Religion News Service
UNITED STATES, July 2012 (RNS): The most comprehensive study of religion and Asian-Americans to date finds them less religious than most Americans, but also far more religiously diverse. Within that diversity, however, researchers discovered a wealth of spirituality "Asian-Americans are really a study in contrasts, with religious groups that are running the gamut from highly religious to highly secular," said Cary Funk, lead researcher on "Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths," released Thursday (June 19) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Though a plurality of Asian-Americans are Christian, "it's a striking difference" compared to the U.S. population in general, Funk said. The 3,551 Asian-Americans surveyed were 42 percent Christian, compared to 75 percent of all Americans. The next largest group of Asian-Americans identified as unaffiliated (26 percent), followed by Buddhists (14 percent), Hindus (10 percent) and Muslims (4 percent). And though Asian-Americans make up less than 6 percent of the population, their numbers are growing, "contributing to the increase in Buddhists, Hindus and other non-Abrahamic faiths in the U.S.," Funk said.
As for their religiosity, measured by standard questions asked by religion researchers, religion seems less central in the lives of Asian-Americans than Americans in general. But researchers also cautioned that such measures of religiosity often fail to reveal much about the religious life of Asian-Americans, in that such a line of questioning assumes a Judeo-Christian approach to spirituality. "This is one of those classic apples to oranges questions: How do you ask about God in a tradition that has no Creator-God?" said Sharon Suh, a Buddhism scholar and chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University.
So researchers also asked questions that often aren't part of religious surveys -- questions that delve deeper into the practices of non-Christians, said Luis E. Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. For example, though only 27 percent of Asian-American Buddhists reported that religion is very important in their lives, 67 percent of Asian-American Buddhists say they believe in ancestral spirits, and 64 percent say they believe in reincarnation. And though just 12 percent of Asian-American Buddhists say they attend services weekly, 57 percent say they have a shrine in their home.
Among Asian-American Hindus, the report similarly concludes that belief in multiple gods and other differences from Western religion belie direct comparisons to the religious life of American Christians. Nearly three-quarters of Asian-American Hindus (73 percent), for example, see yoga as a spiritual practice as well as physical exercise, and 78 percent have a shrine in their homes.