SIDEBAR: Protestants close to losing majority status

c. 2008 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) A new detailed study of American religion reveals not just a diversity of faiths, but also a range of racial and ethnic membership within those faiths.

Of the country's estimated 1.6 million adult Buddhists, for example, only one-third are Asian _ despite the religion's roots in Asia _ while a slim majority (53 percent) are white.

Among Catholics, 29 percent are Hispanic _ the largest proportion in any faith _ while Muslims are the most ethnically diverse group, spread among whites, blacks and Asians.

Jehovah's Witnesses, meanwhile, are about half white, a quarter black and almost a quarter Hispanic.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released Monday (Feb. 25) by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, captures the diversity of American religion, while also putting some fixed numbers on groups that were once hard to track.

``The United States is enormously diverse in terms of religious affiliation, and our racial, ethnic and other social diversity compounds that religious diversity,'' said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum.

The survey is particularly illuminating for imported faiths, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Among Buddhists, for example, nearly three quarters said they were converts from another faith.

``You have a strong contingent of American-born (Buddhists) that convert and become Buddhist masters and draw large amounts of people,'' said John Esposito, a Georgetown University professor who has co-authored a book on world religions. ``It winds up diminishing the dependence on Buddhist masters overseas.''

Hispanics now make up nearly a third of adult Catholics, and researchers expect that figure to increase over time. While Hispanics represent only 12 percent of U.S. Catholics age 70 and older, almost half of all Catholics under age 40 are Hispanic.

While immigrants are making up for heavy losses among U.S.-born Catholics, they are also contributing to the growth of non-Christian faiths. Hindus and Muslims, for example, are the only two groups that record a higher percentage of foreign-born members than those born in the U.S.

While the vast majority of Hindus _ 88 percent _ are Asian, Muslims are the most racially diverse group in America. Approximately one in three Muslims are white, roughly one in four are black, and one in five are Asian.

The survey also breaks down religious traditions based on race and ethnicity.

Asians are the most likely to be unaffiliated, with almost a quarter of them having no religious affiliation, researchers found. And while blacks overwhelmingly identify as Protestants, 6 percent of them belong to evangelical churches.

That's at least partial evidence that evangelical churches that were historically all white seem to be growing more diverse.

``The numbers are not yet huge, but it's quite interesting that we're seeing that kind of movement,'' Green said.

KRE/RB END HAMM500 words

Eds: see mainbar, RNS-FAITH-SURVEY, and other sidebars transmitted Feb. 25.