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Josy Joseph in New Delhi
Over 95 per cent of Americans have little or no knowledge of Hinduism, though the religion of a million myths, gurus and eastern mysticism has grown tenfold in the last decade in the United States.
During a survey designed by R F Binder Research and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, Princeton, New Jersey, a vast majority of Americans gave bizarre answers when queried about Hinduism.
The survey was conducted for the Hindu Leaders Forum, a voluntary organisation in the US, to coincide with the Vishwa Dharam Prasaar Yatra that is now travelling to five cities in the States.
According to a statement issued by the organisers, "Thousands of people are expected to attend the Yatra in each city, where several of India's foremost spiritual leaders will be speaking, including Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji (Muniji) and Swami Divyanand Teerth Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Bhanpura."
Average Americans said Hinduism evokes images of "cow worship", "many gods and temples", or "India". And, strangely, 59 per cent of those interviewed were not even interested in learning any further.
"Although Hindus live in all major cities in the US and total over 1.4 million here, according to the survey, 71 per cent of Americans said they had no contact with their Hindu neighbours," said a statement issued on behalf of industrialist B K Modi, director of the Hindu Leaders Forum. Modi is also chairman of ModiCorp, Modi Holding and Modi Tek.
"There appears to be a significant gap between the growth and presence of the Hindu population in the United States, and Americans' knowledge of Hindu beliefs and practices," Modi said.
The study also said there is very little knowledge among average Americans about the high purchasing power of Hindus in the US or their immense influence on the new US economy.
"Hindus in America have approximately $20 billion of purchasing power annually, yet, according to the survey, 75 per cent of Americans are unaware of their positive contributions to the community," Modi said.
According to the Indian embassy in Washington, high levels of education have enabled Indian Americans to become a productive segment of the US population, with 72.3 per cent participating in the work force.
The Opinion Research Corporation conducted the telephone survey from August 2-5, 2001, among a national probability sample of 1,001 adults comprising 501 men and 500 women living in private households throughout the continental United States.
The survey said there are over 100 Hindu temples in the US, but 98 per cent of Americans have never been to one.
"Over 50 per cent of Americans recognise the growing religious diversity in their communities, but the survey finds that there is a need for greater interaction between the Hindu and non-Hindu populations in order to foster familiarity and understanding between cultures," the release said.
Modi said the Hindu Leaders Forum wants to foster greater awareness of Hinduism's rich heritage and promote genuine understanding among people of different faiths, for which it has organised the first world yatra in over 100 years.
The yatra, expected to travel to 40 countries and 50 cities in five continents, reached the US on August 20 in Miami, Florida. From there, it moved to Atlanta, Georgia, on August 21 and will move on to Washington, DC, on August 22 and Chicago on August 24 before concluding at Los Angeles on August 26.
Modi said the yatra has two purposes. "For the local Hindu populations in these cities, the yatra is a way to bring the whole community together to celebrate and acknowledge their common heritage. For the rest of the United States, the purpose is to demonstrate that Hindus are part and parcel of American life and that America is being enriched by our contributions."
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