A Buddhist and a Hindu Walk into the Congress…

Although we didn’t see change in this year’s presidential election, it did come in the legislative branch. Democrat Mazie Hirono became the first Buddhist in the Senate and fellow Democrat Tulsi Gabbard became the first Hindu in Congress—both representing Hawaii. These women have been credited with bringing religious pluralism to our elected leadership; currently, 85% of Congress is Catholic or Protestant. But then again, according to Pew, roughly 75% of Americans self-identify with those two denominations, while Buddhism grabs 0.7% and Hinduism 0.4%.

So as groundbreaking as it is that we have two minority religions represented in our government, Congress and the House are doing a fairly good job of representing the nation’s religious affiliations. Race, not so much; but statistically, with the two other Buddhists in the House, these Asian-born religions are each roughly one rep away from being properly represented. America’s Muslim population is a disputed topic, but the fact that there are only two Muslims in congress almost certainly means they’re underrepresented, which goes along with our country’s fear of putting Muslim men and women in authoritative government roles. In an anonymous poll, 28 of the 535 members of Congress revealed that they don’t “believe in a higher power,” which, if true, exceeds the general public.

Mormons (1.7% of the population) are also overrepresented in Congress as a whole, with 15 men (yes, all men; nearly 3% of Congress), but even more so in the Senate, where 6 out of 100 are Mormon. For the sake of balancing religion in politics, thank goodness we didn’t elect a Mormon for president.

 

joanna.piacenza@gmail.com'

Joanna Piacenza is a graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. She serves as an Associate Researcher for the Center for Media Religion & Culture and as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Center for Asian Studies.