Most Hindus live in South Asia, yet most Indians would not define
themselves as Hindus. . “Hinduism” is an all-embracing term to take in a vast
array of beliefs, deities and traditions. Indeed it could almost be said that
religion in India is a complex web of indigenous beliefs. However there are
certain key features of religious life that show a common root and
Hindus often refer to Vedic culture as being their own. This derives from the
Vedas, the oldest Indian sacred books, and from which many of the
essential tenets of Indian religious and social life derive. Hindus often talk
about their faith as Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Truth), one of its ancient
names. There continue to be hundreds of different ways that this “foundation
of all life and reality” is expressed, the two main forms being Vaishnavita
(special devotion to Vishnu) and Shaivite (special devotion to Shiva).
Hindu philosophy is ancient and abiding, and adherents over time have
dwelled alongside devotees of countless other religions (Jains, Buddhists,
Parsees, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians). Buddhist roots are in India, and
the Jains are a distinct religious group whose founder broke away from the
prevailing norms of Hinduism in the 5th century BCE.
The spread of Hindu ideas elsewhere has been considerable throughout
Europe and North America as well as Asia and Australia. Hindu gurus have
traveled west in response to the coming of Christian missionaries to India,
and Westerners have been profoundly affected by visiting India and by
translations of Hindu classics. Hindu belief, imagery and philosophy offer a
very different form of religious understanding from that practiced in the West.
It has created waves of groups inspired by Hindu philosophy and
practice—ranging from overtly religious movements to yoga and Hindu
meditation. This has led to a revival of devotional Hinduism among many
Hindus as well as attracting converts from other faiths and cultures.
Source: Joanne O’Brien and Martin Palmer, The State of Religion Atlas, 1993.
Worldwide: 98.6% of the world’s Hindus reside in south Asia (about ¾
billion). The Hindu population in the United States has grown from 100,000
since 1970 to its present representation (see below).
Sources: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1994, and the Sacramento Bee
United States: A post-2000 census study shows 766,000 Hindu adherents
(0.4% of the U.S. Population). Table
Source: The ARIS 2001 study.
Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism