For me, Hinduism is the way I live. It’s my way of living life. – Radhika
Though not marked by the “typical” vestige of religion, a place to gather as a community and worship, localized practices of Hinduism are found throughout Muncie, Indiana and the area. Adherents practice their traditions privately with family or with other Hindus. Many Hindus do not identify Hinduism as a religion, rather some saw it as a collection of cultural practices or a philosophy, providing them with guidelines for living life.
One of the challenges in studying a group such as Hindu students is that they do not have a designated place of worship in Muncie and therefore it is difficult to study the community as a whole. However, a greater challenge was in understanding the diverse practices of and approaches to Hindu traditions. Perspectives on what is “religious” differ from person to person. One informant, who stated that she prays every day, emphasized that “I don’t practice Hinduism, yeah, I do pray to god and on festivals maybe prepare a sweet dish. That’s it, nothing else. …. Seriously, I am not that religion oriented. We have a lot of festivals and I like celebrating festivals.” While Sabrang said “I basically consider, like, doing good is the thing that you have to do and leave it to god.” How one practices Hinduism is, as one informant pointed out, about “personal choice.”
Many of our informants have adjusted the ways that practice their Hindu traditions in the United States. Those that attended temples frequently in India have found it difficult to continue doing after moving to Muncie because the closest temple is an hour away. Most informants reported praying daily at home but do not conduct puja which can involved more intricate rituals because they must be followed carefully.
Having left their family and friends back in India many students have attempted to create a new community here in Muncie. Many do this by seeking out other Indians in organizations such as the Indian Student Association (ISA). Though ISA is a secular group it frequently organizes events associated Hindu holidays like Dilwai and Onam. These events reflect the fact that the majority of members of ISA are Hindu.
Our research for this project is focused on how self-identified Hindu Asian Indian students practiced Hinduism in India and have continued to practice their traditions and identify as Indian here in the United States.
The widespread introduction of Hinduism has been relatively recent in the history of the United States. Asian Indians did not come to the U.S. in any significant numbers until the reformation of the immigration act in 1965. This change in immigration policy opened the door to people from throughout the world with advanced education and specialized skills. Many Asian Indians began to come to the USA to pursue higher degrees or work in professional jobs. By 1980, only 15 years after the immigration reform nearly 400,000 Asian Indian entered the United States (Kurien 2004: 368). Today an estimated 1.9 million Asian Indians live in the United States (Hickey 2006: 124). Though the exact percentage is not known the majority of the nearly 2 million Asian Indians are believed to be Hindu (Kurien 2004: 368).
For this project we interviewed 13 current and former students at Ball State University. All of our informants came from India to the United States for their higher education. Our informants are from different areas throughout India and represent a total of 5 of the 8 states currently being represented at Ball State University. The students have been in the USA for varying amounts of time when we interviewed them, anywhere from 4 months to nearly 4 years. A couple of our informants intend to return to India after the completion of their degrees while others stated they planned on staying in the USA for a few years and others have no plans on returning to India to live.
The current Indian student population at Ball State is relatively small with a total of 25 students on campus. Due the intimate size of this community we have changed the names of our information so they can maintain a certain amount of anonymity.
For more information, check out the Ball State University “Indian Students Association” website