Religion 101

Election Day (November 6, 2012) did more than give Barack Obama a second term in office as the U.S. president. Among other things, it also gave us America’s first Hindu congresswoman, as well as its first Buddhist senator.

Tulsi Gabbard, democratic congresswoman representing Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, made history when voters elected her to be the first practicing Hindu to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. When Gabbard is sworn in (in January 2013), the incoming congresswoman-elect will take her oath of office with her hand not on a Bible, but upon a Hindu sacred text known as the Bhagavad-Gita (“Song of the Blessed One”).

Mazie Hirono, also a Democrat and also from Hawaii, likewise made history as the first Buddhist (as well as the first Asian-American woman) elected to the U.S. Senate. Of Japanese birth, Hirono currently serves in the U.S. House of Representatives (also for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district), but as senator-elect she will also be sworn into her new position in the U.S. Senate in January 2013. (Gabbard will, in fact, be filling Hirono’s seat in the House, when Hirono moves on to the Senate.)

Currently, the U.S. Congress is over 90% Christian (56.8% Protestant, 29.2% Catholic, 4.3% other [Mormon, Orthodox, etc.]). Of its 535 total members, some 483 are Christians of various sorts, while 39 members are Jewish. Only two members of Congress are Muslim, and only three are Buddhist; all five of these members currently serve only in the House.

No members in the current (112th) Congress are Hindu, and no one currently in the Senate is Buddhist. But that will change in January 2013, when the new (113th) Congress convenes. Tulsi Gabbard will then be sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives as the first-ever Hindu member of Congress; at the same time, one of the three current Buddhist members in the House will move into the Senate, as Mazie Hirono is sworn in as the first-ever Buddhist U.S. Senator.