Introduction

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A Catholic Church at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, 1943. Courtesy of the University of Southern California Libraries.

The internment camps were laid out like small towns that included typical worship spaces such as churches. Much of the photographic documentation of Japanese internment camps focuses on Christian facilities for religious practice. Multiple Christian denominations were prominent in the interned communities, as well as more traditional Buddhist practices like Shintoism. Since camp administrators could not enforce the religious needs of internees, both religions flourished in the camps.

Camp religious centers and organizations were multifunctional. Buildings differed in size and quality, and often served multiple purposes. Regardless of the space’s condition, camp religious centers provided community, education, and even amenities. Christian-run organizations often took responsibility for providing equipment, serving social needs, and organizing camp-wide activities and festivities. Camp religious spaces served not only as important physical places, they also played a vital psychological role as safe spaces for internees.