The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 opens up Asian immigration. Transcendental Meditation takes off. Young people in shaved heads and saffron robes chant "Hare Krishna" at airports.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Hinduism seemed on the path to spectacular growth in the United States as immigration laws eased and some Indian spiritual leaders were embraced by the counterculture of the l960s.
The forecasts were half right.
Transcendental Meditation and movements such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness would face growing anti-cult opposition, among other obstacles. They would not be the path to lasting growth in Western converts to Hinduism.
What is propelling Hinduism in the United States into a role as one of the nation's largest minority religions is a steady stream of Indian immigrants who have built hundreds of temples across the nation, according to a new study.
In what it calls the first effort to conduct a Hindu census in the United States, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Institute of American Religion discovered some 1,600 temples and centers with an estimated 600,000 practicing Hindus.
That number could easily rise up to the estimated 1.2 million who self-identify as Hindus in national studies by adding in the mostly Indian Americans who limit their involvement to private spiritual practices or celebrations of semi-secularized holy days such as Diwali, said J. Gordon Melton, the institute executive director. Melton announced the results of the census at the recent annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture in Washington.
For better and worse, however, the latest incarnation of Hinduism in the United States has gone largely unnoticed by most Americans.
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