My Take: Asian immigration is making U.S. less religious
A Pew report finds that there are now more Asian immigrants arriving in the U.S. each year than there are Latino immigrants.
June 20th, 2012
04:17 PM ET

My Take: Asian immigration is making U.S. less religious

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

When I first started studying Asian religions in the United States in graduate school, I assumed that the story of Asian immigration was a story of the arrival and adaptation of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Asian religions.

And so it is. But the broader story is much more complicated and intriguing.

Although Vietnam is a Buddhist stronghold, many Vietnamese immigrants are Catholics. And many Korean immigrants are evangelical Christians. So immigration from Asia is transforming Christianity in the United States as well as Buddhism and Hinduism.

“The Rise of Asian Americans,” a study released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, got a lot of press for finding that new Asian immigrants now outnumber new Hispanic immigrants.

This study also informed us that Asian Americans are wealthier and more highly educated than the U.S. population as a whole, and more likely to identify with the Democratic Party. So some of the chatter about the Hispanic vote in the upcoming election is rightly giving way to discussion of the Asian-American vote.

But what grabbed my attention in this report were its numbers on the religious affiliations of Asian Americans, who now make up 6% of the U.S. population.

Some of these groups conform to the assumptions of my graduate school days. For example, about half of Indian Americans self-identify as Hindus, and a plurality of Vietnamese Americans call themselves Buddhists.

But most Korean Americans are Protestants and most Filipino Americans are Catholics. A plurality of Japanese Americans (38%) are Christians but 32% are unaffiliated and 25% are Buddhists.

In fact, a buried story here seems to be how Asian immigration may be fueling the rise of the “nones”: people who are religiously unaffiliated.

Of all the Asian Americans surveyed by Pew, 26% are unaffiliated, 22% are Protestant, 19% are Catholic, 14% are Buddhist, 10% are Hindu, 4% are Muslim and 1% are Sikh. And when asked whether religion is very important in their lives, only 39% of Asian Americans say yes, well below the 58% figure for the U.S. public as a whole.

Sociologists of religion have observed that immigrants often become more religious after arriving in the United States. So it could be that Chinese Americans, who are roughly half unaffiliated, will become more Christian or more Buddhist over time. But for now it seems that Asian immigration is doing more than making America wealthier, more educated, and more liberal.

It may also be making the United States less religious.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Asia • Atheism • Belief • Buddhism • Christianity • Hinduism • Immigration • Polls • United States

soundoff (582 Responses)
  1. Mattski

    As far as I can tell, religion causes more problems than secularism.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • davedave2

      There are a lot of people who lived in Mao's China and Stalin's Russia that would disagree with you if they had not been murdered first

      July 19, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  2. Ishu

    There is very little wisdom here-as per the comments sections of @99% of internet blogs--but there is a big dose of venom from the putative atheists. Facile mischaracterizations of Christianity (mostly from hostility and ignorance) are extremely unconvincing. I've spent a lot of time with believers and non-believers. I'll take the believers, thanks. A much better sort of folks.

    July 15, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Infiniteshinji

      That's funny, cause I grew up in a religious home and spent my time with both and I prefer the non-religious. What you said about the non-religious is what I saw from "religious" people.

      So all i have to say is, to each their own.

      July 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  3. Spirit

    Religion doesn't hurt as long as it can teach morals and such.. lack of it doesn't hurt either as long as an individual can learn to be "good" through other methods.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Who invited me?

      what is moral about teaching religious lies?

      July 13, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  4. Bob

    The Chinese fundamentalist churches are taking off like wildfire in the West. A highly education group of folks as well. No sure what to make of this but it has been explosive growth.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  5. No fool

    One common factor to keep in mind: most religions were invented to make women's lives as miserable as possible.

    July 7, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • davedave2

      it is tough being a woman and getting to live longer than men

      July 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  6. HeavenSent

    Filthy Asians

    July 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • seoulborn

      That is an offensive remark, apparently you have no clue about Asians. There is nothing "filthy" about US. Growing up with my Korean Missionary Baptist Mother was like growing up with Mr. Cleans Mentor. The house was spotless, we were spotless and we were kept that way. My White American Father had no objections to our house hold in the way my Mother kept it.

      As far as this article goes...I'm still trying to digest it. Wealthy Educated Asians do not all lean toward the Democratic party, perhaps he needed to identify the locations of where he's polling his Asians – I will be surprised if they are mostly West Coasters. Your numbers are not indicative of the nation, just the area from which polled.

      July 13, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • seoulborn

      I meant to say, "I will NOT be surprised if the Asians polled were mostly West Coasters." The Asian community I grew with in the Mid-South, specifically North East Texas, Southwestern Arkansas is most decidedly Republican in Nature. They certainly do not feel that welfare system is broken and that those that have not is mostly their own fault as plenty of the Asian community came here with nothing more than their shirts on their backs and built their wealth from opportunities they did not have in their home countries.

      July 13, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • seoulborn

      bleh, I give up...typing to fast to be coherent...one last edit...Most Asians feel the welfare system IS broken and that hand-outs are crippling American society.

      July 13, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  7. PumpNDump

    Seneca, a Roman senator:

    "Religion is regarded by the Common People as true, by the Wise as false, and by the Powerful as useful"

    There is another, by Epicurus:

    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    If he is both able and willing?
    Then whence comes evil?
    If he is neither able, nor willing
    Then why call him God?"

    July 4, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  8. Jason

    There is no God, end of story. If this guy were even half as intellectual as he claims, he would have noticed in all his years of study that Jesus is simply a recycling of Horus, their stories are exactly the same. Born of a virgin, resurrected, etc... etc... And guess what, this whole Jesus thing, pervades through a lot more religions in their figures.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • cdgfla

      Exactly. Every myth and fable in the bible has roots in a prior civilzation, be it Egyptian, Greek, Assyrian, or the original city states of Anatolia and Mesopotamia. These i d i o ts that actually believe this never cease to amaze me. Nature gives us this awesome and advanced brain and the majority of the world p i s s it away believing in an ancient set of fables instead of using common sense and educating themselves even a little bit about history.

      July 6, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Tom Paine

      I think the Jesus mythology has more in common with Mithra and Dionysus, but the point is the same: it's not a totally original story.

      July 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • John S.

      Horus was born to the goddess Isis after she retrieved all the dismembered body parts of her murdered husband Osiris, except his penis which was thrown into the Nile and eaten by a catfish and used her magic powers to resurrect Osiris and fashion a gold phallus to conceive her son. You're so right, just like the Gospel according to Mathew.

      July 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  9. thecmancan

    The only thing mathematics, physics and chemistry can't explain is religion.

    June 26, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  10. terry lee

    a true christian embraces the mission fields that are coming right to them.

    June 26, 2012 at 3:08 am |
  11. HappyMadison

    My Take: Religious is making America less religious.

    June 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  12. mlg4035

    What an absolutely meaningless article: I want the last minute of my live back!

    June 22, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  13. RickBangkok

    How can any church muzzle people in the 21st century when science and technology prove so many of their tenets to be false? Pope Gregory was met with Martin Luther because the church was only interested in money and held the power of life or death over believers and non-believers.

    June 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  14. agreement

    Just returning from China and visiting temples and shrines to the various gods I assumed the Chinese had great faith in their chosen believes .
    In every conversation about religion and faith I heard "China no longer has a faith or religion to believe in".
    I went to a Catholic Church where 95% of the population there was foreigners.
    I agree that most are immigrating here faithless.

    June 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • abqTim

      Being Chinese-American born in AZ in a small town, everyone that I know and have known who immigrated from China believe in the evangelical christian way of life. I'm 47 and that's a lot of Chinese folks that I've encountered. It actually amazes me how they all come to believe in the Christian way of life... faith part...hmmm I don't know, but the family, morals, and respect part – yes.

      June 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  15. Winfred

    When you let the pagans worshippers have their way that is what happens, look at the idolators flocking this blog pretending to be atheists.

    June 22, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • abqTim

      You are a jerk and you and people like you make respecting other humans very difficult for others. Too bad you aren't more educated too.

      June 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  16. kebos

    If Asian immigration is making the USA less religious than thank an Asian today because they'll save your a$$, Americans.

    June 22, 2012 at 6:48 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:28 am |
    • The Bird Is The Word

      Yeah? Then show me the GodFax.

      June 22, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      June 22, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • casey

      to the Bird is the word and Jesus here, the biblical Jesus of the New Testament says do not put God to the test, meaning we aren't supposed to order Him around in prayer and expect a circus show. There are reasons for things even for bad things, and sometimes answer to prayers are Yes, No, or Wait.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • Sarah

      Do you have a bot running to post "prayer changes things" in every religion article? If you don't then you are reeeally dedicated to... posting... "prayer changes things" in every religion article.

      July 12, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  18. asianXtian

    Asian Christianity is more faithful to what Jesus preached – unlike white "Christianity" which is more about hate and bigotry than anything else.

    June 22, 2012 at 1:41 am |
    • mandarax

      And the Lord said unto them, "Go and divide thyselves into groups that art mutually antagonistic and based on race, and then vainly compete with one another over which of your groups is the most righteous in my sight." (Vanities 3:12)

      June 22, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • mary

      obviously mandarax is mocking the bible

      June 26, 2012 at 3:14 am |
  19. Reality

    (only for the new members of this blog)

    Stephen P noted:


    "My Take: Asian immigration is making U.S. less religious."

    Then after stumbling through a number of Pew statistics, concludes,

    "It MAY also be making the United States less religious."

    Hmmm ????

    Now for the real, non-statistical based, reasons, the USA and world in general are becoming less religious, the summary:

    Putting the kibosh/”google” on religion –

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    June 22, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • .....

      for all members of this blog – avoid this bull sh it – hit report abuse on all reality posts.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:30 am |
    • matt

      well, the New Testament is wonderful to read and learn from and Jesus in the Bible teaches how to get eternal life, life after death. That's a wonderful thing to pursue. Life is so short it is nice to believe there is more to it, which the Bible tells a whole plan for the Earth and humanity which is full of hope.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:19 am |
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