Update: Mark has responded, and plans on exploring Tulsi Gabbard’s faith more in the future.
Mark Oppeheimer has an article up, Politicians Who Reject Labels Based on Religion. It’s good. But he says:
Hawaii, is the daughter of a Hindu mother and a Roman Catholic father. She calls herself Hindu, a first for a member of Congress. But it is not quite that simple.
“I identify as a Hindu,” Ms. Gabbard wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. “However, I am much more into spirituality than I am religious labels.”
“In that sense,” she added, “I am a Hindu in the mold of the most famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, who is my hero and role model.”
Ms. Gabbard wrote that she “was raised in a multicultural, multirace, multifaith family” that allowed her “to spend a lot of time studying and contemplating upon both the Bhagavad-Gita and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.”
Today, her spiritual practice is neither Catholic nor traditionally Hindu.
“My attempts to work for the welfare of others and the planet is the core of my spiritual practice,” Ms. Gabbard wrote. “Also, every morning I take time to remember my relationship with God through the practice of yoga meditation and reading verses from the Bhagavad-Gita. From the perspective of the Bhagavad-Gita, the spiritual path as I have described here is known as karma yoga and bhakti yoga.”
Actually, I do think it is quite simple that Tulsi Gabbard is Hindu. I sent Mark an email, and I’ll post it below:
Great article. Though I have to say that many educated Hindus talk like that about their religion, and it doesn’t make their Hinduism any more complicated or less religious. In fact, she is identified as Vaishnava elsewhere. If this is true, then she’s probably *more* not *less* self-consciously sectarian than the typical Indian American nominal Hindu (i.e., many Brahmins come from notionally Vaishnava or Saiva lineages, but don’t give one fig). I take her assertion of non-sectarianism as similar to Born-Again Christians who say they’re not religious, or even Christian, but say they believe in Christ. It’s not a lie, but these aren’t ‘spiritual seekers’ in the way we really understand it.
Because of the philosophical monism at the heart of orthodox Hinduism they just sound “New Age” to Americans from Abrahamic backgrounds. It’s easy to say all religions are one, when you think all is one. But just because all is one, doesn’t mean Hindus don’t recognize distinctions and grades. Ask some Dalits about that
In short, I would argue that Tulsi Gabbard is more authentically Hindu in a religious sense than the vast majority of Indian American Hindus, for whom the religion is more part of their cultural heritage, than a deep abiding devotional focus. The most religiously intense American Hindus are probably converts to devotional sects (e.g., Hare Krishna), and not the Indian American community.