Date of Award

6-2015

Degree Name

MA in History

Department

History

Advisor

Dr. Matthew Hopper

Abstract

This project focuses on two case studies as representative examples of Los Angeles’ progressive tolerance in the period of the 1920s: The Pentecostal mega-church of Aimee Semple-McPherson, and the Vedanta Ashram of Swami Paramananda. Both religious institutions opened in Los Angeles in 1923, just thirteen miles away from each other, and continued to thrive side-by-side throughout the twentieth century until present day. Each religious figure spoke to a part of the growing Los Angeles population: McPherson’s staunchly Christian, emotionally-driven, Hollywood-style ministry appealed to a large number of Los Angeles natives and newly-arrived immigrants, rocketing the emerging Pentecostal denomination into nationwide fame. Swami Paramananda’s message, conversely, offered a universalistic tolerance, appealing to those struggling to grasp America’s continued attachment to a strictly Christian message in a rapidly expanding world. Both institutions offer insight into the ability of remarkably varied religions to co-exist peacefully within a shared space.

Beyond the exploration of these two figures and their religious groups, this project also approaches the broader topics of religious pluralism in 1920s Los Angeles, the impact of immigration and urbanization on the religious diversity of Southern California, and the shifting religious climate of post-WWI America generally. This paper engages urban sociological theory and postcolonial thought to analyze the effects of rapid population growth and the rural-urban shift on religious environments in 1920s Los Angeles. This analysis has implications for the present, as American cities continue to struggle with managing diversity of religious beliefs and expressions.

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