House of Worship

Big Horn National Forest, Wyoming

Big Horn Medicine Wheel

Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark Bighorn National Forest, Lovell, Wyoming. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark Bighorn National Forest, Lovell, Wyoming. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Constructed in pre-Columbian times, this native stone structure consists of twenty-eight spokes radiating from a central cairn. The circular shape is meant to represent the sun, and the twenty-eight spokes correspond to the length of a lunar month. Around the perimeter of the wheel are several additional cairns, which archaeologists and astronomers believe were placed in order to indicate the location of certain key astronomical events, the timing of which were important for various religious observations.

Today, the Medicine Wheel is still considered a sacred site by various native groups who visit it for vision quests, healing ceremonies, and as part of religious observations connected with solar and stellar activity.

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Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Mother Mosque of America

Mother Mosque of America, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photo by David and Ellen Tucker.

Mother Mosque of America, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photo by David and Ellen Tucker.

Muslims first arrived in what is now the United States in the early years of exploration and settlement. Often they came as African slaves or servants, but they also arrived as sailors, merchants, explorers and settlers. A Muslim appears to have been a colonist in New Amsterdam as early as 1630. Muslim numbers were small, however, until late in the nineteenth century, and not large even then, as immigrants from the Ottoman Empire and India arrived. Even these immigrants did not result in communities that could afford to build and maintain mosques. Islamic organizations did develop, however, often in connection with the purchase and maintenance of cemeteries where Muslims could be buried according to Islamic law and custom.

In the nineteenth century, many Muslim immigrants arriving from what is now Syria and Lebanon worked as peddlers in rural America, especially in the mid-west. Some of these immigrants learned about the opportunities available in the United States through attendance at Christian schools in the Middle East. (American Christians built these schools as part of their largely unsuccessful efforts to convert Muslims.) If these Muslims gathered for prayers, they did so in a home.

The first mosque in America was built in 1929 in Ross, North Dakota.[1] It is no longer standing.  The longest surviving mosque is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Now referred to as the Mother Mosque of America, it was finished in 1934.  The Mosque came about after the wives and children of the first male immigrants arrived, causing the community to grow to a size sufficient to support a mosque. The women in fact organized first into a social club, and then used this club to encourage the men to engage in the fundraising necessary to build the mosque.

The mosque was used until 1971, when the community had grown enough to warrant the construction of larger mosque, The Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids (  The first mosque was sold, fell into disrepair, and then was re-purchased by the Islamic Center in 1991. Today the Mother Mosque is used as a meeting place and cultural center.

The Mother Mosque is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the “Moslem Temple,” the name by which it was known locally when first constructed.

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Wilmette, Illinois

The Baha’i Temple

Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

The Baha’i faith arose in Iran and from Iran’s Shia Islamic traditions in the 1840s. It teaches the unity of God, religion, and humanity. Adherents of the faith believe that key figures in other religious traditions – Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, and Mohammed – are also prophets sent by God at various points in history to establish religions suitable to their time and place. This religious history, a gradual and still ongoing revelation, will lead finally to the establishment of universal peace and justice. The Baha’i faith recognizes its founder, Mírzá Husayn `Alí (1817–1892), and Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad (1819–1850), who prophesized the coming of Mírzá Husayn `Alí, as the two most recent of God’s messengers. Because the faith arose out of Islam but does not consider Mohammed as the final messenger of God, Muslims consider members of the Baha’i faith heretics. For this reason, Baha’is have suffered persecution by Muslims, most recently and notably in Iran.

Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Estimates of the number of adherents to the faith world-wide vary between five and seven million. Estimates also vary of the number of adherents in the United States. One recent estimate by the official Baha’i organization in the United States put the number of Baha’is in America at about 150,000.

Converts to the Baha’i faith began to appear in the United States in the 1890s, during a period when interest in religions outside of the Christian and Jewish traditions was growing in the United States. The World’s Parliament of Religions convened in Chicago in September 1893 (during the Columbian Exposition, a world trade fair timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of European discovery of the Americas). A speech at the parliament by a Christian missionary to Syria mentioned Mírzá Husayn (then living under house arrest in Acre, in Ottoman Palestine, now Israel). The speaker complimented as “Christ-like” Husayn `Alí’s call “that all nations should become one in faith and all men . . . brothers.” These remarks in 1893 are thought to be the first recognition of the Baha’i faith in the United States.[1]

The Baha’i faith has no clergy. Elected councils at local, national and international levels run the affairs of the faith, which include organizing study groups, lectures, and devotional gatherings as well as building temples and other meeting places. Anyone may become a member of the faith by accepting the teachings of Mírzá Husayn `Alí, known to the Baha’i as Baha’u’llah, or “the Glory of God.”

Detail, Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Detail, Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Plan of Baha'i temple Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David and Ellen Tucker.

Plan of Baha’i temple Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David and Ellen Tucker.

In keeping with its global mission, the Baha’is have built eight temples around the world.  Each of the temples is different, but all are nine-sided domed structures surrounded by gardens. This design represents the Baha’i belief in the ultimate unity of religions and humanity under one God. (In the Baha’i faith, as in Hinduism, the number nine – for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is the highest single digit – symbolizes completion and perfection.) All of the temples are built with donations only from adherents to the faith.

Detail, Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Detail, Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

One of the eight temples is in Wilmette, Illinois, just north of Chicago. It was designed by noted architect Louis Bourgeois, himself a member of the Baha’i Faith. The cornerstone was set in 1912; construction began in 1921; the temple was finished and dedicated in 1953. On each of the nine sides of the temple, an arched doorway offers entrance into one large, light-suffused worship space. This design suggests the multiplicity of entryways, via separate religious traditions, that lead to one unified faith. While the intricate filigree patterns cut into the walls and dome of the structure reflect the origins of the faith in the Islamic middle east, close examination reveals a range of symbols – including circles, triangles, serpent shapes, suns, flames, stars ranging from five to nine points, and crosses – from a range of ethnic cultures and religious traditions, all woven into a unified design.  

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[1] The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893, ed. Richard Hughes Seager (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1993) 37, 42.

Kirtland, Ohio

The First Mormon Temple, 1836

The Kirtland Temple, Kiirtland, OH. Photograph by Kate Pitrone.

The Kirtland Temple, Kirtland, OH. Photograph by Kate Pitrone.

Joseph Smith (1805-1844) published the Book of Mormon in 1830, while he was living in Palmyra, New York. As converts began to increase, Smith sent a small group of people to Missouri to prepare a place for the Mormons (as they were commonly known) to gather because Smith believed that there he and his followers would found the New Jerusalem. On their way west, the group met and converted Sidney Rigdon (1793-1876), who himself had started a small community near Kirtland in northeastern Ohio, not far from Lake Erie, whose purpose was to return to a more original form of Christianity. Most of Rigdon’s community converted to Mormonism as well.  In 1831, after Smith had met Rigdon, he decided to relocate his church to the Ohio town.

Kirtland became the first Mormon outpost. Within the space of a few years, the population of the town exploded as new converts arrived to help build the community, to study the book of Mormon, and to hear Smith’s preaching. Throughout this period, Smith continued to receive what he claimed were divinely inspired revelations regarding both the doctrine and polity of the church. Among the most controversial of Smith’s teachings was that human beings were co-eternal with God, and would indeed, one day become gods themselves. It was in Kirtland also that Smith received the revelation of the Word of Wisdom, which enjoins Mormons from drinking alcohol, or hot drinks (understood to be tea and coffee), and using tobacco. Abstaining from these practices, Smith taught his followers, would help to purify and strengthen their physical bodies so that they would be better able to sustain the rigors of life on the mission field.

In early 1833, Smith reported that he had been told the time had come for the church to erect “an house of prayer, an house of fasting, an house of faith, an house of learning, an house of glory, an house of order, an house of God.”[1] Work commenced immediately. During this period, church members followed what Smith called the Law of Consecration, in which they turned their property over to the Church. They also donated their labor to help build and furnish the temple, working in teams to quarry, transport, and set the stone blocks used in its construction, as well as to weave the rugs and curtains, construct the pews and altars, and other materials required for the religious services eventually to be held there.

At the dedication of the temple in 1836, and for some time after, the community experienced a time of renewed religious enthusiasm. Both male and female Mormons reported speaking in tongues, having ecstatic and prophetic visions, and participating in the laying on of hands for spiritual and physical healing. Yet all was not well: the Kirtland community was undone by the economic panic of 1837, in part because it had operated its own bank, which (typical of banks in the United States at the time) issued notes but was unregulated. Bankruptcies and conflicts with non-Mormon neighbors, who saw Mormonism as a heretical form of Christianity, combined with what has been described as the the Kirtland Apostasy, when several converts left the church as a result of Smith’s more controversial teachings, forced Smith to leave. He took those who would follow to Missouri. Those who stayed behind organized themselves into a separate Mormon church, now known as the Community of Christ.  

In 1838, shortly before fleeing Kirtland for Missouri, Smith officially changed the name of the religious movement from the “Church of Christ” to the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” signifying his increased emphasis on new revelations rather than on primitive Christianity.

[1]Revelation, 27–28 December 1832 [D&C 88:1–126],” 45–46,; punctuation and capitalization modernized; see also Doctrine and Covenants 88:119. is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

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