Julia Roberts, the star of the movie "Eat Pray Love" tells Elle magazine that she and her entire family are practicing Hindus, making her the most prominent convert to one of America's smaller but increasingly prominent immigrant religions.
Roberts, 42, tells the fashion magazine
that she and husband Danny Moder and their three children, 5-year-old twins Phinnaeus and Hazel and 3-year-old Henry, all go to temple to "chant and pray and celebrate."
"I'm definitely a practicing Hindu," says Roberts
, who grew up with a Catholic mother and Baptist father. That seems to make her the most famous convert
since the late George Harrison, a member of the Beatles who embraced Indian mysticism in the 1960s.
On the other hand, "conversion" may not be the best term for someone who starts practicing Hinduism.
"As a non-proselytizing, pluralistic faith, Hinduism does not seek converts nor does anyone need to 'convert' formally to become a practicing Hindu," said Suhag Shukla, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation
, which advocates on behalf of the estimated two million Hindus in the United States.
In that light, Shukla said there are "countless examples of prominent people in the West who have drawn inspiration from Hindu philosophy, converted formally or for all intents and purposes could be considered practicing Hindus" -- including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Aldous Huxley, Alfred Ford (great-grandson of Henry Ford) and Ricky Williams, the NFL running back.
Roberts' revelation is an interesting one because she provoked the ire
of many Hindus in India during filming of "Eat Pray Love" last fall when the production team sealed off a temple near Delhi at the start of Navratri, nine days of worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. The movie is based
on the popular memoir of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert that recounts her global quest for spiritual and romantic fulfillment. The filming at the temple portrays how the heroine explored Hinduism.
That Roberts publicly embraces Hinduism is also notable at a time when some notable politicians -- as Politics Daily reported
-- are leery of associating with a religion that still arouses such suspicions that evangelist Franklin Graham openly derided it last May, saying
: "No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me. None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation."
On the other hand, many Hindu beliefs and practices are becoming mainstream. Sarah Palin is one of millions who have adopted yoga poses as part of their fitness routines. In an essay titled "We Are All Hindus Now,"
Newsweek's Lisa Miller wrote that two-thirds of Americans believe -- as do Hindus -- that many religions can offer eternal salvation, not just Christianity. And more Americans than ever are choosing to be cremated at death, which is the traditional Hindu practice. Moreover, one-quarter of Americans (24 percent in a 2009 Pew survey) believe in reincarnation.
Even Julia Roberts is hoping for some improvement in her next life -- though many of us would wonder how that could be possible.
"Golly, I've been so spoiled with my friends and family in this life," she tells Elle. "Next time I want to be just something quiet and supporting."
She also says she's not going to try to get a jump on reincarnation by using plastic surgery in this life.
"It's unfortunate that we live in such a panicked, dysmorphic society where women don't even give themselves a chance to see what they'll look like as older persons," she says. "I want to have some idea of what I'll look like before I start cleaning the slates. I want my kids to know when I'm pissed, when I'm happy, and when I'm confounded. Your face tells a story . . . and it shouldn't be a story about your drive to the doctor's office."
That may be something else a lot of American Christians would disagree with