kumaris, and many others have never heard of them. They describe themselves as “an international non-governmental organisation headquartered at Mt. Abu, Rajasthan, India with over 8,500 centres in 100 countries, territories and islands. As a learning community, it currently has more than 825,000 regular students seeking to strengthen their ability to live by their own higher nature and to improve their contribution to society through spiritual education and reflective practices.” They are “in general category consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in consultative status with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and is affiliated to the Department of Public Information (DPI).”
- Soka Gakkai is a form of Buddhism based on the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism. Adherents of Soka Gakkai “seek, through their practice of Buddhism, to develop the ability to live with confidence, to create value in any circumstance and to contribute to the well-being of friends, family and community.”
- Tricycle: The Buddhist Review is a journal for Buddhists of whatever particular tradition, and for making Buddhism acessible to non-Buddhists as well. A highly useful site.
- The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order is a worldwide Buddhist movement that focuses on expressing classical Buddhist truths in ways appropriate to the modern, Western world. There is also a site that gives information on the Western Buddhist Order itself.
- The International Association of Buddhist Women or Sakyadhita, which translated “Daughters of the Buddha,” is an international group of Buddhist women and supportive men “committed to transforming the lives of women in Buddhist societies.”
- The Unified Buddhist Church is the legal entity that officially represents (in the US) Thich Nhat Hanh and the the Buddhist community he founded. The Green Mountain Dharma Center is the headquarters of the UBC in the US. The Mindfulness Bell is the journal of the Community of Mindful Living, another aspect of the UBC. The Magnolia Village Mindfulness Practice Center near Memphis, Tennessee, is the organization’s newest practice center.
- The Dzogchen Foundation is a distinctively American Tibetan Buddhist organization founded in 1991 by American Lama Surya Das. “Dzogchen” is a method of meditation that enables people to realize their true nature, the pure nature of mind. The Chant Room link has audios of chants.
- Vajradhatu is one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the western world. It was founded in 1973 by Chogyam Trungpa. He was one of the first Buddhist lamas to visit and teach in the West. It’s based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado is one of its largest centers in the US. The Vajradhatu Sun journal reflects this perspective in Buddhism.
- Shambhala Sun is the best-selling and most widely read Buddhist magazine. It draws from all Buddhist paths. As with so many publications now, back issues are archived on line and you can get something of a look at the current issue as well.
- Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, is based on Buddhist principles. Naropa is “a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian liberal arts institution dedicated to advancing contemplative education. This approach to learning integrates the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions, helping students know themselves more deeply and engage constructively with others. . . . Naropa University comprises a four-year undergraduate college and graduate programs in the arts, education, environmental leadership, psychology and religious studies. It offers BA, BFA, MA, MFA and MDiv degrees, as well as professional development training and classes for the community.”
- Access to Insight is maintained by the Insight Meditation Society (Theravada Buddhism). It gives well-organized access to major Buddhist teachings in modern translaions.
- Zen Mountain Monastery is the mainhouse of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism. This traditional Zen monastery has an extensive Web presence. The monastery sponsors WZEN radio and publishes the Mountain Record journal. The Mountains and Rivers Order has its roots in the teachings of Zen master Dogen in the “Mountains and Rivers Sutra.”
- The Zen Center of Los Angeles is a large Zen monastery and lay training center; their opening statement is a good expression of Zen Buddhism in the US.
- The American Buddhist Congress promotes Buddhism in the United States. Its goal is to synthesize American values and traditions with Buddhist teachings, thereby developing a Buddhism that is both American and authentic.
- The Center of Traditional Taoist Studies is a theological and educational organization focused on promoting Taoism in the US and throughout the world. The site has information on philosophy, religion, the martial arts, health, and a virtual tour of the Boston area temple.
Parachurch Organizations & Publications
Parachurch organizations are religious organizations that exist outside the boundaries of specific denominational organizations, but often with their support. People often participate in these types of religious groups in addition to membership in their communities of faith.
Campus-based organizations help to provide for the religious needs of college students. Hillel Foundation is the Jewish campus organization. Both Campus Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship are conservative, primarily Protestant Christian groups, as is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. On some campuses, the Catholic Student Union provides fellowship for Catholic students. There is a U.S. and Canadian Muslim Students’ Association for Muslim college students.
Many Christians make use of devotional guides such as Guideposts. Its site has a daily devotion and more.
Miscellaneous LinksThese are links for which there is currently no category on the page.
Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches: Christian church that focuses its ministry on gay and lesbian people, dedicated to the principle that “Christian” and “homosexual” are not contradictory terms.
American Atheists: One of the more high-profile atheist organizations. This site provides many links around the “secular Web”
Scientology: The religious organization founded by former sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard
Christian Identity: The Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance provides information on this controversial movement. It’s trustworthy information.