Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths

Jul 19, 2012

As their numbers rise, Asian Americans are contributing to the diversity of the U.S. religious landscape. From less than 1% of the total U.S. population (including children) in 1965, Asian Americans have increased to 5.8% (or 18.2 million children and adults in 2011, according to the U.S. Census). In the process, they have been largely responsible for the growth of non-Abrahamic faiths in the United States, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. Counted together, Buddhists and Hindus today 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.

Not only do Asian Americans, as a whole, present a mosaic of many faiths, but 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.

Indeed, 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. For example, Asian Americans who are unaffiliated tend to express even lower levels of religious commitment than unaffiliated Americans in the general public; 76% say religion is not too important or not at all important in their lives, compared with 58% among unaffiliated U.S. adults as a whole. By contrast, Asian-American evangelical Protestants rank among the most religious groups in the U.S., surpassing white evangelicals in weekly church attendance (76% vs. 64%). The overall findings, therefore, mask wide variations within the very diverse Asian-American population.

Read the full report, Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths, on the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's website.

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