Hinduism in the western world

Hinduism is an amazing religion that is thousands of years old. It started in India but through the centuries it traveled throughout the world. It is a worldwide religion with 1 billion people celebrating world wide. Sadly, some people are ignorant to it’s beauty and importance to others and stereotype Hindus world wide.

The history of Hinduism

According to the article titled Hinduism by the History channel states that “Hinduism is the worlds oldest religion” (History,2017,1). Hinduism is over 4,000 years old and has over 1 billion followers today. It is believed to have been started between 2300-1500 B.C. near modern day Pakistan. In the article it states “Unlike other religions, Hinduism has no one founder but is instead a fusion of various beliefs” (History,2017,1). It is the worlds third largest religion behind Christianity, and Islam. It’s origins are not entirely clear but it is known that 93% of the Hindu population resides in India. There are many practices for Hinduism because it is a polytheistic religion and is based on Vedas, the Upanishads, and other ancient scriptures. There are also many Gods and Goddesses. In Hinduism there are 33 gods, or deities. There is also a lot of traditions, and philosophies that is a part of Hinduism. According to the article people who practice Hinduism look at it less of a religion, and more of a way of life. There are some popular beliefs that steamed from Hinduism that has spread world wide like the idea of Karma. This is a popular belief in Hinduism that if you do good to one person, you will get good karma, if you do bad you will get something bad done back to you. The article defines karma as cause and effect. Another key idea in Hinduism is Atman. Atman is the philosophy that all creatures have a soul and when the physical body dies, the soul lives on. Hindus also believe in reincarnation. They believe that when the body dies, the soul lives on in other forms. Another key element to the Hindu religion is Brahma. Brahma according to the article is one of the many paths that allow them to reach their god. Something that the Hindu religion strives for is reaching Dharma. Dharma according to the article “emphasizes good conduct and morality” (History,2017,2). Hinduism is closest to Buddhism.

How did Hinduism come to America?

There were also a lot of American transcendentalists that helped bring Hinduism into America in the early 19th century. Some of these notable transcendentalist are Henry Throeau, Ralph Emerson, and Lydia Child. Something notable about Emerson is he was the first American to experiment with yoga. He was also known for the book Walden he wrote in 1846. This was the name of the pond that he first participated with yoga. Some notable things about Child is she shed light on the importance of respecting religions through philosophy. Looking at the article Hinduism in America by Amanda Lucia mentions how “In the 20th century, increasing populations of Indian Hindus immigrated to the United States” (Lucia,2017,1). She also goes on to say how these immigrants weren’t gurus, or other Hindu leaders trying to spread the word on the Hindu religion. Rather, these were just families from India who were trying to keep their customs alive in their new home country. Something that initially drew Americans to Hinduism, was how Hindu views was harmonies with protestant Christian views. According to the article the part of the Hindu religion that became the most popular with Northern Americans “drew heavily from the neo-Vedantic theology of monism” (Lucia,2017,1). This lead to reform movements in the 19th century. The article states how “This monism drew on simplified Upaniṣadic teachings” (Lucia,2017,1). They taught of Atman which is the idea of the self, and Brahman which is the essence of the universe. This merge between Christianity and Hinduism caused some changes within both religions. Some of the changes that were made to the Hindu religion in America according to Hinduism in America are: the decrease in importance of domestic and temple rituals, sacrifice, and personal devotion to the deities. What changes in the Christen religion was the priestly class system, and the social structure that was attached to their American audience. Another thing that helped Hinduism grow in America is the fact that immigrants from India came from different regions. This diversity meant that different practices and devotion were brought with them to America. According the the article “After the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, Indian Hindus worked diligently to create community networks by establishing temples and religious organizations” (Lucia,2017,2). These networks helped keep the ethnicity of Hinduism alive, and provided resources and connections for Hindus. According to the article, along with these connections traditional Hindu traditions that were carried over from India. These included language, scripture instruction, ethnic foods, and regional festivals. These Hindu organization groups began to attract some non-Hindus. One of these organizations is called the ISKCON. ISKCON stands for International Society for Krishna Consciousness. According to the article IKSON temples were the only Hindu temples that didn’t have a drastic difference in the ratio between Indians and non-Indians who came together for worship.

The cultural appropriation of Hinduism

Even though Hinduism entered America and gained popularity in a positive way, causing positive change there are some people who benefited from the popularity that Hinduism has gained. Bollywood has also helped Indian culture gain popularity. Sadly, not everyone sees Indian culture and Hinduism in a positive way. There are a lot of people online and companies that profit from Indian culture. Some examples of how Hinduism is culturally appropriated are yoga, henna, and the deities. In the article Whitewashed wellness: The appropriation of Hinduism and Indian culture by Musukaan Singh she talks about is how the Western world has taken significant Hindu symbols used them without even knowing the significance of them. In the article she mentions the appropriation of the Hindu practice yoga. Yoga has become very popular all around the world. In the article Singh states “Once, Hindus were not allowed to practice yoga, and now that same practice has been appropriated and exploited for profits” (Singh, 2021, 4). Yoga has made major profit with non-Hindus, in the article she mentions that yoga has gained $1.56 billion dollars in revenue. Now that it has become popular people are participating in yoga while at one point in time Hindus weren’t even able to practice something that comes from their own country. The main reason why these yoga boomed is because of white influencers. They promote yoga as a health benefit without giving the true background on yoga without it being whitewashed. Another thing Singh mentions is the use of sacred Hindu symbols being commercialized. In the article she states “Non-Hindu people wearing religious symbols in the name of “spirituality” without understanding their sanctity and meaning is not only disrespectful, but may be considered blasphemous” (Singh, 2021, 5). There are so many symbols and deities within Hinduism. The most well known symbols within Hinduism world wide are the swastika, and the Om. In the article it is mentioned how the meaning of the swastika is a symbol of good luck. Nazi nationalists took this symbol of well being and appropriated it changing it’s meaning in the western world forever. During WWll the Germans exploited it turning the swastika into a symbol of hate. The Om sign is another Hindu symbol that is used not for the meaning but for the aesthetic. With the popularization of yoga the om sign which is a symbol of ultimate reality, and connection with the whole world. In the article it states how the Om sign is used on water bottles and became more of a fashion statement without the meaning of the Om sign even being known. Another thing that Singh states is “The point is simply that considerations should be made about the origin and meaning of these things and critical questions be raised about what is and isn’t acceptable for the use of non-Hindus, and what are the constraints that should be applied to their use” (Singh, 2021, 5).

How to be respectful towards Hinduism

There are so many ways to stay educated on different religions. It is always important to be respectful towards other peoples views and religions. Some things one can do to stay educated and respectful to Hindus in particular is go to a temple. Earlier, I mentioned how Americans and non-Hindus are participating at Hindu temples and some celebrities made Hinduism go further in America. An example of this would be the beetles going to Northern India to study yoga with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Even if travel isn’t possible there are many Hindu temples that let outsiders come in and observe their practices, and even let people participate. Or, you can always start by talking to people who practice Hinduism and see what is culturally appropriate to do or posses as a non-Hindu.


Singh , Muskaan. “Whitewashed Wellness: The Appropriation of Hinduism and Indian Culture.” PDBY, October 3, 2021. https://pdby.co.za/whitewashed-wellness-the-appropriation-of-hinduism-and-indian-culture/.

Editors , History. “Hinduism – Origins, Facts & Beliefs.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, September 30, 2017. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/hinduism.

Lucia, Amanda. “Hinduism in America.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, January 25, 2017. https://oxfordre.com/religion/display/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-436;jsessionid=BFED8FF24486416CE00DBAEFC9E74B48?print.

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