Does Hawaii represent the future of religion in the US?



This fascinating map from the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (click to enlarge) shows the second largest religious tradition in each of the states of the US. Buddhism is in second place in 13 states. Hawaii, with a large population of Japanese descent, perhaps isn’t a surprise. California is perhaps incapable of giving surprises. Alaska? I did not see that coming.

Of course it probably doesn’t take much for a religion to be in second place in the US. Christianity, as you’d expect, is the majority religion in every state. Another resource shows that the percentage of the population identifies as Buddhist in each of these states is in the order of 1% to 2% — although this map doesn’t include Hawaii, where estimates of the percentage of Buddhists range from 6% to 9%. It’s striking that in Hawaii, only 29% of the population identifies as Christian, and 51% are unaffiliated.

Nationally less than 1% of the population is Buddhist, according to Pew Research.

I wonder what this map will look like 100 years from now? My guess would be that Christianity will still be the majority religion, but with a much smaller majority, many more non-believers, and some states with up to 10% of the population practicing some form of Buddhism. I’m convinced that Buddhism is the religion of the future, being practical, compatible  (in essence) with a rational approach to the world, flexible, and offering a wide variety of approaches to spirituality.

In fact, I think that the future of religion in the US looks very much like Hawaii.


5 Comments. Leave new

  • Interesting. I would have thought nation-wide % of Buddhist would be higher; but Buddhism isn’t a religion. I understand many people believe it to be a religion, but it is not. So, what is the purpose of this study? I know why you posted it here, but unless you don’t agree, why would they spend the time?

    • Whether Buddhism is a religion or not depends on how you define religion. I think the vast majority of Buddhists, when asked what their religion is, would say, “I’m a Buddhist,” and wouldn’t say “I don’t have a religion.” Overwhelmingly, Buddhists regard what they do as religion, and sociologically it functions in exactly the same way as any other religion, with rituals, celebrations, practices, prayers (broadly defined) etc.

  • What I appreciate about Hawai’i is the tremendous diversity of religions here. One woman told me that she wanted to send out a letter to a congregation representing each different religion here, and she was stunned when she found out how many letters she’d have to send. I also know a number of people who espouse more than one religion, e.g., people who honor the ancient Hawaiian Gods and Goddesses yet identify themselves as Christians; I was introduced to vipassana by a couple of Buddhist Witches. I think diversity may be the wave of the future.

  • Claudio Basso
    March 11, 2015 9:29 am

    Considering what is going on in the world these days what shocked me about the map is to see how large is the coverage (orange) for Muslims. I personally have nothing against them or any other faith, but the question remains. What if 20% of them decide to get on the move in behalf of Isis?


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