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On Challenges faced by Hindu Americans

The Hindu population in the United States is estimated to be between 1.5 million and 2 million people and they come from different parts of the world. Hindu religion is different from the majority religions practiced in United States – Hinduism gives importance to the personal quest of an individual to know the supreme truth, it is not a missionary religion and never practices conversion, it never brings religion to public policy issues and above all it is not monolithic and believes that God exists in all animate and inanimate.

The Challenges faced by Hindu Americans

  • Hinduism is the least understood among American religious traditions as the path it follows is different from most world religions - multiplicity of divine names and forms.
  • Transmitting Hindu faith to younger generation in a Christian dominated society.
  • Language to be used in temples during prayers and services.
  • Aggressive conversion campaigns by various Christian organizations.
  • Lack of unity.

Micheal Paulson, winner of Pulitzer Prize, examines the growth of Hindu Americans and the challenges faced by them.

…I moderated a panel on Hinduism in America featuring three experts on the subject, Anantanand Rambachan, the chairman of the religion department at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, who gave an overview of American Hinduism; Khyati Joshi, an education professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, who talked about her research on second-generation Hindu-Americans, and Suhag Shukla, the managing director of the Hindu American Foundation, who talked about issues facing Hindus in the American public square.

Rambachan is a minority within a minority, he comes from Trinidad, and before the panel we were talking a bit about the relationship between Hindu Americans from India and those from elsewhere (there are sizable Hindu populations in the West Indies, South Africa, Mauritius, and Fiji, among other places). Rambachan told me there are definitely tensions, partly related to class, because many of the Hindu immigrants from the Caribbean are working class, whereas those from South Asia tend are often professionals, but also related to linguistic and cultural differences.

The biggest challenge, of course, is transmitting the faith from immigrants, most of whom grew up in a predominantly Hindu society, to their children, who are growing up in a predominantly Christian society. Temples are launching religious education programs, modeled after those in churches and synagogues, but Rambachan said there are other issues for example, Hindus will have to decide what language to use for worship, and, he asked, can we visualize English being a liturgical language for Hindus? He called Hinduism the least understood among American religious traditions, noting Judaism, Christianity and Islam which are all suspicious about imaging the divine and emphasize the oneness of God, whereas Hinduism offers a plethora of iconography and celebrates a multiplicity of divine names and forms.

Both Joshi and Shukla talked about the arrival of large numbers of Hindus on college campuses, the children of the immigrants who arrived in the 1970s and 1980s. Joshi said many of those students are flocking to courses on Hinduism and South Asian studies seeking to better understand their own heritage and faith she said many feel ill-informed about their own family traditions. Some are reluctant to identify as Hindus, she said, and others feel ill-equipped to explain or even practice their own faith. Shukla also noted challenges for Hindus on college campuses, particularly in the form of aggressive conversion campaigns by various Christian organizations.

A final interesting issue that struck me, as a reporter often called upon to find out how various faith groups feel about public policy issues, was the observation by several of the panelists that Hinduism is often practiced in private, and that the religion doesn’t have a strong tradition of articulating a position on public policy issues. Priests in Hinduism do not really play the same role as Christian or Jewish clergy -- Hindu priests are experts at performing rituals, but are not necessarily scholars or theologians. So now, Hindu leaders in the U.S. are grappling with the question of who speaks for their community, and whether and how the Hindu community becomes, collectively, a players in the nation's public policy debates.