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Study shows faith matters among Asian Americans

WASHINGTON -- Broadly speaking, religion is less important for Asian Americans than for Americans overall, but that doesn't mean they shun faith altogether, a Pew Research Center study on Thursday suggests.

In “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faith,” Pew's Forum on Religion and Public Life found that most either count themselves as Christian or say they have no religious affiliation.

Thanks to waves of immigrants in recent decades, the number of those who are Buddhist or Hindu has grown to 2 percent of the U.S. population — about the same proportion of the total population who are Jewish.

“When it comes to religion, Asian Americans are really a study in contrasts,” said Cary Funk, a senior researcher at Pew who wrote up the findings.

Overall, Asian Americans make up 5.6 percent of the total U.S. population, with Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese being the biggest subgroups.

When asked how important religion was in their lives, 39 percent of Asian Americans who took part in Pew's survey called it “very important” — compared with 58 percent of the general public.

Broken down, however, 37 percent of Asian-American Christians said “living a very religious life” was among the most important things in their lives. That compares with 24 percent of all American Christians.

Moreover, members of all three Asian-American Christian groups — Evangelicals, Protestants and Catholics — attended services more frequently than their non-Asian counterparts.

Sixty-seven percent of Asian-American Buddhists, whose family roots go back to Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia, believed in ancestral spirits, and 57 percent maintained a shrine in their homes.

Among those who identified themselves as Hindu, 73 percent regarded yoga “as a spiritual practice,” 59 percent believed in reincarnation and 78 percent had a shrine in their residence.

“The celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is nearly universal among Indian-American Hindus” at 95 percent, said the Pew report, published in full at www.pewforum.org.

Asian-American Hindus also boasted a greater percentage of adults with a household income of more than US$100,000 — 48 percent — than any other religious group in U.S. society.

Branching out into politics, the survey found that Asian Americans who are registered voters lean more towards the Democrats (52 percent) than to the Republicans (32 percent).

However, the Evangelical sub-group bucked the trend, with 56 percent favoring the Republicans. Asian-American Catholics were almost evenly split between the two parties.

Asked how they viewed themselves in comparison with other Americans, 53 percent of Asian Americans said they thought of themselves as "very different," compared to 39 percent who believed they were "typical."

The survey was based on telephone interviews with 3,511 adults nationwide in January through March, in English and seven other languages, although it took calls to 65,000 households to find enough qualified respondents.

Muslims of Asian origin were not included in the report, researchers said, because their numbers were too few for an accurate statistical picture to emerge.

Pew's earlier report, "The Rise of Asian Americans," based on the same survey data, was released in June. It found Asian Americans to be better-paid, better-educated and more satisfied than the general population.

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