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Hinduism is the third-largest organized religion in the world, with almost a billion followers, behind Christianity and Islam. Most Hindus are in India, but there is a growing population in the United States. Hindus often land in news reports when they are the object of a hate crime or act of discrimination or are targeted for conversion; when a temple is opening or installing deities; or when there is a dispute over recognizing holidays in schools. Doing stories about Hindus often involves seeking them out. Hinduism is an unusual religion because there is no single founder, teacher or prophet, or set of beliefs; there are variations by community and region. Hinduism’s primary belief is that the soul does not die; it is reborn as either a human or animal every time the body dies. Under Hinduism’s rule of karma, every act affects how the soul will be reborn. This cycle of birth and rebirth continues until the soul achieves spiritual perfection and is united with the supreme being. Hinduism has many deities, which all are manifestations of one god. The primary trio is made up of Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva (also spelled Siva), the destroyer. Hindus believe that animals have souls, and some are worshipped as deities. These beliefs have evolved over several thousand years and are embedded in ritual, mystical and ascetic practices.


There are many sacred texts in Hinduism. The best-known:

  • The Bhagavad Gita is a philosophical dialogue between the deity Krishna and the warrior Arjuna. It is a popular and accessible text that discusses Hindu values and philosophy.

  • The four Vedas are the primary texts of Hinduism. They contain hymns, rituals and incantations from ancient India and have influenced Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The oldest is the Rig Veda.


  • Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights, is the most popular festival and is celebrated by Sikhs and Jains as well as Hindus.



  • Hindus worship deities,which are representations of the one god they believe in; they are monotheistic, as Christians, Jews and Muslims are. Don’t refer to Hindu deities as gods or goddesses. Hindu worship involves meditating, chanting and worshipping icons of the deities, which can include bathing them and making offerings to them.

  • Explore ways that Hindus are adapting rituals to American life (home altars, arranged marriages, house blessings) or passing on their faith to American-born generations.

  • Many Americans’ introduction to Hinduism is through the spiritual practice of yoga, which is sometimes adopted by other faiths or stripped of spiritual content altogether.

  • Hinduism is not one religion but is a collection of traditions with great variations among them. Don’t assume all Hindus have the same beliefs and practices. In India, beliefs and practices vary widely by region; in America, these variations are sometimes maintained and often are not.

  • In India, the various Hindu traditions are often at odds —sometimes violently—with each other.The same is sometimes true among Hindus in the United States.This is a sensitive topic,but Hindus are aware of it.

  • Do not confuse Hindu with Hindi,which is a language.


  • The BBC posts a guide to Hinduism, which also explains the caste system and its religious roots.