Is Buddhism the fastest growing religion in the west?
Well according to Asian Tribune, an internet daily newspaper, in a story Buddhism fastest growing religion in West from April 7, 2008.
Buddhism is being recognized as the fastest growing religion in Western societies both in terms of new converts and more so in terms of friends of Buddhism, who seek to study and practice various aspects of Buddhism.
It should be noted this article did not contain demographic numbers. It was a report on a public lecture given at All Ceylon Buddhist Congress Hall Colombo and "was delivered under the auspices of the Buddhist and Pali University, All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress and the Buddhist Times Trust".
Demographic numbers, were however available at Pew Research-Religious & Public Life Project dated December 18, 2012 The Global Religious Landscape – Buddhists give an overall look at Buddhist demographics.
This project noted that while 7% of the world's total population is Buddhist, 99% of these Buddhists live in the Asia-Pacific region. All other areas including North America, Latin America, and Europe have 1% or less of their populations identifying as Buddhist.
If only 1% of Western populations are Buddhist, what is the remaining makeup? (At this point I had to narrow the question to the US as I was unable to find comprehensive info for the west in general.)
But for the US, for example, according to Pew Research Center, U.S. doesn't rank high in religious diversity Americans are:
Christians - 78%
Unaffiliated - 16%
Jews - 2%
Buddhist - 1%
Muslims - <1%
Hindus - <1%
Folk Religion <1%
Other Religion <1%
But these figures are far from static. According to the most comprehensive Pew Research document I found, U.S.Religious Landscape Survey, a full 28% percent of Americans have changed their religious affiliation since childhood. (This does not include changing from one type of Protestantism to another; it would be 44% if that was included.) So what are they converting to? Lots of things including Buddhism.
• In sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the U.S. is primarily made up
of native-born adherents, whites and converts. Only one-in-three American Buddhists
describe their race as Asian, while nearly three-in-four Buddhists say they are converts to
72% of American Buddhists are converts as compared to 27% originally born Buddhists.
An interesting fact is that the report states that only 50% of those raised as Buddhists in the US, still consider themselves Buddhist. So Buddhism in the US has simultaneously one of the highest rates of conversion from other religions to it and one of the lowest rates of retention of those born into it. (Lots of folks looking for something new I guess!)
But these American Buddhists tend to be satisfied with their personal lives. In a survey question (from the Pew Landscape report) asking "All in all, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in your personal
life?" 90% of Buddhist respondents stated satisfied; the highest percentage of any religious group. Only 8% reported "dissatisfied"; the lowest of any religious group.
But I'll wind it up with the observation from the Pew Landscape report that all religious groups in the US are continually gaining and losing members at all times. With the US Buddhist population being 72% converts, the half of the originally born Buddhists who leave Buddhism still leave it in a net gain category (based on "Childhood Versus Current Affiliation of U.S. Adults" on page 24 of U.S.Religious Landscape Survey).
Buddist gains are .3%. That sounds small until you look at all mainstream groups which are in the negative. In fact, the only groups that have a higher percentage gain are "unaffiliated" which is not a religion and "other faiths" which is the very small group of religions so small they are not broken out separately. So in that sense, you could perhaps say Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in the US. :)