Hinduism in the West

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Hinduism in the West
Total population
c.6.8 millionIncrease
(0.49% of the population)[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
United States United States3,310,000
United Kingdom United Kingdom1,021,000
Canada Canada828,195
Australia Australia684,002
Italy Italy180,000
Netherlands Netherlands160,000
France France150,000
Germany Germany130,000
New Zealand New Zealand123,534
Switzerland Switzerland50,000
Spain Spain40,000
Denmark Denmark30,000
Belgium Belgium10,000
Notable Individuals
Followed mostly by converted and
immigrant Hindus identified as
American Hindus,
European Hindus,
Australian Hindus,
Canadian Hindus,
Bhagavad Gita and Vedas
  • Sacred language:[3]
Predominant spoken languages:

The reception of Hinduism in the Western world begins in the 19th century, at first at an academic level of religious studies and antiquarian interest in Sanskrit.


Colonial period[edit]

Swami Vivekananda, was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world.[4][5]
Paramahansa Yogananda founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in the United States.

During the British colonial period the British substantially influenced Indian society, but India also influenced the western world. An early champion of Indian-inspired thought in the West was Arthur Schopenhauer who in the 1850s advocated ethics based on an "Aryan-Vedic theme of spiritual self-conquest", as opposed to the ignorant drive toward earthly utopianism of the superficially this-worldly "Jewish" spirit.[6]

In the early 20th century, Western occultists influenced by Hinduism include Maximiani Portaz – an advocate of "Aryan Paganism" – who styled herself Savitri Devi and Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, founder of the German Faith Movement. It was in this period, and until the 1920s, that the swastika became a ubiquitous symbol of good luck in the West before its association with the Nazi Party became dominant in the 1930s. In 1920, Yogananda came to the United States as India's delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston;[7] the same year he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) to disseminate worldwide his teachings on India's ancient practices and philosophy of Yoga and its tradition of meditation.[8]

Neo-Hindu movements 1950s–1980s[edit]

Swami Prabhupada, founder preceptor (Acharya) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as the "Hare Krishna Movement" in the Western world.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement and bringing Transcendental Meditation to the Western world.

During the 1960s to 1970s counter-culture, Sathya Sai Baba (Sathya Sai Organization), A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (ISKCON or "Hare Krishna"), Guru Maharaj Ji (Divine Light Mission) and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Transcendental Meditation movement) attracted a notable western following, founding religious or quasi-religious movements that remain active into the present time. This group of movements founded by charismatic persons with a corpus of esoteric writings, predominantly in English, is classed as founding, proselytizing religions, or "guru-ism" by Michaels (1998).[9]

Hatha Yoga was popularized from the 1960s by B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois and others. However, western practice of Yoga has mostly become detached from its religious or mystic context and is predominantly practiced as exercise or as alternative medicine.[10]

Hindu migration to Western countries[edit]

Substantial emigration from the (predominantly Hindu) Republic of India has taken place since the 1970s, with several million Hindus from Islamic Republic of Pakistan & People's Republic of Bangladesh moving to North America and Western Europe fleeing religious persecution. In 1913, A.K. Mozumdar became the first Indian-born person to earn U.S. citizenship.[11]

Sadhguru's appeal to the South Asian diaspora[edit]

Jaggi Vasudev, otherwise known as Sadhguru has been influential in the revival of New Age Hinduism in the West.[citation needed] By diverging from traditional ways of teaching Hinduism, Sadhguru offers a New Age Hinduism which resonates with second-generation South-Asian Americans who are navigating the intersection of their Indian roots and Western identity.[12]

Hinduism-derived elements in popular culture[edit]

Growing out of the enthusiasm for Hinduism in 1960s counterculture, modern western popular culture has adopted certain elements ultimately based in Hinduism which are not now considered necessarily practiced in a religious or spiritual setting. It is estimated that around 30 million Americans and 5 million Europeans regularly practice some form of Hatha Yoga, mainly as exercise.[13] In Australia, the number of practitioners is about 300,000.[14] In New Zealand, the number is also around 300,000.[15]

Author Kathleen Hefferon comments that "In the West, a more modernized "New Age" version of Ayurveda has recently gained popularity as a unique form of complementary and alternative medicine".[16]

"Vegetarianism, nonviolent ethics, yoga, and meditation—all have enjoyed spates of Occidental popularity in the last 40 years, often influenced by ISKCON directly, if not indirectly."[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hindu by country". globalreligiousfuture.org.
  2. ^ "ISCKON followers in the western world". krishna.org.
  3. ^ Johnson, Todd M.; Grim, Brian J. (2013). The World's Religions in Figures: An Introduction to International Religious Demography (PDF). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  4. ^ "International Yoga Day: How Swami Vivekananda helped popularise the ancient Indian regimen in the West". 12 January 2022.
  5. ^ Feuerstein, Georg (2002). The Yoga Tradition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 600.
  6. ^ "Fragments for the history of philosophy", Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume I (1851).
  7. ^ Melton, J. Gordon; Baumann, Martin (2010). Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1598842043.
  8. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (3 December 2010). "Sri Daya Mata, Guiding Light for U.S. Hindus, Dies at 96". The New York Times. New York.
  9. ^ Alex Michaels Archived 25 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine "Hinduism Past and Present" (2004) Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-08952-3, translated from German "Der Hinduismus" (1998) page 22
  10. ^ De Michelis, Elizabeth (2007). "A Preliminary Survey of Modern Yoga Studies" (PDF). Asian Medicine, Tradition and Modernity. 3 (1): 1–19. doi:10.1163/157342107X207182.
  11. ^ Indian American#Timeline
  12. ^ McDermott, Rachel Fell (December 2000). "New Age Hinduism, New Age Orientalism, and the Second-Generation South Asian". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 68 (4): 721–731. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  13. ^ Douglas A. Wengell. Educational Opportunities in Integrative Medicine: The A to Z Healing Arts Guide and Professional Resource Directory. p. 250
  14. ^ "Yoga Therapy in Australia" by Leigh Blashki, M.H.Sc. Archived 16 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "The Growing Global Interest In Yoga" Archived 7 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine Monday 16 April 2012
  16. ^ Hefferon, Kathleen (2012). Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine: Plants and Modern Medicine. Oxford University Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0199873975.
  17. ^ Rosen, Steven (2008). Essential Hinduism. Praeger. p. 225. ISBN 978-0742562370.