Spirituality in America


Sep 3, USA (SUN) In this week's issue of Newsweek magazine, the feature article is entitled "Spirituality In America". According to the by-line, "Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God, and, according to our poll, they don't much care what the neighbors are doing."

The special feature section includes six main articles, covering six faith groups: Catholics, Pentecostals, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Kabbalahists, and strangely enough, Christian environmentalists. The statistical results from a series of polls taken in early August by Beliefnet are summarized, and the poll questions themselves are an interesting indicator of how Americans view religion and spirituality today.

Survey of Faith

We found a number of the Beliefnet poll results particularly interesting, including the following:

  • 79% of those polled describe themselves as 'spiritual', while 64% say 'religious'

  • 20% have changed faiths since childhood

  • Among a variety of answer choices, the majority say that the reason they practice religion is "to forge a personal relationship with God".

  • 80% believe that God created the universe

  • 67% believe the soul goes to heaven or hell upon death, while 13% believe the soul lives on in the spiritual realm. Only 5% believe the soul reincarnates.

  • The majority of those describing themselves as Atheist are in the under-40 group

The Hindu Presence

Over the last few years, there has been an increasingly obvious tilt in the American national dialogue on religion: the consistent absence or minimization of the Hindu faiths. We first noticed this phenomenon after the September 11th terrorist attacks, when President Bush gathered leading religious leaders together on September 14th for a prayer ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral. Among the representatives of the major religions were Billy Graham and members of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

Over the months of national mourning that followed 9-11, there were many instances when religious leaders gathered together to present a united front against terrorism. Such gatherings typically included members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith. One would occasionally see a Buddhist representative, and very infrequently a Sikh, but seldom did we see a Hindu representing persons of Vaisnava or Shaivite faith.

Hinduism (we use the term as it is popularly, albeit incorrectly, used) is the second or third largest religion on the planet today, depending on which set of statistics you accept. Certainly, Christians are the largest group, with the Hindu and Muslim faiths a close second and third. Given the number of adherents, with well over a million in the U.S., it is somewhat astounding to realize just how often the Hindus are not included in various interfaith gatherings in America. This phenomenon is also apparent in Newsweek's "Spirituality In America" article.

While the Newsweek article spans 17 full pages of the magazine, nowhere is there even a cursory presentation of the Hindu faiths amongst the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist feature stories. In fact, throughout the entire article narrative, the words "Hindu" or "Hinduism" appear only two times in 17 pages (not counting the 2 instances the term is mentioned in poll questions.)

For more information, see the July 2005 Sun article, "Growth of World Religions":


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