more research on Asian American Christianity needed

June 23, 2008

In February 2008, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, resulting in a number of headlines:

This excerpt from ISAAC’s blog drills down to find what the survey results say about Asian Americans, with Tim Tseng’s conclusion highlighted in bold:

What about Asian Americans? The survey confirmed the anecdotal evidence that Asian Americans have a higher affiliation with Christianity than other religions. 45% of the Asians surveyed identified themselves as Christians (17% evangelicals, 17% Catholics, and 9% mainline Protestant). 14% identify as Hindu, 9% Buddhists, 4% Muslim, 3% other world religions or faiths. … 23% of the Asians surveyed were unaffiliated, the highest percentage of all racial groups.

Among East Asian immigrants, 57% are Christians … 14% Buddhist, and 27% unaffiliated. 55% of immigrants from South-Central Asia are Hindu, 16% Christian … 12% Muslim, and 11% unaffiliated.

The implications of the survey findings about Asian American religions are clear. Research about Asian American Hindus and Muslims is needed; but so is research in Asian American Christianity.

In the comment thread of the ISAAC blog post, Brian Hui shared his observation: “I was actually surprised that the percentage of Christians was as high as it was and that the percentage of “unaffiliated” was as low as it was (albeit higher than other racial groups).”

To which Tim Tseng replied, “Yep, both of these facts are well kept secrets. You can check out Fenggang Yang’s lecture, “What do Asian Americans really believe?” for more details. … A closer look will show that Filipinos and Koreans are responsible for the high affiliation with Christianity. Among Chinese Americans, Christian affiliation is smaller – but not as small as one might think.”

From what I read of this thread, I think additional research will better inform and shape the common perception of Asian Americans’ choice of religious faith — in other words, clear up the misperceptions and stereotypes. 2ndly, additional research will help distinguish vastly different religious affiliations for each Asian ethnicity (which can further debunks the myth that Asian Americans are all alike) and perhaps different generations too.

What will it take for more research to get accomplished? What questions do you have that you would like to have answered?

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Comments:2 Responses

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Arthur Hsu
June 23rd, 2008

I’m curious as to what definitions Asian-Americans used when they said that they identify themselves with Christianity. Do they consider themselves Christ-followers through a born-again experience? Is it because they grew up in the church all their lives? Is it because they may not know anything else about other religions except for the Christian faith? What sorts of lenses did they use to answer this question?

Tim Tseng
June 24th, 2008

The Pew Forum survey defined the terms quite narrowly in their interviews. They asked specific questions about beliefs to determine which type of Christianity their respondents identify with. So if respondents gave a positive answer to their questions about the “born again” experience or authority of the Bible, they would be classified “evangelicals.” Admittedly, the survey questions were not able to yield even deeper, more qualitative results. But the template is fairly standardized. ISAAC is a strong advocate for increased funds for research that examines the specific questions you raise regarding Asian Americans. Unfortunately, the mainstream research institutes do not consider such a focused approach to be cost effective. So the Asian American community (and others who are interested) will need to intervene and provide the financial resources necessary.

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