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Asian Americans and Religion: Pew Study Highlights Hindu, Buddhist Diversity

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While temples representing many strains of Hinduism have sprung up across the U.S. since 1965, the Pew report offers the first data on where American Hindus locate themselves on the broad and diverse field of Hindu belief. More than half (53 percent) identify as simply "Hindu," but of the other half, about twice as many (19 percent) identify with the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism as with Shaivite Hinduism (10 percent). Smaller percentages identify with the Hare Krishna tradition (3 percent) or with Vedanta philosophy (2 percent).

The Pew report also indicates how Hinduism is lived in the U.S. -- how it plays out in the daily lives of individuals. This chance to go beyond encyclopedia definitions and scriptural analysis is priceless to a social scientist like me. The Pew report tells us that nearly half (48 percent) of Hindus engage in daily prayer, and another third (32 percent) pray weekly or monthly. More than three quarters (78 percent) keep a puja (altar or shrine) in their home. A similar number (73 percent) believe in yoga as a spiritual practice, and more than four in 10 meditate daily (44 percent) or fast during holy times (41 percent).

For example, consider the large majority of Hindus who have an in-home puja, where devotional activities can be carried out without being "affiliated" with a mandir (Hindu temple) or attending group worship. Researchers who measure religious engagement in Christian normative terms will inevitably under-estimate the religiosity of Hindus: Hinduism doesn't have a weekly Sabbath like the Abrahamic faiths, and Hindus are as likely to worship at home or visit a temple to do darshan (the act of seeing and being seen by God), which they may not identify as attending a "service."

Pew found 73 percent of Hindus and 76 percent of Buddhists surveyed "celebrate Christmas." As Pew notes, "holiday celebrations can ... entail religious, secular or a mix of both practices." But even assuming that for most Hindu Americans, "celebrating Christmas" is more about trees and gifts than the Baby Jesus, this is a striking figure. The framers of the Constitution could not have imagined America's religious diversity today, but they would surely rejoice to see different religious groups celebrating with one another.

Khyati Y. Joshi: Asian Americans and Religion: Pew Study Highlights Hindu, Buddhist Diversity
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