Hinduism Hinduism in the United Kingdom
by
Demelza Jones
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0279

Introduction

Hinduism in the United Kingdom has been shaped by Britain’s invasion and occupation of much of the South Asian subcontinent during the colonial period, leading to early migrations and associated transmission of Hinduism to British shores via travelling gurus, lascars, and Indian servants of wealthy British families, and later via the large-scale post–World War II arrival of Commonwealth migrants from India and Pakistan who included Hindus among their number. A further significant migration flow occurred in the late 1960 and early 1970s, when South Asian communities, established under colonialism in East Africa, fled discriminatory policies in these newly independent states, including the expulsion of the South Asian community from Uganda in 1962 by Idi Amin. The majority of these approximately 70,000 new arrivals were Hindus of Gujarati heritage, who, as discussed later in this article, significantly bolstered the number of Hindus in the United Kingdom, and strongly influenced the establishment of representational bodies and public places of worship. According to the most recently available data from national censuses, England and Wales have a combined Hindu population of 1 million (1.7 percent of the overall population)—an increase from 818,000 (1.5 percent) at the last census point of 2011. This makes Hinduism the second largest religious affiliation among people of South Asian origin or heritage in the United Kingdom; with 27 percent of British South Asians identifying as Hindu, behind Islam (57 percent) and ahead of Sikhism (14 percent). The majority of the Hindu population live in England and, along with other British South Asians, they are a predominantly urban population. The largest number by far live in the Greater London area, where they comprise almost 6 percent of the overall population (with particular concentrations of over 50,000 individuals in the boroughs of Brent and Harrow), while the largest population outside of the capital (50,807) is found in the East Midlands city of Leicester—an important destination for the aforementioned East African-Gujarati arrivals of the 1960s and 1970s. Outside of England, in the United Kingdom’s less populous nations, there are 16,379 Hindus in Scotland (0.4 percent of the total population) concentrated in the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen; 10,434 in Wales (0.3 percent of the population), with the largest number in the capital Cardiff; and 2,382 in Northern Ireland (0.1 percent of the population), with most residing in the capital city of Belfast and its surrounding area.

General Overviews of Hinduism in the United Kingdom

A number of works provide overviews of the origins, development, and characteristics of the United Kingdom’s Hindu population, as well as the nature and variety of Hindu practice and the establishment of Hindu religious infrastructure in the United Kingdom through the construction of temples. Earlier work in this area was produced by scholars affiliated to the Community Religions Project (CRP) at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds, who conducted detailed empirical research with British South Asian communities in Leeds and Bradford in the 1980s and 1990s. These include Report on Hinduism in Britain (Kings 1984). Other reports produced by the CRP delve more deeply into particular communities and the history of the formation of certain temples, and they are referenced in later sections of this article. More recent overviews of Hinduism in the United Kingdom, reflecting contemporary population statistics and more recently emerging issues, have been published in Knott 2012 and Jones 2020. Other helpful overviews of the UK’s Hindu community can be found within texts dealing with wider topics, such as the inclusion of British Hinduism alongside discussion of Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, and South Asian Christianity in volumes concerned with diasporic South Asian populations. Knott 2000 provides a useful overview of Hindu settlement and community development in Britain, while Coward, et al. 2000 offers detailed discussion of the influence of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Contributions can also be found in works concerned with the global Hindu diaspora or contemporary global Hinduism, such as Warrier 2015 on Hinduism in Britain, and Jacobs 2010. Finally, some helpful material is available via texts concerned with the religious landscape of modern Britain—although here, Hinduism tends to receive scant attention as a “minority religion” within the United Kingdom compared to Islam. A welcome exception is Bluck, et al. 2012, which gives equal weighting to accounts of Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities.

  • Bluck, Robert, Sophie Gilliat-Ray, David J. Graham, Gurharpal Singh, and John Zavos. “Judaism, Sikhism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism: Post-war Settlements.” In Religion and Change in Modern Britain. Edited by Linda Woodhead and Rebecca Cato, 86–149. London: Routledge, 2012.

    Describes, in turn, the origins, development. and key issues around each of the five main “minority religions” in the contemporary British context, revealing interesting synergies and contrasts. The section focusing on Hinduism is authored by John Zavos (pp. 121–131), and the brief glossary of key Sanskrit terminology found in the Hinduism literature is a useful addition for readers who are new to this area.

  • Jacobs, Stephen. Hinduism Today. London: Continuum, 2010.

    Despite its broad title, chapter 5 of Jacob’s book—“Hinduism in Diaspora” (pp. 107–128)—is concerned with the British Hindu context and provides a concise but detailed and wide-ranging overview of the formation of the United Kingdom’s Hindu community, the transmission of Hindu tradition to the diaspora context, the establishment of Hindu temples and community bodies, and diversity and tensions within the Hindu population—including around contentious issues of caste.

  • Jones, Demelza. “Hinduism in the United Kingdom.” In Handbook of Hinduism in Europe. Vol. 2, Hindu Presence in European Countries. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen and Fernando Sardella, 1560–1590. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020.

    Provides an overview of British encounters with Hinduism during the colonial occupation of South Asia and the postcolonial migration flows from the subcontinent (and other parts of the world) that have shaped the practice of Hinduism in the United Kingdom. Particular attention is paid to the substantial diversity within the United Kingdom’s contemporary Hindu population and the consequences of this in the establishment of British Hindu temples and other collective organizations.

  • King, Ursula. A Report on Hinduism in Britain. Community Religions Project Research Papers, University of Leeds, 1984.

    This concise report, freely available online, draws on surveys and empirical work conducted by the CPR in Leeds and Bradford in the 1980s. While the statistical profile of communities is now outdated, the brief overview of the migration histories of Hindus to Britain and the account of the early formation of Hindu temples provides an accessible introduction to this topic.

  • Knott, Kim. “Hinduism in Britain.” In The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States. Edited by Harold Coward, John R. Hinnells, and Raymond Brady Williams, 89–107. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

    As well as providing a concise overview of the migration patterns that established the United Kingdom’s Hindu population, this chapter pays particular attention to the importance of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in influencing the development of a Hindu public sphere, as well as highlighting the importance of scholarly attention to the voices and experiences of young British Hindus and British Hindu women.

  • Knott, Kim. “Hinduism in the United Kingdom.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 334–341. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    A comprehensive and readable account including an overview of both colonial and postcolonial migrations as well as the contemporary picture of a largely British-born second and third generation Hindu community; also explores the reproduction and transformation of Hindu practice in the British context.

  • Warrier, Maya. “Hinduism in Britain.” In Hinduism in the Modern World. Edited by Brian A. Hatcher, 128–142. London: Routledge, 2015.

    Provides an overview of migration histories, the institutional development, and the perpetuation and transmission of Hindu traditions in the UK content. Drawing on her own research into the 2007 controversy surrounding the slaughter of a rural ashram’s resident bull during a bovine tuberculosis outbreak, Warrier highlights the contested nature of British Hindu identity and subsequent issues with attempts to present a unified Hindu voice (addressed in greater detail later in this article’s section: Representational Bodies, Activism, and Politics).

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