In This Article Hinduism in North America

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Indian Immigration to the United States
  • Race
  • Hindu Nationalism
  • Hindu Temples
  • Ritual Change
  • Technology
  • Gender
  • Generational Issues
  • Canadian Hinduism
  • Indo-Caribbeans in Canada and the United States

Hinduism Hinduism in North America
by
Jennifer B. Saunders
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0144

Introduction

Hinduism first arrived in North America through missionary and travel accounts in the late 18th century, which were shortly followed by European Orientalist translations of Sanskrit texts. These written works and American Transcendentalism shaped American knowledge and opinion about Hinduism for much of the 19th century. Hindu missionaries and Indian immigrants first arrived in North America in notable numbers around the turn of the 20th century. This first wave of Indian immigration to the United States and Canada was limited in several respects: immigrants were relatively few in number, the period of active immigration was less than twenty years, and nearly all of the immigrants were men. Because this community could not grow, its impact on American religious life was not particularly significant. Through this period, however, Hindu gurus continued to arrive and found audiences interested in their messages, which were heavily influenced by the Hindu reform movements of that era. Indian immigration to North America nearly ceased until the United States and Canada significantly revised their immigration policies in the 1960s. The new laws dramatically changed the nature of immigration to North America and created new opportunities for Indian immigrants, the majority of whom, in this post-1965 era, are Hindu. American interest in Hinduism increased simultaneously due to the counterculture movement of the 1960s and the arrival of new Hindu gurus. The Hinduism practiced by people of Indian descent and non-Indian spiritual seekers has generally followed different trajectories. Significant issues North American Hindus have encountered are living as an ethnic and religious minority, the dynamics of race and racism in North America, defining Hinduism for children and non-Hindus, establishing religious communities, and negotiating diverse ritual practices in establishing Hindu institutions. The context of religious diversity in North America often has a significant impact on the experiences of Hindus here. Because the majority of resources address Hinduism in the United States, there is a separate section on Canadian Hinduism.

Introductory Works

While there are no full-length introductions to Hinduism in North America, there are a few introductory textbooks that include useful chapters for beginning students. Albanese 2007, Larson 2003, and Mann, et al. 2001 include concise introductions to Hinduism. Albanese 2007 additionally provides overviews of “export” and immigrant Hinduism with an emphasis on the history of Hinduism in the United States, while Larson 2003 describes contemporary immigrant Hinduism. Eck 2001 encompasses historical American Hindu movements as well as snapshots of post-1965 immigrant Hindu temples. Eck 2001 and Albanese 2007 also include helpful discussions of the American religious context that is shaping Hinduism in the United States. Mann, et al. 2001 contains information on family practices as well. Fenton 1995 is an early bibliography limited to resources before 1993 but is useful for addressing issues of interest to early researchers and for its inclusion of sources published for North American Hindus. Bauman and Saunders 2009 is a more selective article-length survey of the study of immigrant Hinduism in the United States and provides an analysis of more recent secondary sources. Tweed and Prothero 1999 is an anthology of primary sources and covers a wide variety of historical moments, genres (letters, poetry, court decisions, interviews, etc.), and perspectives (missionary, convert, religious teacher, etc.) on Hindu and other Asian religious traditions. All of these resources are appropriate for undergraduate students.

  • Albanese, Catherine L. America: Religions and Religion. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    A helpful introduction to the American religious context and briefly explains key concepts in Hinduism such as Brahman, ātman, and bhakti, karma, and jñāna yoga for students who are not familiar with the religion. The short section on Hinduism in the United States covers a wide range of issues in a few pages.

  • Bauman, Chad, and Jennifer B. Saunders. “Out of India: Immigrant Hindus and South Asian Hinduism in the USA.” Religion Compass 3.1 (2009): 116–135.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2008.00121.xE-mail Citation »

    An excellent place to begin research on immigrant Hinduism as it categorizes and analyzes research on South Asian Hinduism in the United States from 1988 to 2007. Organizes research into two phases, 1988–2000 and 2001–2007, and covers topics in the field including Americanization, ecumenization, congregationalization, ritual adaptation, race, Hindu nationalism, and transnationalism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Eck, Diana L. A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001.

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    Introduces readers to the concept of American religious pluralism and includes a chapter on American Hindus, which includes sections on a variety of immigrant Hindu temples, American Transcendentalism, Vivekananda and the Vedanta Society, Yogananda, Transcendental Meditation, a variety of post-1965 gurus, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, pilgrimage, festival celebrations, and American-born Hindus of Indian descent.

  • Fenton, John Y. South Asian Religions in the Americas: An Annotated Bibliography of Immigrant Religious Traditions. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    A relatively early annotated bibliography that surveys works on North American Hinduism as practiced by South Asian immigrants and their descendants. Includes primary as well as secondary sources.

  • Larson, Gerald James. “Hinduism in India and in America.” In World Religions in America: An Introduction. Edited by Jacob Neusner, 124–141. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    This brief chapter provides a simplified, but helpful and concise, overview of Hinduism and Hinduism in the United States. Introduces analytical categories for understanding Hinduism in North America.

  • Mann, Gurinder Singh, Paul David Numrich, and Raymond B. Williams. Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    A book targeted to high school students; the chapters on Hinduism provide accurate introductory information on the development and diversity of American Hinduism. Includes chapters on home worship and temples.

  • Tweed, Thomas A., and Stephen Prothero, eds. Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    An edited collection of primary sources recording some key encounters between Asian religions and the United States. The editors provide helpful introductions to each part (organized chronologically) and each selection. This book is an excellent place for an undergraduate to begin a search for a research project.

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