Chapter 5: Religious Practices
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Christians are about as likely as Christians overall to say they engage in
daily prayer and even more likely to report that they attend religious worship
services at least once a week. But U.S. Asians as
a whole are more likely than the general public to say they seldom or never
pray, and they are somewhat more likely to say they seldom or never attend
religious services. Buddhist and unaffiliated Asian Americans are particularly
likely to say they rarely pray or attend religious services.
than eight-in-ten Asian Americans celebrate Christmas, and nearly nine-in-ten
celebrate Thanksgiving. But many also maintain distinctive religious and
cultural practices, such as celebrating the Lunar New Year and keeping a shrine
or temple in their home. By contrast, meditation—a practice commonly associated
with some, but not all, types of Buddhism—turns out to be a relatively
infrequent practice among Asian-American Buddhists. A majority say they seldom
or never meditate, while just one-in-seven engages in meditation on a daily
of Asian Americans (67%) say they attend religious services at least a few
times a year, including 32% who say they attend at least once a week. The
remaining third of Asian Americans (33%) say they seldom or never attend
religious services. These figures indicate somewhat lower attendance rates than
those reported by U.S. adults overall.
Asian-American Protestants and Catholics are more likely to attend worship
services weekly than Protestants and Catholics in the general public. Among
Asian Americans, three-quarters of evangelicals (76%) say they attend religious
services at least once a week, as do 60% of Catholics and 42% of mainline
Protestants. By comparison, 64% of white evangelicals say they attend services
at least once a week, as do 39% of Catholics overall and 25% of white mainline
Protestants and Catholics born in the U.S. are less likely than Asian immigrant
Protestants and Catholics, respectively, to attend services at least weekly.
fewer Asian-American Buddhists (12%) and Hindus (19%) say they attend a house
of worship weekly. More than a third of Asian-American Buddhists (36%) say they
seldom or never attend religious services, while about half (52%) attend
monthly or yearly. There are no significant differences in frequency of worship
service attendance between Asian-American Buddhists who were born abroad and
those born in the U.S. About one-in-seven Asian-American Hindus (14%) say they
seldom or never attend religious services, while two-thirds (66%) attend
monthly or yearly. (There were not enough Hindus surveyed to allow for separate analysis of the native born and foreign born.) As shown below, however, Asian-American Buddhists and Hindus
are more likely than Asian-American Christians to have a shrine or temple in
are no significant differences between Asian-American men and women in their
reported rates of worship service attendance. But older Asian Americans (ages
55 and older) are more likely than their younger counterparts to attend
services at least once a week. And foreign-born Asian Americans, as a whole,
are a bit more likely than U.S.-born Asians to attend services at least
Attendance at Multiple Locations
four-in-ten Asian Americans (37%) say they sometimes attend religious services
at more than one place, aside from when they are traveling or going to special
events such as weddings and funerals. About a quarter of U.S. Asians (26%) say
they always attend at the same place. Asian Americans are about as likely as
the general public overall to attend services at multiple locations.
Hindus (54%) and Catholics (50%) are most likely to say they attend religious
services at different places. One-third or more of Asian-American Buddhists
(39%), mainline Protestants (38%) and evangelical Protestants (36%) say they at
least occasionally attend religious services at more than one place.
Protestants—both evangelical and mainline—are similar to their respective
counterparts in the general public with regard to worship attendance at
multiple locations. But Asian-American Catholics are somewhat more likely to
attend services at multiple locations (50%) than are Catholics in the general
at multiple locations, however, can have two very different meanings. It can
mean that a respondent attends services of more than one faith. Or it can mean
that a respondent attends services at more than one house of worship, though
always of the same faith—such as at two Catholic parishes or at several
different Hindu temples. The survey asked a follow-up question to determine
whether respondents who worship at multiple places always go to services of the
same faith. About one-in-five Asian Americans (19%) say they at least
occasionally go to worship services of a different faith, not counting when
they are traveling or attending special events such as funerals and weddings.
More than twice as many (44%) say they attend services of only their own faith.39
survey finds few differences across religious groups on this question. Among
Asian Americans, Hindus are the most likely to say they attend worship services
of a faith other than their own (30%).
U.S. Asians overall, those who attend services monthly or yearly are more
likely than those who attend more frequently to go to services of different
faiths (33% for monthly/yearly attenders and 23% for weekly attenders).
Asian Americans (40%) say they pray at least once a day outside of religious
services. But nearly as many (35%) say they seldom or never pray. Among the
general public, by contrast, more than half of all adults say they pray daily
(56%), while one-in-five say they seldom or never pray (19%).
with other religious beliefs and practices, Asian-American Christians closely
resemble Christians in the public overall on their frequency of prayer. For
example, more than seven-in-ten Asian-American evangelicals (72%) say they pray
at least once a day, compared with 78% of white evangelicals. Asian-American Catholics
are slightly more likely than Catholics overall to say they pray daily (61% vs.
Hindus and Buddhists are less likely to engage in daily prayer than
Asian-American Christians. Among Asian-American Hindus, about half say they
pray at least once a day (48%), as do about three-in-ten Buddhists (29%). The
concept of prayer to a God or a universal spirit may be less common among
Buddhists in part because Buddhists often see their religion in non-theistic
terms, viewing Buddha as a revered pathfinder or teacher rather than as God or
a god. Nearly four-in-ten Asian-American Buddhists (38%) say they seldom or
never pray—the highest of any Asian-American religious group except for the
Asian Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion, 6% say they
pray daily, 11% say they pray on a weekly or monthly basis, and fully
eight-in-ten say they seldom or never pray (81%). These rates of prayer are
substantially lower than those seen among the religiously unaffiliated in the
general public, among whom 22% say they pray every day and 20% say they pray
weekly or monthly.
with the U.S. general public, Asian-American women pray more frequently than do
Asian-American men (46% of women say they pray at least daily, compared with
33% of men). Younger Asian Americans (ages 18-34) tend to pray less frequently
than their older counterparts. And Asian immigrants tend to pray more often than
third of Asian Americans (34%) say they meditate as a religious or spiritual
exercise at least once a week, while an additional 8% meditate a few times a
month. More than half (56%) say they seldom or never meditate.
meditation—a practice commonly associated with some (though not all) types of Buddhism—is
relatively uncommon among Asian-American Buddhists. A majority (61%) say they
seldom or never meditate, while about three-in-ten (27%) engage in meditation
at least weekly, a lower rate than among Asian-American Protestants (46%),
Catholics (47%) and Hindus (44%).
similar, though not directly comparable, question on the Pew Forum’s 2007 “U.S.
Religious Landscape Survey” found that 39% of U.S. adults as a whole say they
meditate at least once a week. However, the 2007 survey did not specify
meditation as a “religious or spiritual exercise,” and it provided five rather
than seven response options.40
Shrines and Temples
in the Home
three-in-ten Asian Americans (29%) maintain a shrine or temple in their home
for prayer. This practice is most common among Hindus (78%).
majority of Asian-American Buddhists (57%) also say they have a shrine in their
home, as do four-in-ten Asian-American Catholics. Maintaining a shrine or
temple in the home is far less common among Asian-American evangelicals (5%)
and mainline Protestants (7%), as well as among those who are unaffiliated with
any particular religion (13%).
immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born Asians to have a shrine or temple at
with the general public are not available on this question.
three-in-ten Asian Americans overall (29%) say they fast during holy times. A
majority of Asian-American Catholics (56%) say they fast during holy times, as
do 41% of Hindus. Fasting is less common among other religious groups. Among
Asian-American Buddhists, evangelicals, mainline Protestants and the
religiously unaffiliated, roughly three-quarters or more say fasting is not a
part of the way they practice their religion.
are no substantial differences on the question of fasting between U.S. Asian
men and women. Asian immigrants are a bit more likely than U.S.-born Asians to
fast during holy times. And older Asian Americans (ages 55 and older) are
slightly more likely than younger Asian Americans (ages 18 to 34) to fast
during holy times.
with the general public are not available on this question.
than eight-in-ten Asian Americans overall (83%) say they celebrate Christmas.
This includes upwards of nine-in-ten Asian-American Christians, along with
roughly three-quarters of Buddhists (76%) and Hindus (73%). About eight-in-ten
(78%) U.S. Asians who are religiously unaffiliated also say they celebrate
all U.S. Asians, nearly nine-in-ten (87%) say they celebrate Thanksgiving. This
includes roughly eight-in-ten Buddhists (82%) and about three-quarters of
majorities of both native- and foreign-born Asian Americans celebrate both
Christmas and Thanksgiving. However, earlier arrivals to the U.S. are more
likely than recent Asian immigrants (those arriving since 2000) to celebrate
Christmas and Thanksgiving.
celebrations can, of course, entail religious, secular or a mix of both
practices; the survey questions did not ask about the kinds of practices that
respondents have in mind with regard to these celebrations.
Asian countries—including China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam—use a lunar calendar
in addition to the solar calendar commonly used in the United States.
religious groups from these four countries of origin, roughly eight-in-ten Buddhists
(81%) and Catholics (77%) say they celebrate the Lunar New Year. About half of the
Protestants in these country-of-origin groups—including 49% of evangelicals—also
celebrate the start of the lunar year.
two-thirds of Chinese, Korean,
Japanese and Vietnamese Americans (68%) celebrate the Lunar New Year.41
Commemoration of the Lunar New Year is highest among Vietnamese Americans (93%)
and Chinese Americans (82%)—who are about as likely to celebrate the Lunar New
Year as to celebrate Thanksgiving. Fewer Korean Americans (45%) and Japanese
Americans (30%) say they celebrate the Lunar New Year.
immigrants, especially those who have come to the U.S. since 2000, are more
likely than native-born Asians from these countries of origin to celebrate the
Lunar New Year. Among Japanese Americans, however, this pattern is reversed;
39% of U.S.-born Japanese Americans say they celebrate the Lunar New Year,
compared with 18% of foreign-born Japanese Americans.
Americans were asked whether they celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of
lights. Seven-in-ten Indian Americans say they celebrate Diwali, including 95%
of Indian Hindus and 45% of non-Hindus.
39 For similar, but not directly comparable, findings among the general public,
see Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2009. “Many
Americans Mix Multiple Faiths.” Washington, D.C.: December. (return to text)
40 In the Asian-Americans survey, response options were “several times a day, once
a day, a few times a week, once a week, a few times a month, seldom, or never.”
Response options for the 2007 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” were “at least
once a week, once or twice a month, several times a year, seldom, or never.” (return to text)
41 Due to a programming error, this question was not asked of Chinese Americans
from Taiwan. (return to text)
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