Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

New Study Finds Asian Americans Contribute to Diversity of U.S. Religious Landscape

Washington,D.C. – As theirnumbers rise, Asian Americans have been largely responsible for the growth ofnon-Abrahamic faiths in the U.S., particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. Countedtogether, 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 tothe country’s two largest religious groups: Christians and people who say theyhave 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%), andthe unaffiliated are second (26%). Buddhists are third, accounting for about one-in-sevenAsian Americans (14%), followed by Hindus (10%), Muslims (4%) and Sikhs (1%).Followers of other religions make up 2% of U.S. Asians.


Jemila Woodson Communications Associate 202-419-4564 

Liga Plaveniece Communications Associate 202-419-4586 

Notonly do Asian Americans, as a whole, present a mosaic of many faiths, but eachof the six largest subgroups of this largely immigrant population also displaysa different religious complexion. A majority of Filipinos in the U.S. areCatholic, while a majority of Korean Americans are Protestant. About half ofIndian Americans are Hindu, while about half of Chinese Americans areunaffiliated. A plurality of Vietnamese Americans are Buddhist, while JapaneseAmericans are a mix of Christians, Buddhists and the unaffiliated.

Whenit comes to religion, the Asian-American community is a study in contrasts, encompassinggroups that run the gamut from highly religious to highly secular. For example,Asian Americans who are unaffiliated tend to express even lower levels ofreligious commitment than unaffiliated Americans in the general public; 76% sayreligion is not too important or not at all important in their lives, comparedwith 58% among unaffiliated U.S. adults as a whole. By contrast, Asian-Americanevangelical Protestants rank among the most religious groups in the U.S.,surpassing white evangelicals in weekly church attendance (76% vs. 64%). Theoverall findings, therefore, mask wide variations within the very diverseAsian-American population.

Theseare among the key findings of a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forumon Religion & Public Life and Pew Research Center’s Social &Demographic Trends project. “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths” is the secondreport based on a nationally representative survey of Asian Americans, whichwas conducted by the Pew Research Center between Jan. 3 and March 27, 2012. Thefirst report on the survey’s findings, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” wasreleased in June. This report examines the same fast-growing population butuses religious affiliation, rather than country of origin, as the primary frameof analysis. The survey is based on telephone interviews, offered in Englishand seven Asian languages, with 3,511 Asian-American adults (18 years of ageand older) living in the United States. The survey was conducted in all 50states, including Alaska and Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.

Additionalkey findings include:

  • AsianAmericans as a whole are less likely than Americans overall to believe in Godand to pray on a daily basis. But these measures may not be very goodindicators of religion’s role in a mostly non-Christian population thatincludes Buddhists and others from non-theistic traditions. Most Asian-AmericanBuddhists and Hindus, for instance, maintain traditional religious beliefs andpractices. Two-thirds of Buddhists surveyed believe in ancestral spirits (67%),while three-quarters of Hindus keep a shrine in their home (78%), and 95% ofall Indian-American Hindus say they celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival oflights.
  • WhileAsian Americans contribute to the diversity of religion in the U.S., the surveyfinds evidence that they are also adapting to the U.S. religious landscape. Forexample, roughly three-quarters of both Asian-American Buddhists (76%) andAsian-American Hindus (73%) celebrate Christmas. Three-in-ten (30%) of the Hindusand 21% of the Buddhists surveyed say they sometimes attend services ofdifferent religions (not counting special events such as weddings andfunerals). And while about half (54%) of Asian Americans who were raised Buddhistremain Buddhist today, substantial numbers have converted to Christianity (17%)or become unaffiliated with any particular faith (27%).
  • U.S.Buddhists and Hindus tend to be inclusive in their understanding of faith. MostAsian-American Buddhists (79%) and Asian-American Hindus (91%), for instance,reject the notion that their religion is the one, true faith and say insteadthat many religions can lead to eternal life (or, in the case of Buddhists, toenlightenment). In addition, the vast majority of Buddhists (75%) and Hindus (90%)say there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of theirreligion. By contrast, Asian-American Protestants—particularly evangelicalProtestants—are more inclined to believe their religion is the one, true faithleading to eternal life. Indeed, Asian-American evangelicals are more likelythan white evangelical Protestants in the U.S. to take this position. Nearlythree-quarters of Asian-American evangelicals (72%) say their religion is theone, true faith leading to eternal life, while white evangelical Protestantsare about evenly split, with 49% saying their religion is the one, true faithleading to eternal life and 47% saying many religions can lead to eternal life.
  • Thereligious affiliation of the six largest subgroups of Asian Americans generallyreflects the religious composition of each group’s country of origin. In somecases, however, the percentage of Christians among Asian-American subgroups ismuch higher than in their ancestral lands. For example, 31% of the ChineseAmericans surveyed are Christian; the vast majority, though not all, of thisgroup come from mainland China, where Christians generally are estimated toconstitute about 5% of the total population. Similarly, 18% of Indian Americansidentify as Christian, though only about 3% of India’s total population isestimated to be Christian. The higher percentages of Christians are a result ofthe disproportionate number of Christians who choose to migrate to the UnitedStates and may also reflect religious switching by immigrants.

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


The Pew ResearchCenter’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analysesand other social science research on important aspects of religion and publiclife in the U.S. and around the world. As part of the Washington-based PewResearch Center, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization, the Pew Forum doesnot take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers. 

Twitter: @pewforum 



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