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Misconceptions of Hinduism in America? - Tue, 7 Dec '04

Question: Swamiji, most people in the USA know very little about Hinduism. Many here seem to have a low regard for our religion. What can we do about this?

Answer: It is certainly true that most of your neighbors, co-workers, and fellow citizens are virtually clueless about Hinduism. Few people are well-informed about the people, cultures, and religions that lie beyond our borders. Ignorance and wrong ideas about Hinduism are widespread. Unfortunately, this ignorance can lead to problems for Hindus, especially with the fear and distrust that have arisen after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. People fear the unknown, and for most, Hinduism is utterly unknown.

Most people living here have not had an opportunity to learn about India or Hinduism. Classes and textbooks in schools tend to give a very superficial treatment of non-Western cultures. Their treatments of Hindu religion and culture often contain glaring inaccuracies. Many people have gleaned what little they know about Hinduism from mass media. But mass media may do more harm than good because movies and television shows often portray Indian culture and Hindu religion in manners that are demeaning, stereotypical, and simply wrong.

Perhaps the best way to address the cultural ignorance in this country is to take an active role in educating others. You can use every appropriate opportunity to talk to others about your culture and religion, thereby dismissing wrong ideas and allaying the fear of the unknown. You can function like an emissary or cultural ambassador for the Hindu religion and culture. This effort can be extremely helpful. For example, if every Hindu in this country were to help ten people understand Hinduism better, then perhaps 10 to 20 million people could be reached.

Of course, to be an emissary or cultural ambassador, you must yourself be somewhat informed. Fortunately, there are many resources available today — classes, books, and a surprisingly broad array of articles available on the internet. Whether you know a little or a lot, you can share whatever you know and that will help others understand.