Harmony in Diversity: Singapore Leads Southeast Asia for Acceptance of Different Faiths

Harmony in Diversity: Singapore Leads Southeast Asia for Acceptance of Different Faiths

A recent study has revealed that Singapore leads the way in accepting different religious views as compatible with their culture and national values, indicating a high level of religious tolerance in Southeast Asia.

According to Channel News Asia, the results of the study released by the Pew Research Center show that Singapore is the only country in Southeast Asia where a number of adults change their religion during their lifetime.

The study covered six countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Singapore. The survey covered several religions, including Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, traditional Chinese religions, and local beliefs. The results show that Singaporeans are generally accepting of other religious groups.

Nearly 90 percent of Singaporean adults believe that religions such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, traditional Chinese religions, and local or indigenous beliefs are compatible with Singaporean culture and values. 

Notably, Singapore is the only country surveyed in Southeast Asia where there is no majority religion. Singapore's results exceed the proportions in other countries in the survey where Islam, Buddhism or Christianity dominate as the majority religion.

The study also identified trends in religious conversion in Singapore. In the other countries surveyed, nearly all adults retained the religion in which they were raised. In Singapore, however, about 35 percent said they had changed their religious beliefs during their lifetime.

According to the Pew study, religious change in Singapore has led to a significant decline in the number of Buddhists or followers of traditional Chinese religions. Meanwhile, the number of Christians and those with no religious affiliation has increased.

However, despite the decline in Buddhism and traditional Chinese religions, Singapore is the only country in Southeast Asia to show a significant trend in religious change. This finding reflects the country's high level of religious diversity and tolerance.

Connecting Identities, Religions and Cultures

In addition, the results also illustrate how national and cultural identities in Singapore de-emphasize ethnic and religious elements in feelings of nationhood. In this case, respondents were asked to rate the importance of various identity markers, such as birth in Singapore, Chinese ethnicity, and Buddhism, in their sense of nationhood.

The results show that Singaporeans tend to place less emphasis on these elements of nationalism than their neighbors. Although nearly three-quarters of Singapore's population is ethnically Chinese, only 27 percent of respondents felt it was very important to speak Singapore's "national language," which Pew identified as Mandarin. Meanwhile, English dominates many aspects of life, including schools and the workplace.

Being Chinese and Buddhist are also less important, with only about 19 percent and 13 percent of respondents, respectively, rating them as very important. In contrast, Singapore has a high percentage of respondents (38 percent) who disagree that their national culture is superior to other cultures. Only 61 percent believe that Singapore's national culture is superior. 

In this respect, Singapore differs from neighboring countries where the majority of the population believes that their national culture is superior to others. The rejection of national cultural superiority also indicates Singaporeans' growing openness to cultural diversity.

The Pew research reflects a trend consistent with Singapore's 2020 census data, which shows an increase in the number of residents with no religious affiliation. However, Pew's findings also show that the religiously unaffiliated do not completely reject religious or spiritual beliefs and practices. Some 65 percent of them still believe in the concept of karma, 62 percent still believe in the existence of God or "invisible beings," and 43 percent still believe that we can feel the presence of deceased loved ones.

Despite changes in religious preferences, the majority of people with no religious affiliation still hold some religious or spiritual beliefs. This reflects the complexity of religious identities and views in Singapore, which continue to evolve over time.

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