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Whether it's at the new Hindu temple located southwest of town, or at the Whole Life Expo where New Age gurus offer attendees their prescriptions for serenity and happiness, Austin overflows with religious vibrations. The city has -- according to listings in the Yellow Pages -- more than 600 churches and other places of worship. Congregations range from the Iranian Christian Church of the Central United States to the Congregation Agudas Achim. Indeed, Austin may have the most religiously diverse population in Texas. Whether it's the super-conservative Christian rantings of Wyatt Roberts or the anti-religion stance of the American Atheist General Headquarters, Austin has it all.

And over the past few years, churches in the city are seeing a surge in attendance. The increased interest here in River City appears to be occurring throughout the country, as baby boomers return to church. Books and articles on prayer, angels, and spiritualism are appearing everywhere, and when the subject was discussed at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in Salt Lake City last June, we thought we'd take a look at religion locally.

As we started talking about the issue of faith, we began discussing religion among the Chronicle staff. We found that many of our staffers have switched religions during their lifetimes. Our editor is Jewish. The publisher and I are Catholics. Our politics editor attends an Episcopal church. We also have Methodists, Messianic Jews, pagans, and atheists on the staff.

This issue isn't meant to be the end of our coverage. Instead, we hope it's the beginning of an ongoing probe of religion and spiritual issues here in Austin. The timing, by the way, owes more to coincidence than to the Christmas season. We've been planning this issue for several months and for some reason it just kept getting pushed back. Now, we've found the time and the space for what we think is a fairly wide-ranging look at religion in our city. We pray you enjoy it.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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