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VCU Project Uncovers City of 1,000 Religions

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Man's unending search for God is as old as history.

And sociologist David Bromley's search for the seemingly unending ways in which Richmonders conduct their godly searches is as old as the Web site he created in 2005 to document the city's varied religious traditions.

The World Religions in Richmond project, created as part of Bromley's teaching in Virginia Commonwealth University's School of World Studies, so far has cataloged more than 1,000 religious organizations — be they congregations or religious businesses or associations — in the city. Bromley is a professor in the department, and a recognized authority on world religions.

“Most of the city is Christian,” Bromley says. “Still at the same time, every major world tradition is represented here.” There are a lot of minor ones cataloged here too.

There are even some so minor that they're downright local. For example, there's Reiki with the Angels, a faith healing religion with roots in the Japanese Reiki tradition — but with angels tossed in for good measure.

“It's one of the few groups that we can say started right here in Richmond,” Bromley says. According to his students' research, Reiki with the Angels practitioners are now as far flung as New York and Germany.

“It's meant to point out just how pervasive religious groups are in our city,” Bromley says of the Web site. “We're pointing out to Richmonders that they live in a very diverse community and they don't even know it.”

Bromley's students have also uncovered a broad spectrum of Catholic traditions in the Richmond area — everything from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, home base of the Roman Catholic Church's Richmond diocese, to the Gentle Shepherd Church of Antioch, one of “the oldest Catholic traditions,” according to Bromley.

Then there's the proliferation of religious-based businesses, which range from coffee houses to car-repair shops. Some of these businesses are obscure, representing “emerging” religious traditions, like the Stone Goddess Rock Shop on state Route 10.

The Web site also documents the Virginia General Assembly's religious makeup. Not surprisingly, most members are Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists or Baptists. One is a Christian Scientist, but that's about as exotic as it gets. So why catalog it?

“This is sort of a commentary on the contemporary world in which we live,” he says.

The World Religions in Richmond project can be found online at www.has.vcu.edu/soc/rdr/project.html.

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