Maintaining a Hindu Identity in America

September 8, 2006

Source: The News and Observer

Wire Service: AP

On September 8, 2006 the Associated Press reported, "It took coming to America for 13-year-old Samyuktha Shivraj to understand what it really meant to her to be Hindu. Since she and her family arrived five years ago, they've been more observant about practicing their faith than they were in India, Samyuktha says. They regularly go to their temple in Queens, she's a member of the youth club there, and there are more conversations about what the prayers she's reciting really are saying.

'When I say those prayers now, I actually know what it means,' the teen said. 'It's not just a mundane ritual routine that I'm doing.'

With an estimated 870 million followers around the planet and texts dating back thousands of years, Hinduism is one of the world's largest and most well-established religions. But with the vast majority of those followers still in India, there are parts of the world, such as the United States, where Hinduism is a relative unknown.

Estimates from the World Christian Database at Gordon Conwell-Theological Seminary put the number of Hindus in America at slightly more than 1.1 million. That's out of a U.S. population nearing 300 million, making Hindus a tiny minority in a predominantly Judeo-Christian country with a vastly different theological tradition. That reality has created a challenge for Hindus here, and for their temples and cultural organizations, as they try to pass the faith on to a younger generation.

'To be Hindu in America is much more an intentional choice than it is in India,' said Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies and director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University."