New report examines beliefs of Asian-Americans

The most comprehensive study of religion and Asian-Americans to date finds them less religious than most Americans, but also far … Continued

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.

Thirty-nine percent of the respondents say that religion is very important in their lives, compared to 58 percent of Americans in general.

And 30 percent of Asians-Americans say religion is not too important or not at all important to them, compared to 16 percent of all Americans.

When it comes to daily prayer, Asian-Americans report doing it less — 40 percent compared to 56 percent of the general public. As for belief in God, 79 percent of Asian-Americans say they do, compared to 92 percent of Americans.

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.

“Asian-American Buddhists practice their religion in very different ways — it’s not always how frequently one prays,” said Suh, who was an adviser on the study.

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.

“Buddhists often view their religion in non-theistic terms — simply put, many see Buddhism as a path toward spiritual awakening or enlightenment rather than as a path to God,” according to the report.

So it’s not surprising, the researchers conclude, that the proportion of Asian-American Buddhists who profess belief in God or a universal spirit is lower (71 percent) than among the U.S. public overall (92 percent).

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.

The survey was conducted in the first three months of the year, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

  • WmarkW

    “The most comprehensive study of religion and Asian-Americans to date finds them less religious than most Americans, but also far more religiously diverse.”

    Well of course they’re diverse. They represent half the world’s population.

    If you define an Afghani, an Indian, a Chinese and a Filipino into the same group, you get diversity.

  • WmarkW

    “The most comprehensive study of religion and Asian-Americans to date finds them less religious than most Americans, but also far more religiously diverse.”

    Well of course they’re diverse. They represent half the world’s population.

    If you define an Afghani, an Indian, a Chinese and a Filipino into the same group, you get diversity.

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