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Asian Americans as a whole are less likely than Americans overall to believe in God

Asian Americans as a whole are less likely than Americans overall to believe in God

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a report on its survey on religion in the Asian American population yesterday, finding that as their numbers rise, Asian Americans have been largely responsible for the growth of non-Abrahamic faiths in the U.S., particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. Counted together, Buddhists and Hindus now account for about the same share of the U.S. public as Jews (roughly 2%). At the same time, most Asian Americans belong to the country's two largest religious groups: Christians and people who say they have no particular religious affiliation.

According to a comprehensive, nationwide survey of Asian Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center, Christians are the largest religious group among U.S. Asian adults (42%), and the unaffiliated are second (26%). Buddhists are third, accounting for about one-in-seven Asian Americans (14%), followed by Hindus (10%), Muslims (4%) and Sikhs (1%). Followers of other religions make up 2% of U.S. Asians.

Each of the six largest subgroups of this largely immigrant population also displays a different religious complexion. A majority of Filipinos in the U.S. are Catholic, while a majority of Korean Americans are Protestant. About half of Indian Americans are Hindu, while about half of Chinese Americans are unaffiliated. A plurality of Vietnamese Americans are Buddhist, while Japanese Americans are a mix of Christians, Buddhists and the unaffiliated.

The study found that Asian Americans as a whole are less likely than Americans overall to believe in God and to pray on a daily basis, and a somewhat higher proportion of Asian Americans are unaffiliated with any religion (26%, compared with 19% of the general public). But some of these measures (such as belief in God and frequency of prayer) may not be very good indicators of religion’s role in a mostly non-Christian population that includes Buddhists and others from non-theistic traditions, Pew notes. Most Asian-American Buddhists and Hindus, for instance, maintain traditional religious beliefs and practices. Two-thirds of Buddhists surveyed believe in ancestral spirits (67%), while three-quarters of Hindus keep a shrine in their home (78%) and 95% of all Indian-American Hindus say they celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

The study also revealed how Asian Americans are assimilating into the culture, noting that:

  • 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%).

These are among the key findings of a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life and Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends project. "Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths" is the second report based on a nationally representative survey of Asian Americans, which was conducted by the Pew Research Center between Jan. 3 and March 27, 2012. The first report on the survey's findings, "The Rise of Asian Americans," was released in June. This report examines Asian Americans using religious affiliation, as the primary frame of analysis.

The full report, including slideshow galleries highlighting key findings, is available on the Pew Forum's website.


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