What do Hindu Americans think?

In the comments on this weblog there are lots of debates about what person of religion X thinks. This has particularly been vexing to me when someone asserts “Christians believe Y,” based on interactions with a particular type of Christian. Though CUNY”s American Religious Identification Survey and the General Social Survey are excellent resources, probably the best clearing house on American religious data is Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey. Unfortunately Pew’s specific data is hard to link to, so I’ve had to repeat the same information over and over and given instructions on how to find the specific data through a series of clicks.

To get around this I decided to replicate some of the data points of possible interest to readers of this weblog. I extracted Hindus, Buddhists, Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, and Roman Catholics. The majority of South Asian Americans are of Hindu background, and even more of Indian Americans. Buddhists are diverse, but since they are of the same broad religious family (Dharmic) as Hindus I thought they’d be a good check. The Evangelical Protestants here are traditional white denominations, not the historically Black Protestant denominations. Mainline Protestants refers to the major establishment Protestant denominations, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans (note that a minority of Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans, are evangelical, but the majority are not. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is not evangelical, but the Presbyterian Church in America is). Do remember that Hindus in particular are still predominantly an immigrant community in the United States (this makes sense of their peculiar age distribution).Except for the first chart the data are shown as bar plots where each class adds up to no more than 100% (sometimes I omitted “does not know” responses, so they may be less than 100%). This means that when you see the “Hindu” cluster of bars they add up to no more than 100% or 1.0. So 88% of Hindus are Asian American, with the other 12% being divided amongst the other races and ethnicities. The sample size is not too large, but I am modestly confident that it is representative, because both the educational and income data align rather well with what we know from the American census in relation to Indian Americans (the census itself does not collect religious data at this time)

I’ve placed the excel file used to generate the plots online here.

rel1.jpgrel2.jpgrel3.jpgrel4.jpgrel5.jpgrel6.jpgrel7.jpgrel8.jpgrel9.jpgrel10.jpgreldem2.jpgrel12.jpgrel13.jpgrel14.jpgrel15.jpg

38 thoughts on “What do Hindu Americans think?

  1. A lot more Hindus seem to hold conservative views (on abortion, homosexuality) than label themselves “conservative.”

  2. A lot more Hindus seem to hold conservative views (on abortion, homosexuality) than label themselves “conservative.”

    they’re an immigrant community. so what’s “conservative” in one places isn’t conservative elsewhere. my personal experience with those born or raised in the USA is that hindu americans are socially liberal in a conventional manner. i suspect the kids of the first generation of indian american professional immigrants have assimilated mostly to local norms.

  3. and also, obviously a broad ideological or party affiliation has identity politics valences in the USA. jews, blacks, and it seems non-christian south asians, tend to be overwhelmingly democratic, and lean left in terms of their broad orientation. immigrant south asians, like blacks, seem to have somewhat more conservatives views on individual issues though.

  4. quick note – subject verb agreement in the post title

    i suspect that the even division on ‘socially conservative’ issues is because of the age distributions and immigrant nature of the population. i am inclined to believe that older and more recently immigrated populations are more conservative, whereas younger and 2nd-gen hindus are more socially liberal/libertarian. is the data organized such that this could be tested?

  5. is the data organized such that this could be tested?

    i don’t see th crosstabs for that. but i’m 95% sure you’re right.

  6. p.s., the sample sizes for 2nd gen would be too small anyway if it was proportionate. indian americans are still overwhelmingly a DBD/raised community, especially with the last wave of immigration over the past 15 years.

  7. ‘My religion is one true faith’ and ‘many religions can lead to eternal life’ is a very Christian way of framing the spiritual quest, which I think would be a confusing question for many with the Dharmic worldview. So I would be surprised to see even a small blue bar saying ‘my religion is one (and only?) true faith’. Also the question of ‘god’ (exists, does not exist, one, many, neither and so forth) is much more complex than the framing of that question in this survey from again a Christian perspective.

  8. unless the responses are controlled for education and income, the comparisons will be very misleading. as you noted, hindus being recent immigrants are not only predominantly younger but are much more educated and wealthier so should be compared to an appropriate cohort from other religions to make valid comparisons

  9. cohort from other religions to make valid comparisons

    this depends on the comparison you’re making. i’m not engaged in or encouraging deep statistical inference. rather, i want some descriptive statistics more well known. i’m not too interested in this post in answering questions of the form: “does hinduism make people more liberal/conservative?” i am interested making more widely known the answers to questions of the form “are hindus more liberal/conservative?”

    if you want to run regressions you can do so rather easily in the GSS interface i linked to above, though the sample sizes for hindus are not robust last i checked. and if you know of regression’s utility, you are also aware of how much more problematic statistical inference is than simple description. which is why i shy away from the former in a blog post.

  10. agreed. just that to the naked eye these bar graphs could be misleading but interesting nonetheless

  11. just that to the naked eye these bar graphs could be misleading but interesting nonetheless

    i don’t have large samples which allow me to me to control for confounds. therefore i make a judgement: report these results, or simply continue in the status quo where people make unfounded assertions based on anecdata. numbers do give inordinate heft to inferences in many cases, but i judge that the returns on data are warranted in this case.

  12. p.s. the same sizes in the GSS for the christian groups are large, so you can make inference. for example, last i checked once you control for educational background evangelical protestants are more theologically conservative than you’d expect. that is probably due to people identifying as evangelical for cultural and family reasons who are more well educated, etc.

  13. Hindus come off as a little more liberal than the hindus I know. My guess this is because all indian americans with a hindu family background consider them selves hindus regardless of them being atheists or not (I know I do), while a secular white american wouldn’t call himself evangelical only because his grand parents where. I would say this holds especially true among those with evangelical backgrounds, those who are secular wouldn’t say they are evangelical. Also mixed marriages among different christian faiths are more common, they would definitely say they where evangelical unless they where active. While hindu families have not yet been in america long enough to be sufficiently mixed up in the population.

    Thus evangelicals are active evangelicals, while the other groups especially hindus consists active, passive and even those who denounce faith as I do. Active hindus would certainly come off as more negative to abortion and homosexuality than what this consensus shows.

    As immigrant communities, I do have the feeling that hindus and buddists are more often secular compared to other immigrant groups. This may very well be attributed to the nature of hinduism and buddism, compared to the semitic religions.

  14. checked out the pew link to see if I could come up with similar data for muslims, (which i suspect wouldn’t be very different than the hindus) but instead got distracted by some other responses – that 0% of mormons never pray!& only 13% of Hindus’ prayers are answered yet 62% continue to pray daily vs only 45% of buddhists pray daily but 18% of them get answered!theres a lot of fun stuff in there – thanks for the link

  15. I’m surprised that 12% of Hindus believe in their holy books literally. Not to single out the fantastical nature of the Hindu bibliography, but I can’t grasp any of the supernatural stories from the Old Testament, Koran, and especially, the Hindu books.

    Also, there should have been a caveat in the abortion question to state: “Abortions are OK some of the time (i.e. if the fetus has been determined to be a female)”.

    All in all, I’m amazed that even more than 50% of evangelicals believe the central Dharmic view that all paths can lead to salvation. However, perhaps their definition of “other faiths” is only inclusive of other Christian faiths and that religions like Ismaili is not a faith. This is what I would think, but if this is not the case, then I’m honestly uplifted.

    Finally, Newsweek did a report not too long ago stating “We’re All Hindus Now” (or was it the Huff Po)?

    Here in Boston, I’m surprised that everybody that I’ve discussed religion with is quite eastern and inclusive in their outlook. In stark contrast, however, the American heartland and deep south is backwards. They’re basically light-shaded Americanized Ayatollahs who hate more than they love.

  16. My guess this is because all indian americans with a hindu family background consider them selves hindus regardless of them being atheists or not (I know I do), while a secular white american wouldn’t call himself evangelical only because his grand parents where

    in The Impossibility of Religious Freedom the author lays out the particular “confessing” view of religious affiliation which is normative in the united states, and its roots in radical protestantism (you can find this elsewhere, see the cousin’s wars in particular). the key to remember is that unlike europe the american republic disavowed a specific religious denomination as associated with the federal polity. this was partly due to the diversity (what do you pick?), and, the large number of radical protestants who rejected as a matter of principle association with temporal powers for historical reasons (baptists for example had been persecuted in europe and across early america by government). this competitive “market oriented” religious culture led to an individualism of choice, as opposed to a more collective/communal corporate view of religious identity (you can think of the middle east or south asia as being dominated by “religious guilds,” which restrict the choices of their “members”). this clashed with what the roman catholic church wanted to do in america in the 19th century with the rise of the irish. the church wanted to recreate the sort of relationship it had in other protestant majority regions in europe where it served as the intermediary between its flock and the state and majority society. america society would be divided into units, with a catholic subunit subordinate to, but independent of, the protestant larger culture. the model in the netherlands (‘pillarization’), another traditionally protestant dominated society, is a classic instance of this. to a great extent the catholic church failed. for a few generations they maintained separation through their own schools, universities, and civil society institutions (e.g., knights of columbus and such), but eventually they were de facto absorbed by the mainstream because individual catholics simply came to reorient their own religiosity into a confessional model, where the church was something you chose, not something you were born into (to the chagrin of very conservative catholics american catholics now tend to speak about their religion in a very “protestant” way, describe their relationship to jesus and god without a nod to the critical role the church plays as christ’s representative on earth).

    jews, muslims, hindus, etc., have reoriented into this confessional model as well. jews and hindus less than others though, probably because the model is less of a natural fit, but the weight of numbers is such that they can’t continue to assert corporate identity in the wake of defection. the development of individuals in a radical protestant milieu, which the whole USA is whether evangelical, mainline, or catholic, can’t help but influence even. even american atheists tend to take a radical protestant view of religion as normative (they have a hard time grokking ‘ethnic religious’ or orthopraxy without orthodoxy).

    As immigrant communities, I do have the feeling that hindus and buddists are more often secular compared to other immigrant groups

    look at the race breakdowns. american buddhists are divided between white converts and asians, the latter an immigrant community. i’ve looked at the asian religious data. southeast asian buddhists are pretty religious, excepting vietnamese ones. east asian buddhists not so much, but east asia is generally secular overall. the emergence of a buddhist identity is in some ways a process of confessionalization imposed upon east asians by the american milieu (e.g., ‘buddhist church of america’).

    checked out the pew link to see if I could come up with similar data for muslims,

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/483/muslim-americans

    i left muslims out cuz they are very diverse. tend to be more religious and socially conservative than hindus though, though not as much as evangelicals.

    I’m surprised that 12% of Hindus believe in their holy books literally.

    1) lots of people don’t understand these questions

    2) lots of people are stupid and might as well not understand these questions

    3) american hindus grow up in a christian environment, and may have reformulated their own religious ideas into a more ‘christianized’ frame. finally, a small minority of hindus may be vedic fundamentalists. they could be arya samaj types or something (there are further break downs in the survey, but they didn’t report cuz the sample size was so small anyway).

    All in all, I’m amazed that even more than 50% of evangelicals believe the central Dharmic view that all paths can lead to salvation. However, perhaps their definition of “other faiths” is only inclusive of other Christian faiths and that religions like Ismaili is not a faith. This is what I would think, but if this is not the case, then I’m honestly uplifted.

    it’s a robust finding. be uplifted. there has been a lot of discussion about ‘universalism’ in the evangelical community lately, starting with the question whether gandhi is in hell.

    Here in Boston, I’m surprised that everybody that I’ve discussed religion with is quite eastern and inclusive in their outlook. In stark contrast, however, the American heartland and deep south is backwards. They’re basically light-shaded Americanized Ayatollahs who hate more than they love.

    now that’s just unchristian! :=)

  17. sriram – “checked out the pew link to see if I could come up with similar data for muslims, (which i suspect wouldn’t be very different than the hindus)……”

    are you serious? even without looking at the pew data, i wager that muslim responses will be very different than the hindus, even when controlled for education and income. :)

  18. I am an example of a Hindu who veers from agnosticism to atheism. But I call myself a Hindu like my agnostic jewish friends call themselves Jewish. Just more of a tribal/cultural thing, I guess.

  19. I’d be interested to see the charts on jewish and muslim as well…. Also, I wonder if the conservative/liberal question is ambiguous… My take is that a lot us are socially conservative in a personal sense, socially liberal in a communal sense, and (probably) fiscally conservative. For example, I’d say that I’m more socially conservative in my own actions, but more accepting of others choices. I’d probably have identified myself as moderate->liberal.

  20. “In stark contrast, however, the American heartland and deep south is backwards. They’re basically light-shaded Americanized Ayatollahs who hate more than they love.”

    The evangelical South is the Republican heartland.

    Note how both Hindus and Buddhists tend Democrat. Like the Jews….

  21. My take is that a lot us are socially conservative in a personal sense, socially liberal in a communal sense, and (probably) fiscally conservative. For example, I’d say that I’m more socially conservative in my own actions, but more accepting of others choices. I’d probably have identified myself as moderate->liberal.

    Duuude…me too! Y’know, i used to think my beliefs were my own but apparently I’m another Brown sheep in the Desi herd, if a lot of “us” are that way? :P

    I was Muslim-born, am pretty agnostic in beliefs, but still “culturally muslim” and certainly don’t mind being identified with the religion or partaking in Muslim holidays with family fwiw. I’d be interested in seeing the stats on Muslims too – I imagine they would be much more socially conservative than Hindus, but more inclined to vote Democrat for obvious reasons.

  22. I’d be interested in seeing the stats on Muslims too – I imagine they would be much more socially conservative than Hindus, but more inclined to vote Democrat for obvious reasons.

    yes. please check the link i posted above.

    • Enlightening link to Pew research on American Muslim attitudes. To me the most interesting factoid was the question of Muslim identity – only 47% of American Muslims see themselves as Muslim first, the lowest among all other countries mentioned. That’s in the face of the popular cultural narrative of a pan Muslim identity trumping other identities. Could this be the result of a sizeable home-grown American Muslim population (African Americans, white converts?) Interesting either way.

  23. Looks like white christians evangelical, catholic or mainstream protestant heavily favor the Republican Party. As do Mormons who are overwhelmingly white. While non-christians: hindus, muslims, buddhists, jews favor Democrats. I am guessing people with no religion also tend Democrat.

    On the other hand black and hispanic christians tend Democrat. So religion and race/ethnicity is a good predictor of likely voting behavior.

  24. On the other hand black and hispanic christians tend Democrat. So religion and race/ethnicity is a good predictor of likely voting behavior.Mmm kind of. Geography and socioeconomic class matter a lot too, particularly for non-Jewish whites. Jews are generally overwhelmingly Democrat, but with White Gentiles (I don’t want to say Christian because many are that gray shade between religion and atheist) geography and socioeconomic class matter a lot. In America, if you describe someone by mentioning their race, religion, socioeconomic class and location (state/city) many people could easily guess who they would vote for in an election.

  25. In America, if you describe someone by mentioning their race, religion, socioeconomic class and location (state/city) many people could easily guess who they would vote for in an election.

    yes.

  26. Stats about Buddhism are an eye-opened for me. A fairly high percentage of them either don’t believe in God or are not too certain, believe that many religions can lead to eternal life, that religion is somewhat important or not important, and that the scriptures are written by man (not God)! Mostly my own thoughts. Buddhism originated in India, and yet I know so little of it!

    • Kev: Stats about Buddhism are an eye-opened for me. A fairly high percentage of them either don’t believe in God or are not too certain, believe that many religions can lead to eternal life, that religion is somewhat important or not important, and that the scriptures are written by man (not God)! Mostly my own thoughts. Buddhism originated in India, and yet I know so little of it!

      Buddhism (and its pirated knock-off Jainism) originated in modern-day Nepal and not India. Sikhism originated in modern-day Pakistan and not India.

      One thing that I’m interested in knowing is whether or not Pakistanis or Bangladeshis are interested in their previous religions? In Pakistan, for example, they practiced Zoroastrianism in the NWFP as well as Buddhism. I’ve read quite a bit that they were in fact Buddhist – and not Hindus – in NWFP, and the Bamiyan Buddhas just to the north is indicative of this.

  27. The political categorizations are a bit strange. There’s Republican, Lean Republican, Independent and Lean Democrat. Why isn’t there Democrat? A fairer comparison would be to club Republican and Lean Republican together. Still puts Democrats on top, but now there’s no statistically significant difference between Independent and Republican.

  28. “Buddhism (and its pirated knock-off Jainism) originated in modern-day Nepal and not India.”

    This is factually incorrect. I know internet commentators don’t have any obligation to be correct, but Buddishm is my area of interest and this was just too wrong to ignore :)

  29. boston_mahesh: “Buddhism (and its pirated knock-off Jainism) originated in modern-day Nepal and not India”

    “According to Buddhist traditions, circa 500 BC Prince Gautama Siddhartha, wandering as an ascetic, reached the sylvan banks of Falgu River, near the city of Gaya. There he sat in meditation under a bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). After three days and three nights of meditation, Siddhartha attained enlightenment and insight, and the answers that he had sought. He then spent seven weeks at seven different spots in the vicinity meditating and considering his experience. After seven weeks, he travelled to Sarnath, where he began teaching Buddhism.” Wikipedia. (I know, Wikipedia is not a verified source but I do believe this is correct!)

    Bodhgaya (Gaya) where Siddhartha found his enlightenment, and Sarnath where he began teaching Buddhism, are very much in India. True, Siddhartha was born in Lumbini in modern day Nepal, but he spent the first 29 years of his life in Kapilavastu (India). I think it would be fair to say that Buddhism originated in India. It really does not matter, but just wanted to set the record straight. Btw, I just returned from a two-week vacation to China (amazing country!), and the place is just full of beautiful Buddhist temples, which now serve as their main tourist attractions!

  30. @Razib or Zach – Idk why but I always get an error message when trying to post on Brown Pundits; it won’t let me register for an account using my gmail (alina.mehmoor@gmail.com) or post a comment…?

    • ok, for some reason your email wasn’t in their. i wonder if there was a registration error. i added it to the “Alina M” user. also upgraded u 2 author :-)

  31. weird. i saw you register. i know u prolly did this, but can you clear cache? i wonder if i banned your IP cuz of a troll using your univ. account….

  32. this is extremely serendipitous/weird just before reading this exchange between the two of you; I had glanced at the author columb of BP and thought we should have another author above “Eurasian Sensation”. so weird, my life’s full of random coincidences, time to check my horoscope..