Houston's growing Hindu community
July 10th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

In Texas, young Hindus want to Americanize ancient faith

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Houston, Texas (CNN) - In many ways, 29-year-old Rishi Bhutada is a traditional Hindu, not so different from his Indian-born parents.

An officer at his dad’s pipefitting company, Texas-born Bhutada had an arranged marriage in India three years ago and then brought his wife back to his hometown, where they recently welcomed a son.

Bhutada is a strict vegetarian and avoids alcohol, as do many observant Hindus.

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And the dashboard of his Toyota Prius is adorned with a small metal statue of Ganesh, an elephant-headed Hindu god known as the remover of obstacles. Bhutada prays to it each morning before leaving his driveway.

And yet Bhutada is a different kind of Hindu than his mom and dad.

His parents were part of a major wave of Indians who arrived in the U.S. in the 1960s and ’70s and focused their religious lives on building a community of believers and temples around Houston, which was then a Hindu wilderness.

Bhutada, by contrast, wants his religion to step out from that now-well-established Hindu hive to engage the broader culture.

Surprising origins of "Don't Mess with Texas"

Driving to lunch recently at a strip mall Indian buffet, he spoke of trying to forge a distinctly American Hindu identity that’s more tightly woven into the national fabric.

“The immigrant generation is focused on India, on the home country,” he said, noting that the TV in his parents’ house is often turned to a Hindi-language channel beamed in from the subcontinent. “I’m focused on the United States, which is my home country.”

That helps explain why a national group he’s involved with, the Hindu American Foundation, recently launched a Take Back Yoga campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the practice’s Hindu roots and values among non-Hindus.

And it's why Bhutada testified at the Capitol in Austin last year against a statewide school curriculum that calls Hinduism a polytheistic religion, a characterization many Hindus reject.

And it's why one area temple has begun placing copies of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, in thousands of Texas hotel rooms, right next to the Gideon Bible.

The developments speak to a new, publicly assertive stance that’s shared by many first-generation American Hindus across Houston, home to one of the country’s largest and fastest growing Indian enclaves, and by many young Hindus across the nation.

“Our parents had to build everything from scratch to make a united Hindu community in this country,” said Tejas N. Dave, 17, a high school junior who volunteers with a project bringing yoga to unprivileged Americans.

“Now we’re trying to reintegrate it back into society,” he said, “to make people realize that Hinduism is a religion and a way of life and a philosophy that’s not too different from what a lot of others believe. We’re all trying to make a better society.”

Some young Hindus are envious of the attention that American Muslims and Mormons have received in recent years – even if not all of the attention has been positive – and are trying to raise Hinduism’s national profile.

The impulse is not about winning converts. Hinduism, the world’s third-largest religion, doesn’t proselytize.

Rather, many young Hindus say, it’s about making their faith less exotic to others while making it more meaningful to their own modern American lives.

When their parents arrived from India a few decades ago, it was hard enough just being Hindu.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which overhauled the U.S. immigration system by eliminating biases toward European immigrants, among other things, opened American doors to millions of Asian immigrants, including Indians.

Those first arrivals struggled to recreate ethnic and religious networks from back home. When Bhutada’s father, Ramesh Bhutada, arrived in the U.S. in 1968, Houston played host to a single Hindu temple, which had opened earlier that year.

It was a stark change from India, where Hindus can stop into seemingly ubiquitous temples every day for brief visits, helping explain why so many Indians say “Hinduism is a way of life.”

There were more prosaic struggles, too. Many Hindus believe that vegetarianism denotes religious purity and a commitment to nonviolence, but they struggled to maintain that tradition in what was then a very meat-centric American diet.

“There was not even anything like a vegetable burger in those days,” Ramesh Bhutada said.

In those early years, new Hindu arrivals turned their homes into makeshift temples, holding religious education classes for their American-born children.

“There would be kids’ activities in one bedroom and adults in another,” said Dhruval Amin, 28, a Houston-based project manager at an international consulting firm, recalling childhood visits to such homes.

Today, Amin worships at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a sprawling, snow-white temple carved from Italian marble and Turkish limestone that sits on 22 manicured acres in Stafford, just south of Houston.

Opened in 2004, the temple is a proud symbol of the local Hindu community’s growth and prosperity, though it’s a story that’s hardly confined to Houston.

The U.S. Census does not track the number of Hindu Americans; the Census doesn’t ask about religion, period. But data from the 2010 Census show that Texas’ Asian Indian population nearly doubled in size in the past decade, to around 250,000.

Now, for the first time, Indians represent the largest Asian community in the state. Many were drawn by lucrative jobs in Texas’s booming oil, technology and medical sectors.

“A lot of the doctors in small metro markets across Texas are first- or second-generation Indians,” said Ray Perryman, who heads an economic research firm in Waco, Texas. “And the top two or three students in every high school tend to be from some part of Asia.”

Similar trends have emerged in other parts of the country. Nationally, Indian growth has surged by 60% in the past 10 years, according to the Census, with 2.8 million Asian Indians living in the U.S. today.

Indians now represent the country’s second-largest Asian group, after the Chinese.

They’re also among the nation’s most successful ethnic groups, with 71% of Asian Indians earning bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared with 28% of all Americans, according to data from the U.S. Census’s 2009 American Community Survey.

The survey reported that Asian Indians have median household incomes of more than $90,000, compared with $50,000 for all Americans.

Not everyone from that community is Hindu. India’s Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Jain minorities are also represented in the United States.

At a recent yoga class at Houston’s India House, a community center, the instructor was Hindu, and most participants were Indian, but half were Catholic, Methodist or another kind of Christian.

When the instructor, Sarika Phalak, leads open and closing prayers that reference God, she invites participants to speak the name of their own deity. Many say “Jesus.”

Still, Hindu growth around Houston has exploded in recent years, with 19 temples now scattered across the sprawling metropolitan area, most built just in the past decade.

Temple-based Hindu youth camps long ago replaced home-based classes. And several national Hindu organizations now call Houston home.

The city’s Hindu onslaught put Charu Krishna Thammavaram, 28, in closer touch with her religion when she relocated from Lafayette, Louisiana, three years ago.

“I feel like a born-again Hindu now,” said Thammavaram, who works for an India-focused humanitarian group called Ekal Vidyalaya, which is headquartered in Houston.

In Louisiana, the lone “nearby” temple was an hour’s drive from Thammavaram’s home. Here, she had her choice of temples and settled on a Hare Krishna temple after shopping around, just as many Americans of other faiths do.

For many young Hindus, tweaking their religious heritage to make it more relevant has become an important project.

“My parents were just immersed in Hinduism, starting every day with prayer and accepting it without question,” said Kavita Pallod, a native Houstonian and first-generation American who recently graduated college. “But I don’t start my days with prayer. And Hinduism is something I’ve questioned and debated with friends.”

Yet Pallod, 23, has spent a good deal of time thinking about how to apply her faith to her life. “I believe that karma is the principal that guides the universe,” she said, referring to the Hindu concept of cosmic justice. “It’s one of the reasons I joined Teach for America.”

Pallod, who’s training for the teaching program this summer, was speaking at Star Pipe Products, the pipefitting distributor where Rishi Bhutada works and that his father, Ramesh, founded in 1982.

Situated at the end of a bland industrial drive on the city’s west end, the company doubles as a meeting place for local Hindus.

Among its warren of warehouse and offices spaces is a community center where a mural of Swami Vivekananda, a famous 19th-century spiritual leader who introduced the faith to the United States, fills the back wall.

But like the younger Bhutada, Pallod is intent on taking her religion outside officially Hindu spaces. As the president of the Hindus Student Association at the University of Texas at Austin until her graduation in May, she focused on introducing Hinduism to non-Hindu students.

Last spring, her group went all out to get non-Hindus to participate in Holi, a Hindu festival that involves throwing colored powder and water – often at other people – in a playful, rainbow-like spectacle.

“We wanted them to actually experience it themselves as opposed to just sitting there passively,” Pallod said of the event. “We wanted to teach that the colors are all about eliminating differences by making everyone look the same.”

The festival drew about 2,000 people, with many enthusiastically throwing colored powder at one another in the shadow the state Capitol. It was the kind of scene that Indian immigrant parents could have never imagined.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Content Partner • Hinduism • Interfaith issues • Texas

soundoff (2,004 Responses)
  1. George

    One of the tolerant religions of the world. They accepted Israelite who came to Southern India and took refuge in the very year
    in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. And, Hindus has sheltered and fostered remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. The four ways developed by Hinduism, God through knowledge, love, work, and Psycho-physical exercises can be practiced by anyone without undermining their faith. Worlds Religions by Huston Smith is a good read.

    July 10, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • ad

      yes. but look at the statistics.
      in 1949:
      percentage of hindus in pakistan – 10%, now: less than 1%

      percentage of muslims in india: 7%, now: more than 20%

      if hindus weren't tolerant, this would have never happened. look at their cricket/socce teams, look at their films, look at their businesses. Islam and other religions are thriving in India.

      Taj Mahal was built by hindu slaves. Every body knows about it. Yet hindus visit it. hindus visit muslim sufi shrines. Hindus celebrate christmas.

      Eid and other muslim festivals are public holidays in india. so is easter and christmas.

      try to read up a bit.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • noname

      Bob from PA.
      you still dont get it .....the issue is with muslims . Tell me one place in the world where mulsims have no issues to live in co-existance with other religion/s

      July 10, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • American Muslim

      There are many Muslims living in peace along side others. Like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia (largest Muslim population),Ethiopia, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and in the US. Go and check your facts.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  2. Bob from Pittsburgh

    The old indians born in India keep their own ""indiosincarsy"" they belive in Cast, and as a non Indian is hard to interact with them.. If you happened to be above them they behave like a puupy dog, if you happened to be below them they treat you like a dog. The young indiand born here in north america have a different view, and more or less accept our ways, including the notion that arrange marriage is not for them..

    Only my observations from my experience with Indians..

    July 10, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • ad

      isnt that a race thing? you should know better.

      pakistanis/arabs/africans/east asians treat white people like god and every other race like dirt.

      religion has nothing to do with it. unless you wrongly think that christians/muslims/jews aren't racist.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Cana01

      Bob from PA: You may have only been dealing with a select few who have ruined it for many but Hinduism itself preaches peace. The Quoran on the other hand is mis-interpreted in many ways and as a result creates havoc. THe wars between hindus and musilms dates back to the English liberating India and fights over land which led to the division and formation of India & Pakistan. Muslims are your problem....as they are around the world. Hindus were just standing up for themselves. As for the few you may have met...well there are A__holes all over the place.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • Nash

      its Caste. Not a plaster Cast.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  3. Parrot


    July 10, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • Mary

      The people from India should not be called "Hindus" only because the term Hindu's indicates that India belongs to only the "HINDUS"! India is also home to Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Also lets not forget that India is also home to the second largest peaceful Muslims in the world!

      July 10, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • james

      RIDICULOUS! did you even read the article. Also if Columbus made a mistake by calling natives Indians as he thought he was in India why no but why should all the real Indians meaning from India be all called Hindus because of his mistake s when clearly not all of them are as some are christians , muslims and sikhs.
      Natives should be called natives and Indians Indians because from India ..
      Anyway feel like im wasting my time just writing this done because some people are so ..anyway i hope that you one day will understand when youre grown old enough and have some brains.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • james


      July 10, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Smartypants

      @Mary, I totally agree with stance on calling all people in India "Hindus" because not all Indians practice Hinduism. On the other hand, I have to disagree with you saying that there is the second largest population of peaceful Muslims in the world. While I am not concerned with the validity of your statement, making a generalization about a religious group to me is downright wrong. While I don't believe that all Muslims are extremists, not all of them are peaceful either. There has been conflicts between the Muslims and the Hindus for a very long time. Some of them were instigated by Hindus and others were instigated by Muslims. No one religion is "peaceful" and no one religion is "violent. " All religions are plagued by idiots who take the word of 2,000 years ago to dominate their life today.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • guest

      no, you dont call all people coming from the usa as christians. similaryly you dont call people from india hindus. Hinduism is a religion just like Christianity. India is a country just like the USA is a country. do you understand the difference?

      People from India and Indians. Native Indians from here are just that – Native Indians.

      July 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  4. ArBee

    God is a concept that keeps humanity safe until we are mature enough to recognize the unique miracle of every person's existense.

    What if there were no "god"?
    What if we were the only chance for intelligent life in this universe?

    Am i a hindu or muslim or christian or jewish????

    July 10, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  5. Reality

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Paganism,
    and Christianity by the "hatters", "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" will quickly converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples or synagogues.

    July 10, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  6. XK

    give their god a peanut

    July 10, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Jeff Orlando

      And what did yours require? The blood of innocent animals? The peanut sounds better.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  7. big b

    Good for them! Welcome!!

    July 10, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  8. Hitesh Patel RDU

    I have a great respect for other religions but I am seeing BAPS activities are beyond expectations,they teaches spritiual and humanitarian values from ages 6 month to 60 year.What I know about BAPS is :

    BAPS Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, the BAPS reaches out far and wide to address the spiritual, moral and social challenges and issues we face in our world. Its strength lies in the purity of its nature and purpose. BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. This is done by mass motivation and individual attention, through elevating projects for all, irrespective of class, creed, colour or country. Its universal work through a worldwide network of over 3,300 centers has received many national and international awards and affiliation with the United Nations.

    Today, a million or more Swaminarayan followers begin their day with puja and meditation, lead upright, honest lives and donate regular hours in serving others. No Alcohol, No Addictions, No Adultery, No Meat, No Impurity of body and mind are their five lifetime vows.

    Such pure morality and spirituality forms the foundation of the humanitarian services performed by BAPS.

    July 10, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  9. K. Jae

    Just a clarification.
    1. India is not the only country that practices hinduism and to define hinduism in indian terms is not totally correct.
    2. Nothing in Hinduism states that its followers should be vegetarians or should not consume alcohol. Its only a practice followed by some people in India with their own interpretation .

    July 10, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • Gary

      Nepal has hindus too. 80+ % of their population, more than India.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • ad

      exactly! nothing is forbidden in hinduism: being Lor G is not a crime, not is eating cow meat, neither is widow marriage.
      True hindu celestial law works on only two things: dharma and karma. Swami Vivekananda has explained it beautifully. his treatise on Bhagwad Gita is a master piece.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • PD

      To all the people who are commenting without proper instruction about Hinduism: please read Bhagavad Geeta and Vedas, the sources of eternal knowledge. If you don't have one, ask your local ISKCON. Please don't preach about Hinduism without knowing it. Consuming alcohol and meat is one of the many forbidden things in Hinduism. You may be misinformed about Hinduism if you read any books other than Bhagavad Geeta and Vedas.

      July 10, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  10. Danny

    Hinduism: Since Sanskrit is the oldest written language, as far as religion being written down, and as far as organized religion is concerned, it would be Hinduism. It is said that when Rama appeared, according to our calendar, was a million or so years ago (not sure of the exact date, but it's a long time!) And Krishna, God himself according to the Vedic scriptures, appeared here 5,000 years ago. Buddha, about 500 B.C., Jesus, about 2,000 years ago. If you go through the different religious book and study this question deeply, you will find out that Hinduism is the oldest religion of the world.

    July 10, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Cana01

      Absolutely! Yet many muslims think that they were the first religion to evolve!

      July 10, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • PRA

      LOL how can Islam be the oldest religion when it's stems from Judeo-Christian background???

      July 10, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  11. faberm

    I find this to be a very interesting article. I imagine is would be a struggle indeed to fit this ancient religion into modern American life. I think it is encouraging though that the young people treasure being Americans and want to fit something of their cultural past into their lives here. I think that if ALL Americans (regardless of their cultural past) will cherish this great country for all of her goodness we will have many more centuries of a good thing. Yes this country has committed many wrongs and taken wrong turns, but its freedom and prosperity are the envy of the world. These Asian Indians have chosen to make this their home and to appreciate the opportunity and I laud them.

    July 10, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Guru Kama Raj

      America is a very tolerant country as India used to be. There is no doubt in my mind that America is a leader in showing the world that people can live together with their difference in faith and practice and without killing each other. God bless America. I am proud to be an Indian American

      July 10, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  12. Popcorn

    In two-five years. India will take over China's 1# population. 100% fact...

    July 10, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  13. George

    "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." (Bhagavat geetha).

    July 10, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  14. clydesdale

    From what I know about Hinduism it is not really a religion it is more of a philosophy that guides one on how to live and is based
    on ancient writings. Instead of ones beliefs having to be unified like Christians, ones beliefs are very diverse. There are also many Gods who one may or my not worship. Christians beliefs are also based on ancient teachings (from the bible) but are immutable do not fit with the modern world. One has to constantly condemn our immoral modern life.There is also only one God and one saviour. Hinduism is more flexible.
    because the beliefs are so diverse.

    July 10, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • George

      "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea,so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."
      By Swami Vivekananda at the World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 11th September 1893

      July 10, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  15. Geo In TO

    There are more Indians in Vancouver than the whole of Texas ... same goes for Toronto.

    July 10, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  16. Roger Noe

    A google on Hindu racism shows the religion was developed to subjugate darker skinned Indians by their light skinned brethren. No wonder Hindus fit right into US racism.

    July 10, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • rkdres

      and we all know that any random "Google" search turns up 100% factual information.....sigh

      July 10, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • raviks34

      Dear Roger Noe,
      I respectfully disagree with your opinion about Hinduism as well as americanism. You can find the script you want for any thing, some where. Please see the reality.
      Even though India is quoted as a Hindu country, you can find all religions livng in harmony. For example we have more muslims than in Pakistan. You will find churches every where in India. In fact too much tolerance had acted against them many times..
      You must visit and study some of the third world countrys to know the truth and realize greatness of America. There is good and bad every where. The question which one is predominant.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • Conky2012

      Are you stupid? Do you think that anyone has accurate information on how hinduism started? Do you know how many thousands of years old it is rofl? Idiot.

      July 10, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  17. studdmuffins

    Government, the new religion.

    July 10, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  18. Bobby

    I am trying to understand what is purpose of this article.

    July 10, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • QED

      CNN puts up articles that generate controversy and polarized comments. It helps them produce repeat Internet traffic from people posting comments, which translates directly into advertising revenues. I come here because I'm drawn to their shenanigans like a fly to pøøpy doopy.

      July 10, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • VoxVerum

      The purpose of any article is to inform. The purpose of this one is to help open your eyes and mind to the people living and working around you. Get it?

      July 10, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  19. David

    The indians I know are nice friendly american hindu people. They respect and do things the right way just like many other american christians, jews, and muslims. They dont force their religon on you like most christians and muslims try to do. It's either you accept them or you dont. Their peacefulness is humbling sometimes. And to the people that being hypocrites saying hindu people are rich people who look down on others, that's a case for any person of any creed, race or religon.

    July 10, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  20. Jake Wheeler

    All I know is that In the IT industry, once Indians get into management positions, it's all over for American workers. Indian co-workers have told me about their friends throwing American resumes straight into the garbage. These arrogant people are operating a racist caste-system here to exclude Americans from jobs. Just like in India, nepotism, cronyism and tax-evasion are standard operating procedure.

    July 10, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Independent

      That soundds like George Bush's cabinet. hahahahaha

      July 10, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • John S

      That is the kind of behavior that triggers hostility against the minority. The danger escalates when the in-group becomes more affluent than their neighbors. I certainly don't condone hostility, but the people who consistently favor their own in-group should look at history to see the danger.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • TheTruthHurts

      I see that Jake is already receiving negative comments that paint him either as a racist or an ignorant loser with an ax to grind due to being "bested" by an Indian. Actually, Jake was brave in posting comments that he probably knew would draw negative feedback. Actually, what Jake said is the truth. I am also in the IT industry. I am a non-white minority American professional with ZERO "chips on his shoulder". I am a successful middle manager that has worked with hundreds of Indians over the years; some of which have been my friends. I have dined in their homes and they in mine. The Indians I have considered friends have confirmed what goes unspoken in the IT world and this is exactly what Jake is referencing. There is SERIOUS cronyism to a degree that I have never seen in other industries. Sometimes entire teams are comprised of Indians...and, no, this is not always because America has fallen behind in science and technology so we need to "import" these skill sets from other countries. Sometimes (many times) it is because the team leader/hiring manager is Indian and will only bring fellow Indians on board. It is also common knowledge that MANY of the Indians you see working in IT these days are not qualified to hold their jobs. A network exists that gets them the job, but then also "supplies" them with the "knowledge" to retain the job. Think of it as "On the Job Training" - training that should have been completed before they were even hired. Also, many of the Indians I have seen in management positions over the years are completely two-faced and quite frankly extremely rude and disrespectful to others in subordinate positions. This is often accepted by other Indians because certain treatment or mistreatment by the boss is something with which they are all too familiar from back in India. However, non-Indian subordinates typically find themselves in unbearable positions and begin searching for another job. Believe me,there is MUCH more that can be said and it, too, would be negative, but like what has been mentioned so far, it would also be the truth. I do want to stress that this is NOT all Indians. However, it is the vast majority. I have actually had Indian friends apologize for their fellow Indians and carry a deep shame for what they see as becoming far too common in the American workplace. What Jake is saying is the truth. As more and more Indians assume management positions (especially in IT) don't be surprised when you start hearing of equal numbers of discrimination law suits being put forth by non-Indian professionals.

      July 10, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Vishnu sucks!

      This is 100% true! The Indians are in control of our IT industry......and they are going to rule it with an iron fist. Good luck trying to get a job in the industry if you are not Rapu's cousin....otherwise your resume is in the trash.

      July 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Nellore S. Venkataraman

      Just like you racist throwing out resumes from Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

      July 10, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.