Last in a two-part series
It was a Sunday afternoon at Community United Methodist Church in Elyria and the halls of the church were alive with joy and spirit following the morning worship. During this time of holy bliss, the church held its monthly meet and greet; a social hour where guests are welcomed with hot meals to become familiar with the church.
Even though the number of people participating in religious gatherings such as these has been dwindling, there is a certain demographic that has been holding strong when it comes to their religion.
When religious affiliation was studied among different races, African-Americans are overwhelmingly the most religious affiliated when compared to other races. A Gallup poll states that 53 percent of African-Americans identified themselves as “very religious” and 33 percent claimed to be “moderately religious”, as reported by CNS News.
This is not surprising when you’re aware of how instrumental religion has been for African-Americans in overcoming racial discrimination and oppression throughout U.S. history. The abolitionist movement to end slavery had a very strong religious presence, and the scriptures in the Holy Bible provided slaves a struggle they could identify with. “They [African-Americans] relate their real-life experiences to the Biblical stories such as Exodus; the story of slaves escaping from Egypt,” said Young Woon Ko, associate professor of religious studies at Lorain County Community College.
Pastor Kevin Coleman, an African-American, is the pastor at Community United and believes that slavery is the main factor as to why African-Americans are so religious.
“They were in such a horrific position, they had nowhere else to go but to God,” said Coleman.
Other than the stories in the Bible offering hope to black slaves, the Bible as a book gave the slaves the opportunity to make themselves literate. “They weren’t allowed to read, but they snuck Bibles into their slave camps and that’s how they learned to read,” said Coleman.
The importance of religion within the black community would continue well into the Civil Rights Movement. Black leaders were often religious leaders as well; Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and Malcolm X was a devout Sunni Muslim who helped establish the Nation of Islam.
On the opposite end of this spectrum, Asian Americans were reported in the Gallup poll as the least religious with 39 percent claiming to be nonreligious. However, the study did not specify the ethnicity of Asian people who were included; a glaring error due to how diverse the Asian community is with regards to religion.
Depending on which parts of Asia a person is from, the religious affiliation, and how involved they are, changes considerably. In fact, some of the most and least religious countries in the world are located in Asia. Bangladesh and Thailand are among the most religious countries, according to Gallup International and WI Network of Market Research. Furthermore, China is the least religious country in the world with 61 percent of people claiming to be atheist, although this can be a bit misleading.
“From my experience, many of the Chinese identify themselves as atheist, but there are three traditional main religions in China,” Ko explained. “Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism are rooted in their way of life; the Chinese do not separate religion from their way of life,” he said.
Teng Liu, an international student from China majoring in musical performance, identifies as Buddhist.
“We do have the belief in our mind and we do pray sometimes and have our own God,” Liu explained.
Jieun Lee, a Christian, is an international student from South Korea majoring in theater.
“Even though I’m a Christian, there are a lot of aspects like the rituals that we have. It’s not like a religion but it’s more of a cultural thing, so it is a part of our life,” Lee said.
Many people in the United States may be confused by how so many could consider themselves atheist while also including religion into their life. Quite simply, the answer is how one would define “religion”. To the western world, a religion is often practiced by joining an organized religious institution and adhering to its dogma. In contrast, eastern religions are more concerned with principles and ideals that involve their relationships with other people. Therefore, it’s not that Asian cultures are irreligious, just that they practice their religion in a way that is unfamiliar to the majority of Americans.
Chinese are the largest pool of Asian immigrants in the United States, roughly two million according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which may explain how Asian-Americans were polled as the least religious demographic.