Dr. R. Scott Hanson on diversity in New York

Apr 27, 2011

By Annmarie Ely

Dr. R. Scott Hanson, a DelVal lecturer, has spent more than a decade studying the neighborhood of Flushing, in Queens, New York. He believes it may be "the most extreme case of religious diversity in the world."


He shared his research with students at the Liberal Arts Multicultural Forum on April 21 in Mandell 114.

Dr. Hanson joined The Pluralism Project at Harvard University in 1994. He earned a master’s in religion from Columbia and a Ph.D. from The University of Chicago. He has worked at Brown University as a research associate and has taught at Philadelphia University, Binghamton University-SUNY and Temple University.

His work has been featured in The New York Times and on PBS. His upcoming book, "City of Gods: Religious Freedom, Immigration, and Pluralism in Flushing, Queens, New York City, 1945-2001" explores his research in further detail.

Dr. Hanson said that what makes Flushing unique is the density of the religious diversity.

Flushing is about 2.5 square miles and includes nearly 200 different places of worship, such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean Buddhist temples, a Taoist temple, Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, mosques, more than 100 Korean churches and synagogues.

He said the neighborhood "presents a remarkable opportunity to study what happens when so many different religions are forced to coexist."

Dr. Hanson quoted Voltaire saying one religion would lead to despotism, two would lead to violence, but that 30 coexist peacefully.

He did point out that city people value privacy and that there is not much interaction between groups. He said he spoke with a woman from Flushing who said her parents only associated with a particular landowning class of people of the same national origin.

Dr. Hanson is optimistic that as the students grow up in local schools and become familiar with Flushing’s rich history of fighting for religious freedom, a joint sense of community could develop.

In 1657, the people of Flushing drafted a document called the Flushing Remonstrance calling for religious freedom. The home of a Quaker man who appealed to have the remonstrance upheld in 1663 after being banished from Flushing for his religion is now a historical site. Bowne House is called a "national shrine to religious freedom" by some.

"In a world where Islam is unfairly equated with terrorism a renewal of respect for these principles is important," Dr. Hanson said.

He said change is coming and that other parts of the nation will start to deal with similar issues.
"The good news is, it’s going to be okay," said Dr. Hanson.