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Asian Americans and religion: Report highlights religious diversity, contrasts

A Korean Christian church in Oklahoma, October 2007
A Korean Christian church in Oklahoma, October 2007
Photo by HL.I.T./Flickr (Creative Commons)

A month after a Pew Research Center report on Asians becoming the nation's fastest-growing immigrant group faced criticism for downplaying Asian Americans' diversity, Pew has come back with a new report that focuses on the diversity of their religious beliefs.

While it doesn't address the socioeconomic and educational diversity and disparities that critics pointed out in the last month, the report from the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life does adjust some misperceptions, while revealing several facts that aren't particularly well known beyond Asian American diasporas.

Here's one: Asian Americans are neither predominantly Buddhist nor Hindu. In the United States, there are more Asian Americans who are Christian (42 percent) than any other religion.

Many of these are Christians are Filipinos, who are traditionally Catholic, and Koreans, many of whom are Protestant. The percentage of Buddhists (14 percent), Hindus (10 percent) and Muslims (4 percent) is small by comparison. Still, as migration from Asia has increased, so has the the nation's share of Buddhists and Hindus. Buddhists now account for one in seven Americans, according to the report, and counted together, the share of Americans who practice Buddhism and Hinduism is about the same as that of those practicing Judaism (about 2 percent).

At the same time, in contrast, a large share (26 percent) of Asian Americans consider themselves "unaffiliated," i.e. not practicing any particular religion. And this group surpasses the unaffiliated share of the general American public, which stands at 19 percent. More than half of Chinese Americans, for example, consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion.

A few more highlights from the report, these particular to Buddhists and Hindus and how they have adapted to predominantly Christian U.S. religious traditions:

  • 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%).

The full report can be downloaded here.