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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
American population, thus including children as well as adults, the figure is a little more than two million. there is good reason, however, to believe that these figures substantially underestimate the number of Americans actually involved in Buddhism. For one thing, since many Western Buddhists left their original religion because they felt its followers were too narrow- minded and exclusive, they are often reluctant to proclaim any particular religious identity, no matter how deeply involved they may be. More important, unlike most other religions, Buddhist doctrine itself offers explicit grounds for discouraging this kind of identification. if the self is the illusory ground of suffering, it makes little sense to encourage any type of social identification and the attachments that it inevitably brings. if we use measures based on people’s actual involvement with Buddhism, and not just self- identification, the estimates are much higher. the 2009 Purdue Social research institute Survey found that 2.2 percent of Americans said that Buddhism had “a great deal of influ- ence on their life,” and that same percent- age said they met with a Buddhist monk or teacher at least a few times a year. As well, 2.7 percent said they practiced Buddhist medita- tion at least once a month, and 3.1 percent said they read Buddhist literature at least monthly. Multiplying these percentages by the adult population produces estimates of the number of American Buddhists of from five to seven million. these figures may be something of an eye-opener to many people interested in American religion. even using the most con- servative estimate, the 0.7 percent found by the Pew survey, there are nearly twice as many Buddhist as Muslims (0.4 percent) in the United States. And if we use the lowest of the behavioral estimates from the Purdue sur- vey (2.2 percent), the percentage of American how Many aMeriCan Buddhists are there? The number of americans who say they are Buddhists: 1,600,000 Who say they meet with a Buddhist teacher at least a few times a year: 5,000,000 Who say they practice Buddhist meditation: 6,000,000 Who say they read Buddhist literature: 7,000,000 Who say Buddhism has had an important influence on their thinking about religion or spirituality: 28,300,000 sources: The first figure is from the Pew Religious landscape survey 2007. The next three are from the Purdue social Research institute survey 2009. The final figure is from the Religion and Diversity survey 2003, “Buddhists and Buddhism in the United states: The scope of influence” by Robert Wuthnow and Wendy Cadge, Journal for the scientific study of Religion, 2004, 43:363-380 .