An overview of Hinduism

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An overview of HinduismHinduism differs from Christianity and other monotheistic religions in that it does not have:

                • - a single founder,
                • - a specific theological system,
                • - a single concept of deity,
                • - a single holy text,
                • - a single system of morality,
                • - a central religious authority,
                • - the concept of a prophet.

Hinduism is generally regarded as the world's oldest organized religion. It consists of "thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India since 1500 BCE." 1 Because of the wide variety of Hindu traditions, freedom of belief and practice are notable features of Hinduism.

Most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic religions. They recognize a single deity, and view other Gods and Goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God. Henotheistic and polytheistic religions have traditionally been among the world's most religiously tolerant faiths. As a result, India has traditionally been one of the most religiously tolerant in the world.

However in 1998, a Hindu nationalistic political party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controlled the government of India. The linkage of religion, the national government, and nationalism led to a degeneration of the separation of church and state in India and a decrease in the level of religious tolerance in that country. An escalation of anti-Christian violence was one manifestation of this linkage. With the subsequent change in government, the level of violence has diminished, and India is once more a country of relative religious tolerance and peace.

Hinduism has grown to become the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. It claims about 950 million followers -- about 14% of the world's population. 2 It is the dominant religion in India, Nepal, and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Estimates of the number of Hindus in the U.S. vary greatly:

  • Our estimate, for mid-2010, is 1.5 million.

  • According to the "Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches," there were about 1.1 million Hindus in the U.S. during 1999. 3

  • The "American Religious Identification Survey" is believed to under-estimate the numbers of Hindus because of communications problems with non-English speaking households. 4 They estimated: 766,000 Hindus in 2001 and 1.2 million in 2008.

Statistics Canada estimates that there were about 157,015 Hindus in Canada during 2001. Unfortunately, they only update these numbers once each decade.5






  1. 1. David Levinson, "Religion: A cross-cultural dictionary," Oxford University Press, (1998). Read reviews or order this book
  2. 2. From data published by the 2004 Encyclopedia Britiannica Book of the Year.
  3. 3. Estimate from the 1999 edition of the "Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches," National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
  4. 4. "American Religious Identification Survey," by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, at:
  5. 5. 1991 census by Statistics Canada.