Latest data on religion and spirituality in East Asia shows continued decline of Buddhism

- through Henry Oudin

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Underscoring a difficulty many researchers face in understanding religion in East Asia, the latest survey from the Washington-based Pew Research Center found that many people in the region do not identify with any religion. Nevertheless, people in the regions studied (Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam) integrate the practices and beliefs of many religions that they find applicable to their lives.

In their analysis of the survey results, the authors of the Pew Research Center study noted: “By some measures, East Asia appears to be one of the least religious regions in the world. Relatively few East Asian adults pray daily or say religion is very important in their lives. And rates of disaffiliation – that is, people leaving religion – are among the highest in the world. . . .” (Pew Research Center)

Meanwhile, most of those surveyed said they had offered food to their ancestors in the past year, and a majority also said they believed in gods or invisible beings.

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In the five societies studied, the predominant religious identities were Buddhism and religious non-affiliation. However, a notable proportion of people identify themselves as Christian in South Korea and Hong Kong, while in Taiwan there are significant numbers of Taoists.

In all of these countries except Vietnam, the practice of religion switching – changing one's religious identity from childhood to adulthood – was found to be common. Many adults in Hong Kong and South Korea have abandoned the religion of their upbringing, often moving away from Buddhism or Christianity and no longer affiliated with a religion. Most people raised without religion reported being unaffiliated as adults.

Attitudes toward proselytizing varied, with majorities in Japan and South Korea opposing it, while respondents in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam were more supportive of conversion efforts.

The largest group was identified in several surveyed regions as having no religion. These include Hong Kong with 61 percent, South Korea with 52 percent and Vietnam with 48 percent. In Japan, 42 percent of respondents said they had no religion, as did 27 percent of respondents in Taiwan.

Buddhism remains widespread, with 46 percent of Japanese, 38 percent of Vietnamese, and 28 percent of Taiwanese identifying as Buddhist. In South Korea and Hong Kong, 14 percent identified as Buddhist. Christianity was less widespread, with about a third of South Koreans, 20 percent of Hong Kongers, and 10 percent of Vietnamese identifying as Christian. In Taiwan, 24 percent identified as Taoist.

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As in many other places around the world, young adults (ages 18 to 34) responded more often than older people that they were not affiliated with a religion. In Taiwan, 41 percent of young adults were unaffiliated, while 22 percent of older adults identified as unaffiliated. In all regions studied, younger people were less likely to be Buddhist than older people. This became clearer when data showed that 26 percent of adults in Hong Kong had been raised Buddhist, but only 14 percent currently identified as Buddhist.

Overall, East Asia's religious landscape is marked by significant levels of change, as well as diverse attitudes toward religion and proselytizing. Understanding these dynamics provides valuable insights into the evolving spiritual and religious identity of the region.

“When we measure religion in these societies by what people believe and do, East Asia is a more religiously dynamic region than it might first appear,” said the lead researcher Jonathan Evans in an email to BDG.

See more

Religion and spirituality in East Asian societies (Pew Research Center)
Religious Landscape and Change (Pew Research Center)

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The article Latest Data on Religion and Spirituality in East Asia Shows Continued Decline of Buddhism appeared first on Buddhadoor Global.

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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