Houston is the 4th largest metro-area in the United States. There are 6.2 million people in the greater Houston area. It is expected that in a decade or two Houston will overtake Chicago as the third largest city in the USA.
Houston is also one of the most culturally diverse locales in all of the United States. Over 90 different countries are represented in Houston and no one ethnic group constitutes a majority.
Houston is 39% Latino, 36% Caucasian, 18% African/African-American and 7% Asian. There are Mexicans, Guatemalans, Venezuelans, Panamanians, Columbians. There are Germans, Czechs, Scandinavians, Brits and Italians. There are Nigerians, Liberians, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Lebanese, Turkish and South Africans. There are Koreans, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Taiwanese.
We’ve got Texas BBQ, Kolaches, Tex-Mex, Afromex, Soul Food, Thai food, curry, pho and everything else between.
With all this diversity, and with its immense size, Houston is a fascinating melting pot of religious belief as well.
Bucking certain “Southern” trends in the USA, Houston’s religious demographics break down like this:
Catholic – 36.1% (2.1 million)
Southern Baptist – 28.3% (1.7 million)
Methodist – 10% (600,000)
Other Mainline Christian (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran etc.) – 8.5% (510,000)
Muslim – 2.8% (170,000)
Charismatic – 2.6% (160,000)
Other (Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, New Age, Non-religion) – 11.8% (710,000)
Getting to know Houston means getting to know other religions. That is why LINC Houston is sure to teach world religions at LBI (a current course I am teaching) and when visitors come to town we take them on a “Houston World Tour,” which includes stops at a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, a local Masjid, an Hispanic superstition shop and some glances at mega-churches in our area.
Taking visitors/students on this journey always leads to consciousness raising. This most recent trip was no different. Whether it was a discussion about smoking, drinking and holiness at the Hindu Shree Swaminarayan Temple, Buddhist prayer ritual and Vietnamese presence in Houston at the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple or a few laughs shared with a local imam at Masjid Ataqwa it is a wonderful thing to watch when individuals get to know people of other religions as people and grow in their understanding of others’ way of ritual, belief and piety.
Touring around today, the college students that were on this trip commented that they took a world religions class before but never seen “flesh” on their topic of study. They never studied world religions by visiting mosques, meeting Buddhists or sharing stories with a Hindu devotee.
As many of you well know, I am an advocate for religious education. It is important for those who are teaching world religions, and those studying other belief systems, to integrate their book/lecture learning with “hands-on” experience reading religious texts, visiting spaces of sacred ritual and community and interacting with individuals with a different understanding of the cosmos.
If we hope to learn, and educate others, about the world’s religions, it is best that both teachers and students experience those religions firsthand.
With that, I invite you to come to Houston and come on a “Houston World Tour.” I promise you some unique experiences, some great learning and, if you are lucky, some delicious food afterwards.