Hindu immigrants in North America are an extremely diverse group and reflect the regional, linguistic, and cultural diversity of the Indian sub-continent. Most of them are still fluent in their native languages, including Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Marathi. In the United States and Canada, Hindus from a variety of cultural backgrounds coexist religiously in unprecedented manner. They face the challenge of confronting their own differences along with the demands of life in the west and the results may be significant for the future shape and evolution of the tradition.
The fact of being a numerical minority, limited resources, distance from India geographically and temporally, and a new generation with tenuous ties to India, linguistically and culturally, would minimize the significance of previously important differences and lead to the search for commonness in belief and worship practices. Those beliefs and practices will survive that address, in a more universal manner, the human condition while those, which are inseparable from specific historical contexts, will be left behind. The identification and articulation of those elements of its worldview that are relevant, more broadly, to the human condition also means that the Hindu appeal will extend across the frontiers of ethnicity and has the potential for becoming a significant choice for increasing numbers who do not have ancestral roots in the Indian sub-continent.
If the Hindu tradition responds creatively and resourcefully to the special challenges of existence in the western world, it should emerge with a clearer sense of the distinctive elements of its own worldview, a better perspective on what are the essential elements of that view, the ability to articulate its vision in terms that are relevant to the western human context, and a readiness to engage in continuous self-critical reflection. A leaner Hindu tradition will be a more vigorous and enthusiastic partner with other religions in the common human quest for justice, peace, virtue, and happiness.
Anantanand Rambachan is Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Saint Olaf College. He is the author of several books, book-chapters, and articles in scholarly journals. His works include Accomplishing the Accomplished, The Limits of Scripture, The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity,The Hindu Vision, and Gitamrtam: The Essential Teachings of the Bhagavadgita.