A new report based on a comprehensive, nationwide survey of Asian Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center uses religious affiliation as the primary frame of analysis to examine this fast-growing group. It highlights the beliefs, practices and views of diverse faith groups. When it comes to religion, the Asian-American community is a study in contrasts, encompassing groups that run the gamut from highly religious to highly secular.
In a conference call with journalists, the Pew Forum’s staff discussed the findings of “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths,” the second report based on the survey. The first report, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” focused on the group’s social and demographic characteristics and was released in June by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project. The survey was conducted Jan. 3-March 27, 2012, on landlines and cell phones, with a nationally representative sample of 3,511 Asian adults ages 18 and older living in the United States.
Cary Funk, Senior Researcher, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Jane Naomi Iwamura, Visiting Scholar in Asian-American Studies, UCLA
Khyati Joshi, Associate Professor, School of Education, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Greg Smith, Senior Researcher, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Sharon Suh, Chair, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Seattle University
Janelle Wong, Director, Asian American Studies Program, University of Maryland
Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
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Key Findings of the Survey
Hindu Americans: Age and Party Identification
Hindu Americans’ Religious Commitment
Hindu Americans’ Opinions on Size of Government
The Most Comprehensive Survey?
Studying Asian-American Buddhists
Asian-American Immigrants and Christianity
Religious Inclusivity and Exclusivity
OPERATOR: Hello, and thank you for joining us today for the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life’s Q-and-A session on the findings from their new report, “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths.” Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, will moderate the discussion and introduce the speakers and study advisers participating on the call. We will go to the Q-and-A session after brief remarks. [Gives queuing instructions.] Please note that this call is being recorded, and I shall be standing by if you need any assistance.
It is now my pleasure to turn the conference over to Mr. Luis Lugo. Please go ahead, sir.
LUIS LUGO: Thank you.
Good afternoon to all of you, and thank you for joining us to discuss the findings of our new report on religion and Asian Americans. As was mentioned, I’m Luis Lugo. I’m the director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. We are a project of the Pew Research Center, which is a nonpartisan organization that does not take positions on issues or policy debates.
This is the second report of a comprehensive and nationally representative survey of U.S. Asians conducted by the Pew Research Center. The first survey report was released last month. It focused on the social and demographic characteristics of this fast-growing group, and it analyzed the findings through the prism of country-of-origin subgroups. The report we’re releasing today uses religious affiliation rather than country of origin as the primary frame of analysis. It focuses on the four main religious groups: Christians, Buddhist, Hindus and the religiously unaffiliated. Those groups together account for 92% of all Asian adults living in the United States. Muslims comprise an additional 4% of U.S. Asians, but their numbers in the survey are too small to allow for separate analysis. However, we also present some findings for Asian-American Muslims on religious beliefs and practices in Appendix 1 of this report. Those figures are from a different, earlier survey, the Pew Research Center’s 2011 survey of Muslim Americans. So altogether we’ve got 96% of this population covered.
But members of many other religious groups, including Asian-American Baha’is, Confucians, Jains, Shintoists, Sikhs and Daoists, to name just a few, also completed the survey, and they are included in the overall results, but unfortunately, their numbers in the survey are too small to allow for separate analysis of those groups.
Keep in mind that although their numbers are growing, Asian Americans represent less than 6% of the U.S. population. That means that we had to contact more than 65,000 households in order to identify those with an Asian American living in that household. That allowed us to complete telephone interviews with more than 3,500 Asian-American adults. The survey was conducted in English and seven Asian languages, and it covered all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. This was no small undertaking.
Now I’d like to introduce you to the folks who are on this call. First we have Pew Forum senior researcher Cary Funk, who was the lead author of this report. She will briefly – about 10 minutes, right, Cary?
CARY FUNK: Mmm hmm.
LUGO: Ten to 12, maybe – present the main findings. We also have on hand Greg Smith, also a senior researcher here at the Pew Forum. He will be available to answer any questions related to religion and the U.S. general population – we have many comparisons in the report along those lines – but also in terms of American Muslims. He was a lead editor, author of the earlier report on Muslim Americans.
We are also very fortunate to have four of the survey’s academic advisers dialing in for the call. Their names are also listed on the conference call announcement. Jane Naomi Iwamura is a visiting scholar in Asian-American studies at UCLA. She has special expertise in religion among Chinese Americans and the unaffiliated more specifically. Khyati Joshi is associate professor at the School of Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University and our go-to expert on all things Hindu. Sharon Suh is the chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University and an expert in Buddhist studies. Finally, Janelle Wong has a new position now, moving to the East Coast as the director of the Asian American Studies Program down the street from us at the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on religion and politics in the Asian-American community. Janelle served as a special adviser to the project, for which we are extremely grateful.
Along with the other advisers, and there were many more, these four advisers contributed invaluable knowledge and guidance through all stages of this project. In this discussion, what we want to do is to continue to tap their expertise to help all of us put the findings into context and thus provide a fuller picture of the religious life of Asian Americans. Obviously, we think our surveys add very valuable information to this topic as well as other topics. But we’re also conscious that like all other methods, surveys have their limitations, so we’re delighted to be able to share the stage with other experts.
It’s important to note, however, that we do not speak for the advisers. We are solely responsible for the reporting of the survey data. Conversely, these scholars do not speak for the Pew Forum. They are here as independent scholars, so you should identify them with their respective universities. I’m sure the communications departments of those universities will greatly appreciate what I just said.
Now I’d like to turn things over to the Pew Forum’s senior researcher Cary Funk, but again, let me thank all of you for joining us. Cary, over to you.
Good afternoon. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, this survey covers a lot of ground. It’s providing a rich portrait of religion among Asian Americans. And I think there are a number of findings from the study that many Americans will find both surprising and interesting, and I will only be able to cover just a few of those highlights.
I think when you – when it comes to religion, Asian Americans are really a study in contrast, with religious groups that are running the gamut from highly committed to highly secular. And one of the really striking differences between Asian Americans and the U.S. general public just comes from the diversity of faiths among U.S. Asians. So four-in-ten Asian Americans, or 42%, are Christians. That compares with three-quarters among the general public. What that means is a majority of Asian Americans belong either to some other faith or have no religious affiliation. Roughly a quarter of Asian Americans are Buddhist, at 14%, another 10% are Hindu, and another 26% are religiously unaffiliated. In the U.S. general public, Buddhists and Hindus together comprise roughly 2% of the adult population. That’s about the same share of the U.S. public as Jews. And 19% of the general public is religiously unaffiliated. So one implication then is that the growth of the Asian-American population is contributing to the increase in Buddhist, Hindus and other non-Abrahamic faiths in the U.S. Now, granted, these groups are still a small – relatively small percentage of the U.S. general public.
And one of the hallmarks of Asian Americans more broadly has always been their diversity of histories, of cultures, of characteristics. And that diversity is particularly striking when you look at the religious composition of U.S. Asian country of origin groups. So for example, a majority of Filipinos in the U.S. are Catholic, a majority of Korean Americans are Protestant, about half of Indian Americans are Hindu, while about half of Chinese Americans are unaffiliated. And a plurality of Vietnamese Americans are Buddhist, and Japanese Americans are more of a mix among Christians, Buddhists and the unaffiliated.
Now, what’s interesting about that is the religious complexion of each of these U.S. Asian groups of course is stemming from a complex history, but the patterns are not always obvious. So sometimes the religious composition of these groups looks similar to the religious composition of each country-of-origin group, and in other cases, the composition is quite different, especially with a higher proportion of Christians in some U.S. Asian subgroups relative to the country of origin. For example, there is a larger percentage of Chinese Americans, of Indian Americans and of Korean Americans who are Christian than is found among the public of either China, India or South Korea, respectively.
Some of the other interesting findings really follow from understanding this diverse religious composition of Asian Americans. So Asian Americans are less likely to say that religion is very important in their lives. They pray less frequently than the general public. Take those two findings at first glance, you might – you might think that Asian Americans appear less religious than the general public on these kinds of conventional measures of religious commitment. But the story is of course more complicated than that because some of these differences stem from the different religious composition of Asian Americans as compared with the general public, reflecting both different ways of practicing faith among some religious groups and lower levels of importance on religion among Asian Americans when compared with the general public.
So to take this together, first of all, keep in mind that fully half of Asian Americans are either religiously unaffiliated, Buddhist or Hindu. So as you might expect among the religiously unaffiliated, this group tends to report lower levels of importance on religion in their lives. Asian Americans who are unaffiliated tend to express even lower levels of religious importance than unaffiliated Americans in the general public, with three-quarters saying religion is not too important or not at all important in their lives, compared with 58% among unaffiliated U.S. adults as a whole.
Buddhists and Hindus are less likely than other Asian-American religious groups to say religion is very important in their lives. Fewer Asian-American Buddhists, 27%, and Hindus, 32%, say that religion is very important. That’s considerably lower than other Asian-American religious groups. But they also tend to practice their religion in different ways than do Christians. So Buddhists, who often see their religion in nontheistic terms, for example, it – from that regard, it is not surprising that Asian-American Buddhists are less likely than other Asian-American religious groups to believe in God. And both Asian-American Hindus and Buddhists attend religious services less frequently than other Asian-American religious groups, but a majority of both groups report having a shrine or temple in their home.
Asian-American Christians tend to resemble Christians in the general public, but there are also some key differences between them. So for example, Asian-American Christians attend worship services more frequently than do Christians in the general public, and that finding holds when you compare Asian-American evangelicals with white evangelicals in the general public. It also holds when you compare Asian-American mainline Protestants with white mainline Protestants in the general public, and it holds when you compare Asian-American Catholics with white, non-Hispanic Catholics in the general public. In fact, Asian-American Catholics tend to show higher levels of religious commitment than white, non-Hispanic Catholics in the general public on several of these measures. They’re more likely than white Catholics to attend worship services at least weekly. They’re also more likely to say that religion is very important in their lives, and they’re somewhat more likely to pray at least daily.
Asian-American evangelical Protestants look, in many ways, like white evangelicals in the general public, but they are also more inclined to take an exclusionary view of their religion; that is, they’re more likely to say that theirs is the one true faith leading to eternal life. Seventy-two percent of Asian-American evangelicals say that compared with 49% among white evangelicals in the general public. And they also are more likely to say that there’s only one way to interpret the teaching of their faith.
There’s one other thing that’s both new and surprising in this data, and that’s coming from the socio-economic profile of religious groups in the U.S. that we can now see. So this is the first survey with both a design and a large enough sample of Asian-American Hindus and Buddhists to allow us to compare religious groups along these lines and to see – to see where the groups fall. And I think some people may be surprised to know that Asian-American Hindus are among the best-educated and have higher incomes than other religious groups. Fully 57% of Asian-American Hindus have some postgraduate education, meaning that they have some education beyond a college degree. That’s more than any other U.S. religious group. Jews are the closest, with 34% of U.S. Jews having some postgraduate education. Just 12% of the general public as a whole has some postgraduate education.
And the same pattern holds for household income. Forty-eight percent of Asian-American Hindus report a family income of at least $100,000 annually. The next-closest group is U.S. Jews, with 40% of U.S. Jews having an annual family income of at least $100,000. Sixteen percent of the general public overall reports the same. And why is that? You know, one part of the answer has to do with selective immigration. Many Asian immigrants have come to the U.S. through the H-1B visa program, and the vast majority of Hindus surveyed, more than nine-in-ten, are of Indian descent, and Indians as a whole are a well-educated, affluent group when compared with other Asian-American country-of-origin groups. But it’s interesting to see that Indian-American Hindus tend to have even more years of education and higher household income than other non-Hindu Indian Americans.
Asian-American Buddhists have a quite different demographic profile. Seventeen percent of Asian-American Buddhists have some postgraduate education. Fifteen percent report an annual family income of at least $100,000. And again, what’s going on behind those numbers is at least partly due to immigration patterns. Many Asian-American Buddhists belong to a wave of immigrants who came to the U.S. as refugees from Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.
As I mentioned, this is a rich survey with many interesting findings, and when it comes to religion, Asian Americans are really a study in contrast, with religious groups that run the gamut from highly committed to highly secular. Asian-American Buddhists and Hindus are distinctive from each other and from other Asian-American religious groups in a number of ways, including patterns of belief, religion switching and political attitudes.
But I’m going to turn the conversation over to Luis Lugo now so that we can take your questions.
LUGO: Thank you, Cary. A lot of very rich stuff to go through very quickly, so we appreciate that.
All right, let’s tee this up with some questions. We’ll see if any journalists would care to join in first, and then I’m going to invite our advisers to weigh in. I’m hoping this will be a combination of a press conference and round-table discussion with our advisers. So if there is a question from the journalists, we’ll take that first, and if not, I’m going to weigh in with a – with a question.
OPERATOR: And we will first go to the site of Aziz Haniffa with India Abroad. Please go ahead. Your line is open.
AZIZ HANIFFA, INDIA ABROAD: Yes, I’m Aziz Haniffa with India Abroad and I would like Dr. Joshi to weigh in too because she was the Hindu go-to person. Two interesting things that I found in the report. One was that Hindu Americans, the propensity is to vote more Democratic. And as a journalist who has covered the Indian-American community for the last 25 years, I have found that the older Hindu immigrants have tended to be more Republican and the younger ones more Democratic. So I was wondering whether there was some kind of discrepancy in the survey in terms of the age group of Hindu Americans you surveyed. And the second question I have is you all seem to say that Hindu Americans are not as religious as one would believe them to be, but that everyone seems to have a shrine in their home, even though there is certainly a propensity of temples in the U.S. Is it that it – because it’s more of an individual thing than a collective thing of, like, going to church or going to temple, et cetera, except perhaps on weekends?
LUGO: Excellent question, so let’s begin there and dwell there a bit. I mean, I think there’s a specific question related to Hindus there, but particularly in the second part, I think it raises a larger question about, you know, how one measures religiosity across religious traditions.
So maybe on the first one, Cary.
LUGO: Do we see any difference by age with respect to partisan orientation among Hindus?
FUNK: Right. Well, let me just say a few things first about party identification. So the – I mean, the survey is a representative survey of U.S. Asians, so from that we have a representative sample of Hindu Americans, Asian-American Hindus being more – the more exact way to say it. And you do see a striking tilt or advantage for the Democratic Party relative to the Republican Party among Asian-American Hindus. I think about 72% of Hindu American voters – that would be people who are registered to vote, who are – identify with or lean to the Democratic Party, and that compares with just 9% of Asian-American Hindu voters who identify or lean to the Republican Party.
Only one other religious group in the U.S. tilts as heavily to the Democratic Party, and that’s actually U.S. Muslims. Seventy-five percent of U.S. Muslims are Democratic identifiers or lean to the Democratic Party compared – and 13% are Republican or lean to the Republican Party.
LUGO: But what about the age question, though? I think that was the thrust of what he said, right?
FUNK: So I don’t recall whether there’s differences among age, but you do sometimes see differences among different waves of immigrants, which of course corresponds with age. Hindu Americans in the broader – in the broader context are from a more recent wave of immigration than some of these other religious groups. And so they are even more likely to be foreign born and therefore a slightly lower percentage are citizens of the U.S. and would be registered to vote.
LUGO: I see. Let’s take a quick – take a look – if somebody could look at those numbers. And it’s an awful lot of material here, so I don’t know if we could do a breakdown and come up with numbers that are still statistically valid. That’s always the challenge here once you start breaking down, you know, into smaller and smaller group, you get past the threshold where we’re comfortable talking about it because of statistical significance.
But while we do that, let’s tackle the second question, which gets to the issue – and here I want, you know, Khyati to maybe – let me – let’s begin with her on this and then we can come back to get our thoughts on it. You heard the question, Khyati. What do you think?
KHYATI JOSHI: So in regards to the religiosity question, I think one of the most important things that has to be kept in mind regarding Hindus is that – the idea that there are different ways to consider what does it mean to be religious. And one of the most interesting pieces of the survey is about the number of Asian Americans who identified, you know, the importance of religion in their lives not very high.
And I think for Hindus it says – I think for Hindu Asian Americans it was – what’s the number here – only 38% [sic, 32%] said religion is very important in their lives. I’m going to have to check on that number. And 17% identified being religious as one of the most important things in life. But what rated higher was being a good parent and having a successful marriage. And that actually, when it comes to Hindus, is not very surprising at all, because within Hinduism you’re speaking about the concept of Dharma, the concept of obligation, the duty one has depending on the life stage.
So the majority of the folks surveyed were, you know, adults – of course they were over 18 – but they were adults. And when you see the breakdown about the number – and the majority of Hindus, if I recall correctly – over 90% are foreign born. And so when you take all that into consideration, think about the number of those that might have children, then it’s not very surprising at all that they are thinking about, in religious terms, the most important thing being a good parent. And I think that this is a really important piece when we – in the United States – when researchers are really thinking about attendance at services at a house of worship or the number of people who go to temples. You know, folks go to a temple now on a Saturday or Sunday if they can.
The other question – there was a question posed about attending services at a house of worship. Well, sometimes Hindus go to temple to do – to do aarti, to do darshan, which is the act of seeing God and having God see you. And in people’s minds, that’s not necessarily associated with a service – with something like a puja. And so the data makes a lot of sense if you have this background information.
LUGO: That’s very helpful, Khyati. I guess there was one thing – that makes, again, perfect sense. When we’re crossing religious borders, you know, it’s always difficult to make comparisons. We think some of our questions work well across religious groups but, you know, frankly, in terms of the polling we’ve done in the United States, it’s basically geared toward a majority-Christian audience.
But there is one thing here I’d like for you to weigh in. When we asked – we – I’m saying our sister project here, the Pew Global Attitudes project – when we asked that same question in India about the importance of religion, it was at 69% among Indian Hindus in India, who said it’s very important. So I wonder what sense you make of that: Why Indians in India – Hindus in India might be more forthcoming or willing to put – you know, to say very important, as opposed to Hindu Americans.
JOSHI: Well, I think I can actually – I’d rather answer that question as to why it might be lower for Hindus in the U.S., compared to the numbers you’re getting of Hindus in India. The whole immigration experience – I mean, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the individual.
And the necessary – the necessity to perform economically, to provide for the family, to provide for the family back home in many cases, outdoes – the importance is far greater, often, than the importance in terms of spiritual well-being or the importance of religion. So I think there’s so many other factors at play when one is going through the immigration process that things that were very important – and still might be very important to the individual for practicality reasons – they put them on the side – they put them by the wayside.
LUGO: That’s very helpful. Again, it’s hard for us to probe in a 20-minute survey, you know, this great a depth. So that’s why this is – this is helpful. Can I come back to the political angle for just one minute? I don’t know if anybody’s checked on the numbers here to see. Do we have a break? We cannot do it. This is not enough. Greg, would you want to say something, you –
FUNK: Well, the reason we can’t do it in this report, because this is among registered voters, right? So Indian Americans and Hindus, who are predominately Indian Americans, are from a more recent wave. They’re more likely to be foreign born. They’re less likely to be U.S. citizens. So it’s a relatively small sample of Hindus who are registered voters. However, we’ve also looked at the data just among all – among all Hindus, and you see the same pattern, in terms of a strong tilt to identify with or lean to the Democratic Party.
GREG SMITH: And maybe just to even – put it even more concretely – this is Greg Smith – in this survey we have a total of less than 140 Hindus who are registered to vote. Typically when we report results on – not just on this survey but in general – we do not typically report results unless we have at least 100 interviews with members of the – of the group in question.
And the reason for that is very simple. The smaller the group that you’re describing, the smaller the number of interviews you have with the group, the larger the margin of error that becomes associated with estimates for that group. And we’re just not comfortable reporting estimates for groups that are smaller than about a hundred people or so.
And what that means practically speaking here is, with only 140 Hindus who are registered to vote in this survey, is that we can’t really slice and dice the data any more finely than that, unfortunately. We would all love to be able to do so, but in this case we’re just limited by the size of the sample.
LUGO: And limited by the size of our budget in terms of getting the sample, right?
LUGO: So that unfortunately – although this was not an inexpensive proposition.
Before we go on to the next question – and I know we’ve dwelt on this for a bit – but there is an interesting finding on Hindus that despite their strong pro-Democratic tilt, on this very critical question on the size of government, you know, less government providing fewer services or more government providing more services, they stand out on that score, which I thought was interesting. I mean, at least to me, that was – I was expecting a different result on that when I read, you know, the strong Democratic tilt. Any word on that, Cary?
FUNK: Right, so it’s an interesting – it’s an interesting mix. The – so many of these Asian-American religious groups show more of a leaning to the Democratic relative to the Republican Party, similarly in terms of political ideology. And then we also asked them a broader question about the role of government, which often aligns with kind of ideological orientation, which is would you rather have a smaller government providing fewer services or a bigger government providing more services.
And that’s where Hindu – Asian-American Hindus kind of have a different pattern there, where fewer – I think they’re more divided in terms of whether or not they would prefer more services for – yes, they’re almost evenly divided between preferring a bigger government providing more services, 46%, and 41% saying a smaller government, fewer services. So again, I think – I think perhaps our expert might want to comment on why the difference there. What do you think is going on with that?
LUGO: Well –
JOSHI: Well –
LUGO: No, go ahead. I’m – go ahead, please, Khyati.
JOSHI: Oh, OK. Thank you. One of the – one of the things going on, again, goes back to the immigration process. You have folks coming over, and they aren’t necessarily aware of what government can provide. But also you had – especially if we’re talking the first major wave of immigrants after 1965 come over, highly educated, highly skilled folks coming over. So it was very much the idea of, you know, pull yourself up by the bootstrap mentality. You know, I can work hard. If I work hard, I will get ahead. Don’t need to rely on other people. Can’t really rely on government.
So – and that’s, I would say, not that uncommon for immigrants – different immigrant groups. But that’s something really, really important to keep in mind because it also goes back to the highly educated, highly skilled section that we’re talking about of the Hindu – of the Indian-American and Hindu population.
LUGO: Thank you, Khyati. I think Jane Iwamura wanted to weigh in on this as well. Jane, are you on?
JANE IWAMURA: Check. Thank you, Luis. And I wanted to address the reporter’s question as well. And I was really struck by the fact that both Hindus and Muslims lean toward the Democratic Party. And what I’m going to say here is speculative, but we have to remember that the survey is taking place post-9/11, and that Hindus, Muslims as well as Sikhs were racially profiled after that time. So it might be that the Democratic leaning could be that Hindus see the Democratic Party as reflecting their beliefs, but it also might be that Hindus see the Democratic Party as working in their interests as far as, you know, protecting their individual liberties – So that’s one possibility – again, a speculative comment, on my end. (Chuckles.)
LUGO: Thank you, well that – no, comments we can’t make on this side, you know? (Laughter.) That’s why – that’s why it’s good to have this mix. Janelle, you’re the political scientist, I think, in the mix. So did you have anything to add on this question?
JANELLE WONG: Yes. I’ll just say quickly that the Asian-American population as a whole, the younger generation, does tend to be a bit more Democratic. And so it’s not surprising that Hindus are reflecting that pattern. And the Asian-American population over the last 10 years has become more Democratic – has shown the biggest change towards the Democrats than other racial groups. So that’s consistent as well.
And I would agree with Jane that there are different reasons why groups are drawn to one party versus another. The size of government is one, but also I think she’s spot on on the idea that post-9/11 the Democrats may be attractive to Hindus because of perceptions that the Republican Party was more supportive of racial profiling after those incidents and the Democrats taking more liberal positions on racial or religious profiling. So I think it’s a – it’s a kind of profiling – likely a profiling issue for that population.
OK, let’s move to the next question from a reporter.
OPERATOR: We will next go to the site of Lauren Markoe with Religion News Service. Please go ahead. Your line is open.
LAUREN MARKOE, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: Hi. Good morning. This is a very general question. I’d like to put this survey into perspective. Is it fair to call this the most comprehensive survey of Asian Americans in religion ever done in this country? Or is that too far?
LUGO: Well, that’s – from everything we hear from the advisers and others, that is indeed correct. But please, I’ve got four experts on line who have been on this topic for a lot longer than we have, so we stand to be corrected.
MARKOE: Does everybody agree?
LUGO: Janelle, why don’t you weigh in because I think you were involved in previous survey that focused more on politics, but that was also a national survey. So if you could weigh in on that.
WONG: That’s right. In 2008 my colleagues and I did a survey of 5,000 Asian Americans. But our questions on religion were not as comprehensive as this survey.
MARKOE: Thank you.
LUGO: Yeah, we had how many religion questions? I counted about 40 I think – about 40 religion questions on this survey.
WONG: I think there are other surveys of Asian Americans that might be comparable, but not on this particular topic of religion.
MARKOE: Great. Do I have time or a brief follow-up since we’re all in agreement on that?
MARKOE: OK. Ms. Funk, at the beginning you said that the report was – presented some surprises. And I’m hoping you can tell me and others also, what surprised you the most about the findings?
FUNK: Always a hard question. So I mean, I think that it is – the answer is multifold, right? I think that it is – it really drives home the diversity of Asian Americans as a group, to look at the religious composition of Asian Americans, to see that, yes, the plurality of Asian Americans are Christian, but also the total number who belong to some other faith or who have no religious affiliation is such – it’s a striking difference relative to the U.S. general public.
And then – and I think – and then from there you start to see the richness of religious experience among these different – among these different groups. So we’ve been talking today especially about Asian-American Buddhists and Asian-American Hindus. And again, so interesting to see some of the different ways in which – in which they hold beliefs.
You know, some of the distinctive beliefs of Asian-American Buddhists we haven’t talked very much about. I think one of the most common was the belief in ancestral spirits – and now I’m forgetting a few others – relative to other religious groups. There’s a belief in reincarnation, which is – which is similar to Asian-American Hindus showing a belief in reincarnation, a majority of each. And then – so that – those are the two – those are two kinds of things that I think are particularly distinctive.
And then the third has to do with ways in which the religious groups may be adapting to the U.S. I think one of the things – we’ve talked a little bit about how more than three-quarters of all of these Asian-American religious groups say they celebrate Christmas.
LUGO: Well, I would – I agree with Cary; those are some of the most interesting things. But in some sense, I have to say though, too, that just about everything we discovered on Hindus and Buddhists was interesting, because we’ve not had the numbers before to analyze these communities, and so that, to me, is – you know, adds a lot. I mean, it quite frankly expands our understanding as researchers, and really presses us to think very carefully about how some of these questions that we’re so comfortable with in asking the American general public may or may not translate well with religious traditions that are outside of our scope typically when we poll in this country, and I will say for most Americans. I mean, we’re going from – from Buddhism, a nontheistic religion to Hinduism, a multitheistic religion – well neither of those fit comfortably in the – in the understanding of most Americans.
When we asked even the question: Do you believe in God? Most Americans pretty much know what we’re asking. And they either say, the vast majority, yes or no. But even a question as basic as that, I think, looking at religious communities outside of our comfort zone I think forces us to be a lot more thoughtful and introspective in terms of how well those questions work.
FUNK: If I could just tack on one more thing to that, which is that I think one of the strengths of the survey is that it is allowing us to do some comparisons apples to apples across religious groups. So on a question like how important is religion to you in your life, that’s something that should translate pretty well across groups. But then it also allows us to have questions on the survey that are – that pick up some of these distinctive beliefs.
So we have a number of questions that may reflect some of the Judeo-Christian orientation of prayer or belief in God, but we also have other questions about reincarnation, or yoga as a spiritual practice, or the frequency of meditation as a spiritual practice, or the shrine or temple in the home, or celebrating the lunar New Year. So the survey is rich in that regard, that it’s allowing us some of these apples-to-apples comparisons and some of the kinds of questions that allow us to get at these distinctive beliefs and practices.
LUGO: Sharon, since I mentioned Buddhism and its basically nontheistic orientation – which again for most Americans, you know, what’s a religion without a God? They’re going to find that very difficult. If you could – if you could weigh in on that, because I think this is one of those areas where we really have to expand our horizons here.
SHARON SUH: Yes. Well, thank you. I mean, this is one of those classic apples-and-oranges questions because, you know, how do you ask about God in a tradition that has no creator God? And you know, one of the interesting things about this survey is that a fairly high level – high number of Buddhists actually responded that they do have a belief in God or a universal spirit. And so one of the questions is to probe further and to think about is what they mean by universal spirit. You know, could it be that they were thinking about universal spirit in terms of Buddha, for example? So that is one particular question that’s quite significant.
What I find particularly interesting about this study for Asian-American Buddhists, and one of the potential complications in the interpretation of the data, is the question of religious commitment. You know, the ways in which religious commitment is measured in many ways in this study has to do with frequency of prayer, attendance of worship services, belief in God. And in many ways, as the study notes, the Buddhists and the Hindus have very similar numbers with regard to temple attendance.
And one of the things that the study makes clear is that Asian-American Buddhists practice religion in very different ways. And the interpretation of religion is very different. It’s not always – religious commitment is not always determined by how frequently one prays, how frequently one goes to a worship service.
If we look at the numbers of home shrines, for example, in the Buddhist data set we have 57% of Buddhists that state that they have a home shrine; 78% of Hindus. Ancestor worship amongst the Buddhists was relatively high at 67%; Lunar New Year, 81%. What we don’t have information for, which I think would be very valuable for Buddhists, is the number of Buddhists that attend the Buddha’s birthday celebrations every year; and for the Japanese-American community of Buddhists, how many of them attend the Bon Odori services.
So you know, one of the interesting findings with regard to the Asian-American Buddhists is that, quite frankly, they’re very different. But it doesn’t mean that they are not religious. They’re profoundly religious if we just look at what’s going on inside the home, but they’re not necessarily religious in terms of going to a temple service weekly. Many Buddhists will associate with a particular temple, but they, in many ways, are not that different from U.S. general-population Christians that’ll go to church on Christmas and Easter. You know, we’ll find very similar findings with Buddhists who go to temple for the Buddha’s birthday, for example.
LUGO: That’s very, very helpful. Thank you, Sharon. While we’re on the question of prayer, closely related thing is the – was the issue of meditation. Again, people ask, what did you find surprising here? I guess that’s one of the things I found surprising. (Chuckles.) You know, I expected it to be – the meditation number to be sky-high for Buddhists. But again, that may be a sort of Westernized, you know, conception of Buddhism based on the practices of non-Asian Buddhists. Could you comment on that particular finding about the relatively low levels of meditation as a religious practice among Asian Buddhists?
SUH: Yeah. Well, I think that – well, we have – 27% had claimed that they meditate at least once a week, amongst the Asian-American Buddhists, as opposed to the 39% of U.S. general-population Buddhists [sic; of U.S. adults in the general public]. You know, as a researcher of Asian-American Buddhism, this doesn’t strike me as surprising at all. In fact, it’s quite clear that the majority of Asian-American Buddhists don’t practice meditation. Instead, much of the practice is really focused on ritual devotion.
And you know, the presumption that meditation is the central practice within the Buddhist tradition is really something that is a Western phenomenon. And the idea that meditation is a central form of practice really comes from this trend of European-Americans, who have abstracted meditation as a practice from the larger cultural and religious practices and traditions. And so the association of Buddhism with meditation is much more of a Western fascination than it is an actuality in Asian-American Buddhism.
LUGO: That’s very, very interesting.
All right, let’s go to our next journalist. And we’ll also get the advisers, I’m sure, on that – on the next question.
OPERATOR: No problem. Our next question comes from the site of Tynette Deveaux with Buddhadharma. Please go ahead. Your line is open.
TYNETTE DEVEAUX, BUDDHADHARMA: Great, thank you. Yes, hi, I’m the editor of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. And I’m interested and surprised by the percentage of U.S. Buddhists who are Asian American. So the survey says 67-69% of all U.S. Buddhists are Asian American. And I – it’s my understanding that in a previous survey, the “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” in 2008, I believe – that the percentage of Asian Americans representing the entire Buddhist population in the U.S. was significantly lower. So I’m wondering if you could comment on that.
And also I’m interested to know if there’s any information regarding the – sort of the demographics within the Asian-American Buddhist community in terms of younger- and older-generation Buddhists.
LUGO: All right, Cary, I will let you address the second first –
FUNK: Yeah. These – there are a couple of things here. And I’m glad you brought this up. So one thing about this survey is that we can only talk about Asian-American Buddhists. And in this case, relative to U.S. Buddhists, we’re estimating that about two-thirds, 67-69%, of all U.S. Buddhists are Asian American. Those estimates are coming from our best – you know, basically our best data to date. It’s a mix of taking into account the number of adults in the population from the Census Bureau, from estimating the percentage of all U.S. Buddhists who are Asian from recent surveys, and of course – and coming up with that estimate. That’s why there’s a range.
The 2007 Religious Landscape Survey [conducted in 2007, published in 2008] was, of course, four years ago – five years ago, now. So that’s one factor in it. The second factor in the 2007 Religious Landscape Survey is that that was completed only in English, which is a limitation in terms of being able to reach Asian-American Buddhists in that survey. So we think that this is a much better set of estimates for Asian-American Buddhists and their beliefs.
The last thing you mentioned was demographics of these groups. And there’s a – there’s a nice table on page 35 of the report that lays out a number of different demographics – gender, age, education, income and so on – across these different religious groups. So that may get at part of – part of your question. And then I think Greg Smith also wanted to talk a little bit about U.S. Buddhists and the differences between these two surveys.
SMITH: Well, yes. This is Greg. Really just to reiterate, though; I think you covered the main point. You’re right; our 2007 Religious Landscape Survey did find a lower percentage of Buddhists self-identifying as Asian. Only about a third in that survey did so. I think the main things – the main differences you have going on there are – relate to language. The 2007 survey was done only in English and Spanish. The new survey of Asian Americans offered a wide variety of languages, and so I think it’s a better representation of religion among Asian Americans.
There are other smaller differences as well, including in how the two surveys asked about race and identified people in terms of which race they belong to. But I think the main thing going on there is language.
LUGO: Cary, since you mentioned that, and the – and the question of demographics came up, the – you mentioned the chart on page 35. It’s really quite interesting. I wonder if you would just comment briefly, because the flip side of the previous question about Hindus and the high socioeconomic status – you know, is the Buddhist community, which came in lower, again, reflective of the kind of immigration patterns we’ve had there? But it is interesting to note that among Buddhists there, over a third have an income level of less than $30,000.
And on that parallel question, Cary, about people assessing their own financial situation, about 62% of Buddhists, according to my scratches here, described their financial situation as only fair or in poor shape. So this is one indication that despite the fact that in terms of the median for all of these Asian Americans, you know, they hold up pretty well in terms of other groups in the society, that is not to say that there are not significant groups within these various religious communities who are really hurting, who are not at the top of the – of the economic scale. And I thought these numbers on Buddhists on that table and the previous table really underscored that.
Anything else along those lines?
FUNK: Yeah, I just think – we mentioned the higher education and Buddhists, 17% of Asian-American Buddhists having a postgraduate – some postgraduate education. But you also see there a full 50% of Asian-American Buddhists say they have a high school degree or less. So that really shows that on both ends of the education scale as well that Buddhists are standing out, unfortunately, in this case, as less educated, and that tends to go hand-in-hand with lower income.
SMITH: Let me – can I just say one more thing?
LUGO: Go ahead, please.
SMITH: I just – I did just take the liberty of running the numbers. Among the Buddhists in our – in our new survey of Asian Americans, 42% completed the interview in a language other than English. So that just demonstrates that if you only interview in English, you really are missing a very large portion of the Buddhist population in the United States.
LUGO: Right. Thank you. I mean, that’s a very important point. You know, you mention that the RLS has been done in English and Spanish. You know, we had the Spanish, not because I’m Latino myself, but because, you know, it is a very, very big group. And frankly, it’s just a lot easier to survey because basically with one language you can cover nationality groups from all over Latin America. Although we have some variations, it’s the same language, so that – one of the big challenges for us to survey, which is picking up with one or two languages this largely immigrant population, in fact, a higher percentage of immigrants among Asian Americans than among Hispanics, and then multiple languages to boot. So it’s a – it’s a challenging task.
Janelle, I think you wanted to weigh in on Buddhists, maybe even share – oh, Jane did. OK. Sorry. Jane.
IWAMURA: Oh, yes, thanks, Luis.
I think this also might go to the reporter’s question about younger and older Buddhists and generational differences. But I was really struck on page 25 in the section on religious switching and intermarriage that – I’m reading verbatim here – “Asian-American Buddhists have experienced the biggest net losses from religious switching. Roughly one-in-five Asian Americans, 22%, say they were raised as Buddhist, and 2% have switched to Buddhism from other faiths or from having no particular religion. However, 10% of Asian Americans have left Buddhism, for a net loss of eight percentage points.”
And I was very much struck by that. And the survey, while it – while it highlights a mosaic of faiths, the question that came up for me was will the mosaic be maintained? And that’s the question that the survey can’t – we can’t foresee in the future, but you know, one interesting one to ponder. If you look at Japanese Americans, I find it very interesting. I know there’s not a good survey historically to compare the numbers on Japanese-American Buddhists. In Japanese Americans, the population has held pretty steady from the early immigration from the 19th to the 20th century, but my sense is historically that Buddhists made up the majority of Japanese Americans, and now Buddhists only account for a third of the Japanese-American population. So it’s again immigrants are bringing Asian religions to the U.S. religious landscape, but again, how – will those types of commitments and affiliations be maintained?
LUGO: Yeah, in that sense, in terms of when it comes to religious switching, Asian Americans are becoming as American as anybody because – this is what we find among Americans, you know, that about half of the people we interview have changed their religious affiliation at least once during their lifetime, and the majority of those have switched more than once. So it is the great American religious marketplace, if you want to use an economic analogy.
All right, let’s take the next question, please, from a reporter.
OPERATOR: The next question comes from the site of Patricia Rice with the St. Louis Beacon. Please go ahead; your line is open.
PATRICIA RICE, ST. LOUIS BEACON: Hello. I think that one of the fascinating things is how much – the percentage of Christians is so much stronger than the – who immigrated to the United States than the percentage of Christians in Asia. And I mean, obviously, some of it is because they have a Western outlook, that perhaps in education or in their churches they have learned more about America, are more open to maybe capitalism, et cetera. But – and there have been, for example, when – with the fall of Saigon, there was great accusations that the Christians were given a better chance to get out, although I was surprised your – you – Christians are not the majority among Vietnamese. But can you talk a little bit about that finding and how that reflects on Americans’ views, in fact, of Asians?
LUGO: Cary, why don’t you get – and hopefully referencing another major report that we recently produced.
FUNK: Right, the reference. It – the reference is the Pew Forum, I think, fairly recently released a report called “Faith on the Move,” which documents migration patterns around the – around the world. And what we’re seeing there is, I think, a reflection of disproportionate migration of Christians to the U.S. from Middle Eastern countries where we have measures. So I think those are – you know, it’s part of why – it’s part of why you need the Asian American as in these different country of origin groups. Chinese Americans are different than Chinese in mainland China. First of all, of course, they come from a number of different places in addition to mainland China, but the composition of Chinese Americans is – it looks different. And so our experience of Chinese Americans is different than our understanding of Chinese in mainland China. So I think it’s – that’s – I think that’s part of the – part of the picture and part of the value of having this data for the first time.
LUGO: I thought – Janelle, I think you wanted to weigh in on this.
WONG: Well, I would just say that, exactly as Jane Iwamura had learned, that the –
– understand and become religiously committed in two ways: both Asian Americans bringing their traditions to the U.S. and also the U.S. religious tradition having a very powerful effect on Asian Americans.
LUGO: So it’s a two-way street, what you’re saying.
LUGO: It’s transforming while being transformed.
All right, I think, Sharon, did you want to get in on this one?
SUH: Yeah, I think, you know, for the case of the Korean Americans, you know, many of the Korean Americans who immigrated, you know, would cite their affiliation with Christian missionaries. And certainly historically, Presbyterian missionaries from the United States had quite a significant presence in Korea, and so in many ways, it was just a common understanding that to immigrate to the United States was somehow tied to Christianity. And there’s a fair number of Korean Americans who arrived in the United States and then converted from either Buddhism or some other religious tradition to Christianity. And so I think the Korean Americans have a very high level of conversion into Christianity, much of which takes place after arrival in the United States.
You know, one of the questions – and I wanted to follow up on the discussion prior about the Buddhists – one of the questions and the really interesting stories in this survey really is about the Vietnamese Americans, because they do have a very high level of Buddhist practitioners that are noted in the survey, and at the same time, they also have a very different immigration history than, say, Japanese Americans and a very different economic status. And so I’m not sure what the final story will be, but I think that in terms of looking at this study, that is one of the big surprises that I have found that I’ve been most struck by is really this – the high level of participation for the Buddhists, how frequently they pray, how frequently they attend worship services. They seem to be the outlier within the Asian-American Buddhists. And I’m not ready to conjecture why that’s the case, but I think it’s an interesting point of consideration.
LUGO: Thank you.
Jane, I think you also wanted to get in.
IWAMURA: Yes, I just wanted to address the reporter’s comment about the Vietnamese, her sense that the Vietnamese who came over received preferential treatment if they were Christian or Catholic. And just a little historical background here, but President Ngo Dinh Diem was Catholic himself. And so for the first airlift out of Vietnam, out of Saigon, most of those did – who did – who were part of that airlift, who were given preferential treatment to leave, were indeed Catholic. Now, the subsequent waves, which included, I think, the majority of Vietnamese Americans here today, you know, obviously came over by boat and, you know, other means. And that’s why you might see that discrepancy in the – and that kind of history and in those figures.
LUGO: Thank you. That’s very helpful, again, the kind of background that can help frame these findings in a broader context.
Next question from a journalist, please.
OPERATOR: We will next go to the site of Betty Lin with the World Journal. Please go ahead; your line is open. Betty Lin, your line is open.
BETTY LIN, WORLD JOURNAL: Hi. Can you hear me?
LIN: OK. Yeah, I’d like to have the name in Chinese or Korean characters for Janelle and Sharon. And also I like you to comment on the last time you released the Asian-American survey that you got a lot of criticism, like how you framed the questions, things. Some people are not very experienced with Asian Americans, and I don’t know whether – I understand that you guys have met with Asian-American groups, so I’d like you to maybe update us about how the conversation went. Thank you.
LUGO: Thank you. Well, I think we can email you the information you requested.
On the other one, I understand that those conversations are still ongoing. We’re – on our shop, not directly involved with those. It’s – what we were focused on were the 40 or some questions that were strictly on religion. Actually, that first report as well not only included part of these survey questions, but also a separate demographic analysis that was done by another unit here within the Pew Research Center. So I really don’t feel competent, to be honest with you, to weigh in on the – on the substance of that. It’s way above our pay grade. Where we collaborated was specifically on the survey, and the part of the survey that we took on was the religion side. And as I’ve indicated, this was challenge enough for us – (chuckles) – to be honest with you.
OK, next question, please.
OPERATOR: We will next go to the site of Napp Nazworth with The Christian Post. Please go ahead; your line is open.
NAPP NAZWORTH, THE CHRISTIAN POST: Hi. Luis had mentioned that the Asian-American evangelicals are like white evangelicals, but more likely to be exclusionary in their theological outlook. I was wondering if there might be an intervening variable there. Are the – are Asian-American evangelicals more – do they have higher levels of religiosity than evangelicals in the general population?
Also, do – did you do any crosstabs with levels of religiosity and party identification or voting? And you know, are those of higher levels of religiosity or higher levels of religious participation going to be more likely to be Republican or vote Republican or, you know, such, you know, like we see in the general population?
LUGO: Excellent question as well. I didn’t make the statement, just to clarify, regarding evangelicals. Cary did, but I stand fully behind her statement, so –
NAZWORTH: OK – (chuckles) – thanks.
LUGO: (Chuckles.) What about that, Cary? I mean, is it – is it the fact that basically the more exclusive – it’s hard to come up with a word here – views of Asian evangelicals is simply a function of the fact that they tend to have higher levels of religiosity?
FUNK: And the short answer is no. My favorite table on this is page 17. And Asian-American evangelicals, relative to white evangelical Protestants in the general public, are about equally likely to say the – that religion is very important in their life. They’re about equally likely to pray daily. They are more likely to attend services, as I talked about. And then – and then obviously we talked about then they’re – they do tend to be different in terms of the exclusive beliefs, in terms of that. So they’re not more likely to be saying that religion is very important in their lives.
LUGO: Well, they tend to attend more often, right?
FUNK: Yeah, but they do tend to attend more often.
In terms of party ID, we may not have all the data at our fingertips on that, but you do see the pattern that you would expect that among Asian-American evangelicals they’re more likely to identify with the Republican Party or lean to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party, and they stand out from other Asian-American religious groups in that regard.
LUGO: Janelle, I think you wanted to weigh in on this.
Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead. Do you have a follow-up?
NAZWORTH: Yeah, with the attendance, I mean, it seems like that could be an intervening variable because the more often you attend, the more likely you are to hear, you know, a message that your – that your religion is unique in, you know, the ways that you talked about.
LUGO: Well, that’s very plausible. And I don’t think we can answer that definitively, but that seems plausible, yeah. So it is true that even though when they – in terms of self-assessed levels of religiosity, they may be at the same level. In terms of attendance, which we know from our other studies here, that is the critical variable we look at in terms of religious – sorry, in terms of political behavior and orientation, that that does make a difference. Whether it makes a difference theologically as well on this question of exclusivity is an interesting point.
Greg, did you want to – I know we’ve looked at this in other contexts.
SMITH: Well, just to say it may – you’re right. I think it’s – I think it’s certainly right to point to this as a possible explanation, but it can’t be the entirety of the explanation, because the gap between Asian Americans and – Asian-American evangelicals and white evangelicals on the “mine is the one true faith” question is 23 points. The gap on church attendance is only 12 points. So while it might be part of the story, it may – it may well not be all of the story.
LUGO: All right.
Janelle, I think you wanted to weigh in.
WONG: Yes, I’d also say on the American evangelicals and the Republican Party question, the Asian-American evangelicals tend to be more Republican and identify as more politically conservative than other Asian-American religious groups or the unaffiliated, but they are less Republican than white evangelicals. They do – they are less ideologically conservative than white evangelicals. So they’re not marching lockstep with white evangelicals. One thing you do see that sharply divides them from white evangelicals, in fact, is that they tend to be 20 [sic, 30] percentage points less likely than white evangelicals to say that they want a smaller government. In fact, they say they want a larger government with more services. And this is a sharp divide between white evangelicals and Asian-American evangelicals, even though Asian-American evangelicals tend to have some higher indicators of religious devotion.
LUGO: That’s very, very interesting. So – yeah, so more conservative, more Republican than other Asian religious groups, but less conservative, less Republican than white evangelicals. And those differences are fairly significant.
Jane, I think you wanted to jump in.
IWAMURA: Yes. Actually, Luis, Cary and Greg, I was wondering if this was in the survey – if we put this in the survey as far as how many Asian Americans attend ethnic-specific Christian churches?
FUNK: No, it’s not something we asked about. We asked – relatedly, we asked other questions about whether you attend just different places and whether you attend services of different faiths, which gets at some of the issues we’ve been talking about about both the U.S. influencing how Asian Americans who are immigrants practice their religion and vice versa.
IWAMURA: Right. The reason I ask the question is it goes back to the reporter’s question where Korean-American evangelicals have a very long history of their faith in Korea as well as in the U.S. And so you might be looking at a very new type of Christian evangelical theology coming out of the Korean-American community, where you see, you know, this more kind of exclusive look on God and Christian faith. So that’s a possibility. This dimension of ethnic specificity as far as church-going would be very interesting to look into. If you think about – and here I’m going to get very media newsy here, but – (chuckles) – if you look at Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lin has been – his Christian faith has been talked about a lot. But what people have not highlighted is that, you know, Jeremy Lin came out of a Taiwanese-American church as well as went to an Asian-American – a campus evangelical organization. And so there’s ways that Asian-American churches, especially ethnic-specific churches, are kind of reinvigorating American Christianity. But – and it will be interesting to see in what ways.
LUGO: That’s an – very interesting point, both on the – Jeremy, but also just more broadly, because on Korea, for instance, we actually have done a survey of religion in Korea, particularly among Pentecostals. And that’s something important to keep in mind here. We don’t make a lot of this report, because we weren’t particularly probing deeply in that area, but as a matter of fact, oftentimes what we call evangelical is in fact Pentecostal evangelicalism. And that is certainly the case in Korea where you have among the world’s largest Pentecostal churches – a very, very strong influence and – of Pentecostalism in South Korea. And there are some differences between – particularly of emphasis between Pentecostals and evangelicals. So that’s something definitely worth keeping in mind. Korea, by the way, from the evidence I’m able to see, is also at this point in time, even though the Christian community there is a minority, in fact generating a number of missionaries that on a per capita basis rivals just about any other country in the world. So it’s really quite a remarkable phenomenon.
We have one more question and then I have something else I want to pose before we close. The – I think we have one more question from a journalist?
OPERATOR: Yes, sir. This comes from the site of Christina Knauss with The Catholic Miscellany. Please go ahead, your line is open.
CHRISTINA KNAUSS, THE CATHOLIC MISCELLANY: Hi. Thank you for this information; it’s very valuable. I’m just wondering if one could speak to the – some of the statistics about Catholic Asian Americans, a little bit about – more specifically about how important religion is in their lives and also their statistics and weekly worship.
LUGO: Very good question. What about not just Christians in general but Catholics within – but first remind us: Catholics, what percentage of the Christians – I think Protestants are a slight majority within the Christian community, but Catholics are pretty close. Was it –
FUNK: Right. So, 19% of U.S. Asians are Catholic, right? So it’s slightly smaller than the percentage who are Protestants. Again, I would say in terms of the report, page 17 is a nice summary. You’re seeing Asian-American Catholics more likely than white Catholics, than the general public to say that religion is very important in their life, a little more likely to say that they pray daily and more likely to attend worship services at least weekly.
We also have their comparison with Hispanic Catholics, where the pattern’s a little bit different but more complicated. Asian-American Catholics are about equally likely as Hispanic Catholics – who can be, of course, of any race – to say that religion is very important in their life. But they are still more likely to attend religious services at least weekly, relative to Hispanic Catholics.
KNAUSS: And is there –
LUGO: Does that get to your question, Christina?
KNAUSS: Yes, I just had one other – one other question to ask. Was there any breakdown among the different Asian ethnic groups about which group was more religiously observant than others – for instance, among Vietnamese Catholics, or Filipino?
FUNK: We may have looked at it, but I don’t know if it got in the report. The largest subsample of Catholics is coming from the Philippines, and it’s a much smaller group coming from Vietnam. So the best data is about the Filipino-American Catholics, and I don’t remember now where they – where they fell in terms of religious importance.
LUGO: Between the Filipinos and Vietnamese?
SMITH: Well, we don’t really have enough Vietnamese to –
LUGO: Not enough Vietnamese. OK. Yeah, that’s always the frustrating thing here. Even when you can get larger groups – smaller groups within those groups, you can’t garner.
But yeah, it is – it does underscore, by the way, something that I say a lot in my talks. I’m usually asked to speak about Latinos and the transformation of U.S. Catholicism, but I keep reminding folks that, in fact, there is a significant percentage of immigrants who are coming to the country, primarily from Asia, but also from elsewhere, who are Catholic. And so the Catholic Church is drawing sort of disproportionally from all regions of the globe in terms of the percentage Catholic among the immigrants compared to the percentage Catholic in many of those countries. So it is quite a remarkable phenomenon. It is a “catholic,” you know, or universal, phenomenon for the Roman Catholic Church. So it’s a very important point to keep in mind, that it’s not just the Latino immigration that’s adding to the Catholic numbers and transforming American Catholicism, but it’s also Asian migration of Catholics that is contributing to the same phenomenon.
I wanted to, and in the minute or two we have left, with this – go back to this question of inclusivity/exclusivity theologically, because, again, in some traditions, believing that your faith is the one true faith is orthodoxy. But as I read these results – and here I would ask – I would ask Khyati and Sharon in particular but also the others to weight in – as I read these results, the “orthodoxy” within Buddhism and Hinduism is that there’s more than one way to eternal life, that to claim exclusivity somehow is not good Buddhist or Hindu teaching. So I find that very, very interesting. And it – and it dovetails, I guess, into the conversation about, you know, the high percentage who observe Christmas. I mean, maybe we don’t understand this phenomenon precisely right. I mean, is it just Santa Claus and giving gifts, or is there a way in which Buddhists and Hindus are in some sense religiously celebrating Christmas and that seems to be fine in terms of Buddhism and Hindu theology? So if I could ask maybe Khyati to weigh in on that first, if you’re still with us, Khyati.
JOSHI: Yes, yes, I’m here. Sure, thank you. Well, I think that it’s very – we don’t know, exactly. In this survey, when people said they do celebrate Christmas, what does “celebrate” mean? You know, is it religious, is it cultural, is it secular, is it going to the mall, you know?
But I think that it is important to understand that for some Hindus, sometimes Jesus can be seen as another incarnation of God. These theological exclusivity is not there, and so it doesn’t become an issue. And I think specially in our religiously pluralistic democracy, it’s incredibly important to understand this so that we do understand why some groups might be – why some religious groups might be offended with the whole “merry Christmas” thing and while others will just say “merry Christmas” right back to you. And that – this is a very real issue, I would say, on the streets of this country. You know, so I do think it is celebrated in a – Christmas is observed and celebrated in a variety of ways, none of which can be discounted.
LUGO: Interesting. What about within the Buddhist community, Sharon? Anything to add on that?
SUH: Well, you know, one of the things about the Buddhist tradition that makes it so different is that there really are a number of ways to liberation, and even the concept of liberation, which tends to be defined in terms of nirvana, is understood differently by many, many Buddhists. So one of the interesting and also difficult things, I think, with regard to interpreting Buddhists in this study is that, you know, first of all, there is no orthodoxy in Buddhism. As a religious tradition, there is no orthodox position. There’s – I mean, we could define Buddhism as more as I guess an orthopraxis tradition. But you know, one of the common things that’s attributed to the Buddha is that there’s 84,000 dharma doors to liberation, and so there’s really – within the tradition itself, one cannot say that there’s one true way. That’s not to say that Buddhists across time and place have always touted that line, but certainly within the doctrinal scriptural traditions, you don’t really find that kind of exclusivity and orthodoxy.
So in terms of Christmas, I can’t – I really don’t see Buddhists celebrating Christmas as a religious ritual, perhaps more of a cultural practice and celebration.
LUGO: All right. That’s very helpful. Thank you.
Jane, did you want to weigh in on this one?
IWAMURA: Yes, I just wanted to add to Sharon’s point and that – about some of the pressure that, you know, American Buddhists have faced and, one of them is, you know, you have an Asian-American Buddhist community and you’re raising children, and of course the children want to celebrate Christmas. They want the gifts. You know, they’re caught up in the holiday cheer. And there’s ways that I believe Buddhist institutions have tried to accommodate this. You know, some researchers of this have called this the proselytization of Buddhism. But for instance, among Japanese-American Buddhists, what would happen at the end of the year is the end of the year service, in celebration – not necessarily called Christmas, but paralleled or aligned with Christmas. And even though it was mainly cultural, they tried to also fit that in with the Buddhist community. So there are these types of accommodations that are happening, you know, within particular kind of Buddhist communities.
LUGO: Thank you.
Janelle, as the special adviser to this project, I wanted to give you the last word. Not to put you on the spot, because I mean, you know this community so well, but did you find anything surprising in this survey? And if not, that’s fine. Give us your concluding words.
Janelle? Oh, have I lost Janelle?
WONG: Sorry. I guess I would emphasize that Asian-American religion, as nontraditional as they might look to everyday Americans, they’re actually American religions. So Buddhism and Hinduism have been practiced in the U.S. for a very long time, many generations. So Asian-American religions are U.S. religions.
LUGO: All right. Well, thank you. I said at the beginning I was hoping this would be part press conference and part roundtable discussion, and I’m delighted that it’s – that’s just what we got with the – with the great input from the great journalist questions and the comments from the advisers. So many thanks to all of you for joining us today. If we can be of further help, please contact our communications office. We’re here to be of help to you. Thank you again for joining us, and have a good afternoon.
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