Are Americans “Becoming More Hindu”?

That’s the claim of BU professor Stephen Prothero, as quoted by Lisa Miller in the latest Newsweek.

According to a 2003 Harris poll, 40 percent of people aged 25 to 29 believed they would return to earth in a different body after they die. …

Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University and a student of Hinduism, has an interesting theory about Americans’ interest in reincarnation. As life in America gets better and better, as people become more prosperous and more educated, the idea of leaving the earth forever—even with a mitigating belief in heaven—has less appeal than the idea of coming back. “We all want the here and now, and reincarnation is about the here and now,” Prothero writes in an e-mail. “Reincarnation is fueled because now people want to come back and live again.”

… Prothero argues that the popularity of reincarnation correlates to a waning of belief in physical resurrection among Christians. That’s why a third of Americans choose to be cremated these days, up from virtually none 30 years ago: they believe their souls are eternal, not their bodies. “Americans,” Prothero says, “are becoming more Hindu.”