On a weekend trip outside of Asheville with friends, I discovered a nearby sign: Sri Somesvara ahead. There, in a lovely but remote part of the Blue Ridge mountains, was a Vedic temple. Since I have been reading and preparing to teach Religion and Modern American Culture, I had to investigate. This is precisely the sort of hidden religious diversity that Diana Eck is describing in her A New Religious America.

Sri Somesvara is a Historical Vedic (or Vedic Hinduism) Shiva temple, meaning the religious practices that pre-date Hinduism, which is itself the world's oldest world religion. The temple's founder and leader is Maharsi Maheshananda, an Anglo-American who studied in India and returned to build this Vedic temple as a place of worship, renewal, and retreat.

We briefly explored the temple (shoes off, please). There was an altar with a lingam, a representation of Shiva's presence, along with an altar to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god who destroys obstacles (hopefully with his powerful head, which is a wonderful image) and initiates new beginnings. There were many things within the temple we didn't understand, and the children didn't permit us time to explore them. Our conversation with someone there (who was also an Anglo-American convert) explained to us that much of the Vedic temple and its principles are understood scientifically; this is an ancient technology that provides harmony and wholeness, and restores the pure knowledge of life and God.

In the mountains of North Carolina, Vedism has built a temple and offers its own good news, drawing both immigrants and converts to it. This has happened before in America, as with Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism (and so on), and it will happen again. Since the settlement of the Europeans, America has always been a land of religious diversity and competition – Anglicans, Puritans, Baptists, Catholics, and Shakers have been here from early on. Their worship, theology, and practices are vastly different from a Protestant's, but these Vedic worshippers do study, worship and pray, and Christians do very similar things. In the end, we can find more resonance with them than with the nones.

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AuthorKevin Taylor