Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hinduism - the Next American Banquet Religion

The Institute of American Religion reports in their first census of American Hindus that there are about 1,600 Hindu temples and centers in the U.S., with about 600,000 active adherents. As is typical of most religions, twice that number call themselves Hindu in national polls. Most Hindus are concentrated in greater New York City and in California, but there are significant groups of Indian physicians and motel owners spread across the country, most of whom are at least nominally Hindu.

In 1955 Will Herberg published a landmark book on the American religious landscape, Protestant, Catholic, Jew. He argued that since World War II, Catholics and Jews were becoming fully incorporated into the mainstream of American culture, which had previously been predominantly Protestant. His measure of this new acceptance is if a civic organization, such at Rotary, held a banquet, what kind of minister would they ask to bless the meal? Before the war, he argued, the list would have been limited to Protestants. In the new religious culture after the war, the local Catholic priest or the local rabbi would also be included in the uncontroversial "banquet religions."

The silver lining of 9/11 is that Muslims are increasingly included in the normal self-conceptions of mainstream religion in America. Starting with Pres. Bush's invitation to an imam to take part in the memorial service at the Washington Cathedral (the so-called "National Cathedral") along with the usual Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious figures, Muslim clerics and community leaders are being routinely included in America's civic banquets. There are some anti-Muslim agitators, to be sure, who object to the mainstreaming of American Islam, but they are losing the cultural struggle.

The next American "banquet religion," I expect, will be Hinduism. Pres. Obama made mention of Hindus in his inaugural address - a first. I expect that this kind of rhetorical inclusion will become routine. Indian-Americans are increasingly prominent in politics, though the most successful so far, Gov. Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Haley of South Carolina, are Christians. The moment will come soon, though, when there are practicing Hindus in Congress. When we next have a "National Cathedral" event of the civil religion with presidents and former presidents in the front row, someone will think to ask the local Hindu leader to ask a blessing, too.


sid said...

Maybe if they blow something up we will welcome them to the banquet even sooner.:)

Reformed Catholic said...

No need ... they've got enough troubles with the militant Hindus in India hacking Christian pastors to death, kidnapping Christian women, burning churches, and so on.

Anonymous said...

But you've got to admit ex catholic guy that hacking is small potatoes compared to 911.