Teaching Hinduism in America can be a challenge The Associated Press SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006-->Published: September 9, 2006
"To be Hindu in America is much more an intentional choice than it is in India," said Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies and director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University. "Even if you're first generation, you have to decide if you perpetuate it or if you just kind of let it go." ...
When Indian immigrants started coming to the United States in larger numbers, after the 1965 revamping of immigration laws, they carried their religious traditions on as best they could, meeting for prayers and worship at one another's homes, or renting public spaces, said Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.
The first temples started being built in the late 1970s — the Ganesh Temple among them — and construction continues to this day, as Hindu communities around the country continue to grow. But while those temples are designed like temples in India, the founders realized over the years they would have to operate differently than they do in India, Rambachan said. That's because religious culture is different in the United States. The various Christian denominations separate themselves from each other and define themselves by the doctrines they follow, he noted, but Hinduism in India doesn't operate the same way. There, a single religion covers a wide spectrum of gods and beliefs. In America, Hindus "are increasingly being challenged to articulate the Hindu tradition in a manner that places more emphasis on doctrine," Rambachan said. "People will ask, 'What do you believe?'" Faced with that, temples and cultural organizations that had been working to make outsiders understand more about the faith realized they needed to help young Indian-Americans know what they believed, if the religion was going to be passed on. "If we don't do our part, we will lose these youngsters," Mysorekar said. "There was a lot of foundation we had to lay even to exist as Hindus among non-Hindus," she said. "Now it is for us to do the job within our own community." They looked for inspiration at the institutions here, like the formal religious education of Sunday school classes, Rambachan said. That wasn't the only inspiration, though. Around the country, some organizations have decided to use the method of that most American of summer pastimes — camp. Shivraj spent a couple of weeks this summer helping her mother, a classical Indian singer, run a weeklong camp on Indian heritage, which included sessions on religion. And in Rochester, New York, more than 150 children between the ages of 8 and 15 took part in the Hindu Heritage Summer Camp, where lessons in philosophy and religious practice were followed by swimming sessions and arts and crafts. With a heavy emphasis on having college-age Indian-Americans leading the camp and teaching the younger attendees, camp organizers hope to pass on a solid understanding of Hindu philosophy and culture while still giving the children a fun summer experience. "If we don't know where we come from and where we are," said Dr. Padmanabh Kamath, president of the camp, "we are lost."