New Pew Survey on Asian-Americans and Religion, and an Old Controversy

Originally posted by Buddhism About.Com.

Asian-Americans and religion, the numbers!


The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has come out with a new survey, this time focusing on Asian-Americans and religion. I haven’t had time to look through it carefully, but one thing jumped out at me right away.

“While Asian Americans make up a majority of U.S. Buddhists, roughly a third of American Buddhists are non-Asian; the Pew Forum estimates that 67%-69% of Buddhists in the U.S. are Asian,” it says. That’s not a startling statistic, but it is very much at odds with a Pew survey released in 2008, which said that only 32 percent of Buddhists in the U.S. are ethnic Asians. Big difference.

  I see, however, that the older survey — still online — has not been corrected.Arun of Angry Asian Buddhist has written several posts about this, demonstrating that the older numbers just don’t crunch. See, for example, “Stop Using the Pew Study” from September 2010. Arun’s “back-of-the-envelope” rough calculation found that the percentage of U.S. Buddhists who are ethnic Asians had to be closer to 62 percent than 32 percent. Turns out Arun was right.

 The 32 percent figure from 2008 has been picked up by journalists and sociologists ever since it was published. From this number many conclusions have been drawn about Buddhism in the U.S. that are, obviously, invalid. Arun has argued that the older Pew survey numbers have the effect of marginalizing Asian Americans.

 Other than that — and again, I’ve only looked through the new survey quickly —  the next most interesting thing was comparing Buddhists in the 2008 survey and the new survey in areas of social issues. From this I take it that ethnic Asian Buddhists tend to be more conservative than the Buddhists sampled in 2008.

 The 2008 crew tended to lean heavily toward being liberal in political and social outlook, whereas the new survey shows Asian American Buddhists tend to be closer to the U.S. general public in political and social outlook. That’s hardly startling, but it suggests that the 2008 survey did not present an accurate picture of U.S. Buddhists.


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