Jul 30, 2012

Asian Americans Are Hard to Pin Down Religiously

By Jessica Nguyen
The Pew Research Center this month revealed yet another interesting study, this time about the religious beliefs and practices of Asian Americans. It was an important read for me personally, of course, since I'm Asian American, but I also recommend it for those of other backgrounds. This group has grown tremendously in the last few decades, especially in the Greater Houston area.

The Pew study highlights several interesting facts from an interfaith perspective. Firstly, the growth of Asian Americans have contributed significantly to the rise of non-Abrahamic faiths in the country, mostly due to the large numbers of Hindus and Buddhists that make up this group. That's not to say that the Abrahamic faiths are not represented among Asians - in fact to the contrary Christians make up the largest subgroup (42%). The entire breakdown gives another interesting statistic that I personally was unaware of: the second largest subgroup (26%) is unaffiliated with any religion. According the the study, Buddhists are third, accounting for about one-in-seven Asian Americans (14%), followed by Hindus (10%), Muslims (4%) and Sikhs (1%). Followers of other religions make up 2% of U.S. Asians.
Another noteworthy fact revealed by the study is that Asian Americans as a whole are less likely than Americans overall to believe in God and to pray on a daily basis. Hmm, does this include people like my grandmother who worries about ghosts, or my Hindu neighbor who celebrates Diwali? To me, those are religious affiliations, but many would not agree.
The third interesting item from the study (and perhaps the most relevant from an interfaith perspective) was that Asian Americans are often influenced by other American religious traditions. For example:
  • Roughly three-quarters of both Asian-American Buddhists (76%) and Asian-American Hindus (73%) celebrate Christmas.
  • Three-in-ten (30%) of the Hindus and 21% of the Buddhists surveyed say they sometimes attend services of different religions (not counting special events such as weddings and funerals).
  • About half (54%) of Asian Americans who were raised Buddhist remain Buddhist today, with substantial numbers having converted to Christianity (17%) or having become unaffiliated with any particular faith (27%).
Reading the above information made me pause for a moment. I didn't realize that we Asians would be so hard to pin down as a group. After all, immigrants from conservative Muslim countries like Pakistan and Indonesia are Asians too. So are Christians from Korea and Philippines. But when you mix us all together we truly do create a mosaic of faiths and traditions as the Pew Center reports. All those interested in reading more can obtain the full study findings here.
Jessica Nguyen is a former student of the Fort Bend Independent School District who plans to purse a career in interfaith studies. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.

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