A new report from the Washington-based Pew Research Center offers data on religious attitudes in six countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Although the majority of people in all six countries are accepting of people of different religions, varying opinions have been expressed on particular religious issues and expressions. The report, released September 12, surveyed more than 13 adults from June to September 000.
The report, titled “Buddhism, Islam and Religious Pluralism in South and Southeast Asia,” shows that Buddhism plays a major role in the three Buddhist-majority countries, as does Islam in the two Muslim-majority countries. . In Singapore, a more multi-religious nation, religion plays less of a role.
In terms of positively appreciating the presence of members of other religions in the country, Malaysia came in first place, with 62 percent of respondents saying diversity made their country a better place to live, and with only 4 percent saying it was making the country worse. Sri Lanka is almost tied, with 62 percent of respondents saying diversity has helped, while 6 percent said it made the country a worse place to live.
Cambodia and Thailand both have the fewest people who believe diversity makes their country a better place to live, with 31 percent and 19 percent respectively.
Singapore stands out for having the highest number of people saying they view other religions as compatible with their society. Nearly nine in ten people said Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, traditional Chinese religions and local beliefs/indigenous religions were all compatible. Other countries had generally positive feelings towards other religions, with Cambodia being an exception, where only 43 percent of people considered Islam compatible with their society, 44 percent considered Christianity compatible and 29 percent XNUMX considered Hinduism compatible.
Among Buddhist countries, Cambodians are also the least likely to accept conversion out of their faith, with 92% saying it would be unacceptable. Here, Singaporeans once again demonstrated the most tolerant attitudes, with only 36 percent of Buddhists saying that converting away from their faith would be unacceptable.
Looking at Buddhists in particular, the survey found that younger Buddhists in Cambodia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand were all more accepting of religious conversion from their religion than older Buddhists. Seventy-eight percent of young Singaporean Buddhists (aged 18 to 34) accept conversion from Buddhism, compared to 53 percent of those aged 35 or older. In Thailand, 46 percent of young Buddhists agree to no longer convert, compared to only 22 percent of older Buddhists. In Sri Lanka and Cambodia, acceptance by age was lower and differences between age groups were smaller.
Sri Lankan Buddhists were distinguished by their respect for key figures of the major religions. In the survey, when asked who they often pray to or offer respect to, 100 percent of Sri Lankan Buddhists said Buddha, 39 percent said Allah, 57 percent said Jesus- Christ and 84 percent said Ganesh. Sri Lankan Muslims were also diverse in their prayers: 71% said they prayed or offered respect to the Buddha, 100% to Allah, 69% to Jesus Christ and 62% to Ganesh. Christians also offer prayers and respects to various religious figures: 61% to Buddha, 41% to Allah, 99% to Jesus Christ and 48% to Ganesh.
The survey also showed sometimes dramatic changes in religiosity in Singapore over time. Buddhism, for example, made up 27 percent of the population in 1980, rose to more than 40 percent by 2000, only to decline over the past two decades to 31 percent. Traditional Chinese beliefs and Taoism have seen a dramatic decline, from 30% of the population in 1980 to just 9% in 2020. Meanwhile, those who claim neither religion nor Christianity have seen a steady increase over the 40 last years.
According to recent census data, 31 percent of Singaporean adults identify as Buddhist, 20 percent have no religious affiliation, 19 percent are Christian and 15 percent are Muslim. The remaining 15 percent include Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists and people who follow traditional Chinese religions, among others.