The Spiritual Market Most Ripe For Indic Religions May Well Be North America

Courtesy:- R Jagannathan / Swarajya Magazine.


It is time for India to export its old temples and faiths to the West. Saraswati ought to be the logical goddess of that haven of knowledge, the Ivy League institutions, and Laxmi to Wall Street, and Lord Shiva for the creative-destructive forces of the Silicon Valley.

If Hindu organisations want to expand their spiritual mind and market shares, the place to look at is the West, where the population is rapidly de-Christianising itself. This partially explains why evangelical organisations are targeting India, since they want to recoup market share losses in North America by looking at emerging markets like India.

What applies to fund managers abroad should apply to Indian spiritual wealth managers too. Our markets are there, and theirs here.

While Africa is already seeing a fierce battle for supremacy between Islam and Christianity, India is the next major target, being the largest potential market for these two Abrahamic religions. China may be a bigger market, and Christianity is even said to be the fastest-growing faith in Dragon country, but officially the market is closed to religions controlled from outside China.

But inside China it is another matter. According to some reports, there were 58 million Protestant Christians in China in 2010. Taken together, Protestants and Catholics between them could rise to 160 million by 2025 and 247 million by 2030, given the sheer pace of change, according to this report in The Telegraph. At some point, if China opens up formally to all religions, Buddhism and Hinduism could join the spiritual gold rush.

Unlike China, India is an open market, not only because we are a secular country that guarantees freedom of religion, but also because poverty makes millions of Indians vulnerable to below-the-line offers for faith-crossovers. This also means that Indians are the best targets for proselytisation that is backed by wealth and economic benefits, something that the rich churches of America and the Sheikhdoms of the Gulf can bring in plenty.

Cash won’t work that well in China, not least because of the political control of the Communist party over all aspects of Chinese life.

However, China’s real vulnerability to Christianity is the spiritual void created by formally atheistic Communism. But the country’s disdain for God has run its course, and as the nation gets wealthier, the new generation of Chinese look for something more to give meaning to their lives.

In the West, both Europe and North America, the white population is no stranger to wealth and riches. But half a millennium of scientific progress and the rise of reason has meant that fewer Christians than ever before can literally believe in church dogmas, including virgin births and Jesus as the only saviour of humanity. Reason tells you that this can’t be true.

There is now enough data to show how Christianity is on slippery ground in its stronghold: the US of A.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which describes itself as a non-partisan organisation “dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture and public policy,” White Christians now constitute less than half of the population, with only 43 per cent answering to this description, compared to 81 per cent in 1976 (read the full PRRI report here). In the last 40 years, the number of White Christians has nearly halved – probably a faster rate of deracination than what has happened with Hindus in “secular” India.

Overall, Christians of all types – White, Black, Hispanic, Catholics – add up to around 68 per cent.

But here’s the point: some 24 per cent of Americans see themselves as non-affiliated by religion. This is the immediate addressable market for Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism.

More interestingly, the existing Christian population affiliated to some church or the other is largely in the ageing demographic (above age 49). It is the younger population – the youth and those in early careers, and those in their prime or mid-careers – that is reporting larger numbers in non-religious affiliation.

In the 18-29 age group, 38 per cent reported that they were not identified with any religion, and in the 30-49 group, the number was 26 per cent.

These two demographics, if targeted by any new religion, could yield long-term adherents.

Geographically, those who see themselves as religiously unaffiliated are concentrated in the West (California), and in New England. The PRRI report has this to say: “There are substantial differences in the religious profiles of the 50 states, although they follow regional patterns. There are 20 states in which no religious group comprises a greater share of residents than the religiously unaffiliated.These states tend to be more concentrated in the Western US, although they include a couple of New England states, as well. More than four in ten (41 per cent) residents of Vermont and approximately one-third of Americans in Oregon (36 per cent), Washington (35 per cent), Hawaii (34 per cent), Colorado (33 per cent), and New Hampshire (33 per cent) are religiously unaffiliated.” (Italics mine)

The 20 states “where no religious group comprises a greater share of residents than the religiously affiliated”, could be the prime markets for Indic religions, if they make a determined and customised pitch to appeal to American sensibilities. Where they are less likely to succeed is with Afro-Americans, where radical Islam has a greater appeal. Indians with their subtle preference for fairness may also be less than likely to let go of their prejudices.

India has the entire complement of spiritual products, from new-age gurus like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, to more down-to-earth yoga gurus like Baba Ramdev, not to speak of more esoteric swamis and gurus with their own appeal. Plus, there is mainstream Hinduism linked to India’s most famous temples, from Tirupati Balaji to Sabarimala’s Ayyappa, to various popular gods like Rama, Krishna and Ganesha and Shiva. Temples in India are shackled by the state; in America, they could be real forces to reckon with if they focus on gaining devotees from the local population, especially in economically downbeat areas. Training White priests, like those of ISKCON, has to be a crucial element of this strategy of Hindu expansion.

Time for Indians to think of creating a Church of Sri Rama customised for the American sensibility? Jawaharlal Nehru wanted India to build the IITs and steel plants as the new temples of modern India. It is time for India to export its old temples and faiths to the West. Saraswati ought to be the logical goddess of that haven of knowledge, the Ivy League institutions, and Laxmi to Wall Street, and Lord Shiva for the creative-destructive forces of the Silicon Valley.

Or, for that matter, why would Jainism not be the preferred religion for vegans and PETA, or Buddhism for the atheists who want a spiritual route to rationality? And why not a dose of Indic-Abrahamic mix in the form of Sikhism to the most entrepreneurial classes of America?

India has a smorgasbord of spiritual offerings that meet every demographic of modern-day America. Let us get a move on.

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