Religion in Vietnam
Long-established religions in Viet Nam have included Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism (called the three teachings or tam giáo). According to Pew Forum figures, most of the Viet Namese people practice indigenous religions, worshiping local spirits, gods and mother goddesses (45.3%), as these religions have experienced a revival since the 1980s. Buddhism is the second-largest religion with 16.4% of the population adhering, around 8% are Christians (mostly Catholics), and around 30% are religiously unaffiliated. Roman Catholicism, Caodaism, and Hòa Hảo are the largest religions after Buddhism. Smaller minorities of adherents to Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism exist.
Officially, the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam is an atheistic state. Census results record 81% per cent nonbelief (2009) although this may be inflated because of Viet Nam's official status as an atheistic nation, or that many reported as "nonbelievers" in formal religions still have some adherence to informal religious customs and practices such as ancestor worship.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History
- 3 Indigenous religion
- 4 Buddhism
- 5 Christianity
- 6 Cao Đài
- 7 Đạo Dừa
- 8 Hinduism
- 9 Islam
- 10 Judaism
- 11 Bahá'í Faith
- 12 Religious freedom
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 External links
Although according to a 1999 census most Viet Namese people list themselves as having no religious affiliation, religion, as defined by shared beliefs and practices, remains an integral part of Viet Namese life, dictating the social behaviour and spiritual practices of Viet Namese people in Viet Nam and elsewhere. The triple religion (Vietnamese: tam giáo), referring to the syncretic combination of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism remains a strong influence on the beliefs and practices of the Viet Namese people, even if the levels of formal membership in these religious communities may not reflect that influence. One of the most notable and universal spiritual practices common to Viet Namese people is ancestor veneration, a practice shared with Chinese and most other East Asian societies. Practically all Viet Namese people, regardless of formal religious affiliation, have an altar in their home or business where prayers are offered to their ancestors. These offerings and practices are done frequently during important traditional or religious celebrations (e.g., death anniversaries), the starting of a new business, or even when a family member needs guidance or counsel. Belief in ghosts and spirits is common; it is commonly believed that failing to perform the proper rites for one's ancestors will cause them to become hungry ghosts (Vietnamese: ma đói).[nb 1]
The earliest forms of Viet Namese religious practice were animistic and totemic in nature. The decorations on Dong Son bronze drums, generally agreed to have ceremonial and possibly religious value,[nb 2] depict the figures of birds, leading historians to believe birds were objects of worship for the early Viet Namese people. Dragons were another frequently recurring figure in Viet Namese art, arising from the veneration of Lạc Long Quân, a mythical dragon-king who is said to be the father of the Viet Namese people. The Golden Turtle God Kim Qui was said to appear to kings in times of crisis, notably to Lê Lợi, from whom he took the legendary sword Thuận Thiên after it had been dropped into Hoan Kiem Lake. Besides beasts, mountains, rivers, and other environmental forms were believed to have spirits, protecting humans who worshipped adequately and punishing those whose worship was lacking. Contact with Chinese civilization, and the introduction of the triple religion of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, added a further ethical and moral dimension to the indigenous Viet Namese religion.
Scholars such as Toan Ánh (Tín-ngưỡng Việt-Nam 1991) have listed a resurgence in traditional belief in many local, village-level, spirits.
The term "Đạo Mẫu" refers to the worship of mother goddesses in Viet Nam. While scholars like Ngô Đức Thịnh propose that it represents a systematic mother goddess cult, the term draws together fairly disparate beliefs and practices. These include the worship of goddesses such as Thiên Y A Na, The Lady of the Realm (Bà Chúa Xứ), The Lady of the Storehouse (Bà Chúa Kho) and Princess Liễu Hạnh, legendary figures like Âu Cơ, the Trung Sisters (Hai Bà Trưng), and Lady Trieu (Bà Triệu), as well as the cult of the Four Palaces. Đạo Mẫu is commonly associated with spirit mediumship rites—known in Viet Nam as lên đồng—much as practiced in other parts of East Asia, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Although the Communist government had initially forbidden the practice of such rites, deeming them to be superstitions, they relented in 1987, once again legalizing their practice.
Buddhism came to Viet Nam as early as the second century A.D. through the North from central Asia and via Southern routes from India. Mahayana Buddhism first spread from China to Viet Nam's Red River Delta region around 300 A.D. Theravada Buddhism arrived from India into the southern Mekong Delta region many years later, between 300-600 A.D. Buddhism as practiced by the Viet Namese people is mainly of the Mahayana school, although some ethnic minorities (such as the Khmer Krom in the southern Delta region of Viet Nam) adhere to the Theravada school.
Buddhist practice in Viet Nam differs from that of other East Asian countries, and does not contain the same institutional structures, hierarchy, or sanghas that exist in other traditional Buddhist settings. It has, rather, grown from a symbiotic relationship with Taoism, Chinese spirituality, and the indigenous Viet Namese religion, with the majority of Buddhist practitioners focusing on devotional rites rather than meditation.
Pure Land Buddhism is a broad branch of Mahayana Buddhism and is said to be one of the most popular schools of Buddhism in Viet Nam, in which practitioners commonly recite sutras, chants and dharanis looking to gain protection from bodhisattvas or Dharma-Protectors. While Pure Land traditions, practices and concepts are found within Mahayana cosmology, and form an important component of Buddhist traditions in Viet Nam, Pure Land Buddhism was not independently recognized as a sect of Buddhism (as Pure Land schools have been recognized, for example, in Japan) until 2007, with the official recognition of the Vietnamese Pure Land Buddhism Association as an independent and legal religious organization.
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Hòa Hảo is a religious tradition, based on Buddhism, founded in 1939 by Huỳnh Phú Sổ, a native of the Mekong Delta region of southern Viet Nam. Adherents consider Sổ to be a prophet, and Hòa Hảo a continuation of a nineteenth-century Buddhist ministry known as Bửu Sơn Kỳ Hương ("Strange Perfume from Precious Mountains", referring to the Thất Sơn range on the Viet Nam-Cambodia border). The founders of these traditions are regarded by Hòa Hảo followers as living Buddhas—destined to save mankind from suffering and to protect the Viet Namese nation. An important characteristic of Hòa Hảo is its emphasis on peasant farmers, exemplified by the old slogan "Practicing Buddhism While Farming Your Land." Hòa Hảo also stresses the practice of Buddhism by lay people in the home, rather than focusing primarily on temple worship and ordination. Aid to the poor is favored over pagoda building or expensive rites.
Today, as an officially recognized religion, it claims approximately two million followers throughout Viet Nam; in certain parts of the Mekong Delta, as many as ninety per cent of the population of this region practice this tradition. Since many of the teachings of Huỳnh Phú Sổ related in some way to Viet Namese nationalism, adherence to Hòa Hảo outside of Viet Nam has been minimal, with a largely quiescent group of followers presumed to exist among the Viet Namese diaspora in the United States.
Tứ Ân Hiếu Nghĩa
Tứ Ân Hiếu Nghĩa ("Four Debts of Gratitude"), a Buddhist sect based in An Giang Province, is one of the most recently registered religions in Viet Nam. It is based on the teachings of Ngô Lợi (1831–1890). Official government statistics report that Tứ Ân Hiếu Nghĩa claimed over 70,000 registered followers and 476 religious leaders as of 2005, concentrated in seventy-six places of worship spread across fourteen provinces, mainly in Southern Viet Nam. vi:Minh Sư Đạo is a sect of Cao Đài.
By far the most wide-spread Christian church in Viet Nam, Roman Catholicism first entered the country through Portuguese Catholic missionaries in the sixteenth century and strengthened its influence during French colonial rule. While the earliest missions were only mildly successful at gaining converts, later missions by Jesuit missionaries eventually saw the definitive establishment of Christian centres within the local population.
Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes, who worked in Viet Nam between 1624 and 1644, was perhaps the most notable missionary of this period. Among other achievements, he made a significant and lasting contribution to Viet Namese culture by developing an alphabet for the Viet Namese language in concert with Viet Namese scholars and based on the work of earlier Portuguese missionaries. The use of this alphabet, based on the Latin script with added diacritic marks, was originally intended to help reinforce teaching and evangelization efforts. It is still in use, and is now referred to as Quốc Ngữ (national language).
The French missionary priest Pigneau de Behaine played a key role in Viet Namese history towards the end of the 18th century by befriending Nguyễn Ánh, the most senior of the ruling Nguyễn lords to have escaped the rebellion of the Tây Sơn brothers in 1777. Becoming Nguyễn Ánh's loyal confidant, benefactor and military advisor during his time of need, he was able to gain a great deal of favor for the Church. During Nguyễn Ánh's subsequent rule as Emperor Gia Long, the Catholic faith was permitted unimpeded missionary activities out of his respect to his benefactors. By the time of the Emperor's accession in 1802, Viet Nam had three Catholic dioceses with 320,000 members and over 120 Viet Namese priests.
According to the Catholic Hierarchy Catalog, there are currently 5,658,000 Catholics in Viet Nam, representing 6.87% of the human population. There are twenty-six dioceses (including three archdioceses) with 2228 parishes and 2668 priests.
Protestantism was introduced to Da Nang in 1911 by a Canadian missionary named Robert A. Jaffray; over the years, he was followed by more than a hundred missionaries, members of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an Evangelical Protestant denomination. The two officially recognized Protestant organizations recognized by the government are the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (S.E.C.V.), recognized in 2001, and the smaller Evangelical Church of Vietnam North (E.C.V.N.), recognized since 1963.
Present estimates of the number of Protestants range from the official government figure of 500,000 to claims by churches of one million. Growth has been most pronounced among members of minority peoples (montagnards) such as the Mnong, Ede, Jarai, and Bahnar, with internal estimates claiming two-thirds of all Protestants in Viet Nam are members of ethnic minorities. By some estimates, the growth of Protestant believers in Viet Nam has been as much as six hundred per cent over the past decade. Some of the new converts belong to unregistered evangelical house churches, whose followers are said to total about 200,000.
Baptist and Mennonite movements were officially recognized by Hanoi in October, 2007, which was seen as a notable improvement in the level of religious freedom enjoyed by Viet Namese Protestants. Similarly, in October 2009, the Assemblies of God movement received official government permission to operate, which is the first step to becoming a legal organization.
The Assemblies of God were said to consist of around 40,000 followers in 2009, the Baptist Church around 18,400 followers with five hundred ministers in 2007, and The Mennonite Church around 10,000 followers.
For Orthodox Christianity, the Russian Orthodox Church is represented in Vũng Tàu, Viet Nam, mainly among the Russian-speaking employees of the Russian-Viet Namese joint venture "Vietsovpetro". The parish is named after Our Lady of Kazan icon was opened in 2002 with the blessing of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been given in Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra. The representatives of the foreign relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church come to Vũng Tàu from time to time to conduct the Orthodox divine service.
Vietnam is also mentioned as territory under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Hong Kong & Southeast Asia Nikitas (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople), though there is no information on its organized activities there.
Cao Đài is a relatively new, syncretistic, monotheistic religion, officially established in the city of Tây Ninh, southern Viet Nam, in 1926. The term Cao Đài literally means "high Channel", or figuratively, the highest place where the god reigns. Adherents credit a god as the religion's founder, believing the teachings, symbolism and organization were communicated directly from this god. Cao Đài's first disciples, Ngô Văn Chiêu, Cao Quỳnh Cư, Phạm Công Tắc and Cao Hoài Sang, claimed to have received direct communications from the god, who gave them explicit instructions for establishing a new religion that would commence the Third Era of Religious Amnesty. Adherents engage in ethical practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, nonviolence, and vegetarianism with the minimum goal of rejoining God the Father in Heaven and the ultimate goal of freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
Official government records counted 2.2 million registered Cao Đài followers in 2005; most outside sources give two to three million. Some estimates are as high as eight million adherents in Viet Nam. An additional 30,000 (numbers may vary) (primarily Viet Namese) live in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
Adherence to Hinduism in Viet Nam is associated with the Cham ethnic minority; the first religion of the Champa kingdom was a form of Shaivite Hinduism, brought by sea from India. The Cham people erected Hindu temples (Bimong) throughout Central Viet Nam, many of which are still in use today; the now-abandoned Mỹ Sơn, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is perhaps the most well-known of Cham temple complexes.
Approximately 50,000 Cham in the south-central coastal area practice a devotional form of Hinduism. Most of the Cham Hindus belong to the Nagavamshi Kshatriya caste, but a considerable minority are Brahmins. Another four thousand Hindus (mostly Tamil, and otherwise of Cham or mixed Indian-Viet Namese descent) live in Ho Chi Minh City, where the Mariamman Temple acts as a focal point for the community. In Ninh Thuận Province, where most of the Cham in Viet Nam reside, Cham Balamon (Hindu Cham) numbers 32,000; out of the twenty-two villages in Ninh Thuận, fifteen are Hindu.
Much like Hinduism, adherence to Islam in Viet Nam is primarily associated with the Cham minority, although there is also a Muslim population of mixed ethnic origins, also known as Cham, or Cham Muslims, in the south-west (Mekong Delta) of the country. Islam is assumed to have come to Viet Nam much after its arrival in China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), through contact with Arabian traders. The number of followers began to increase as contacts with Sultanate of Malacca broadened in the wake of the 1471 collapse of the Champa Kingdom, but Islam would not become wide-spread among the Cham until the mid-seventeenth century. In the mid-nineteenth century, many Muslims Chams emigrated from Cambodia and settled in the Mekong Delta region, further bolstering the presence of Islam in Viet Nam.
Viet Nam's Muslims remained relatively isolated from the main-stream of Islam, and their isolation, combined with the lack of religious schools, caused the practice of Islam in Viet Nam to become syncretic. Although the Chams follow a localised adaptation of Islamic theology, they consider themselves Muslims. However, they pray only on Fridays and celebrate Ramadan for only three days. Penile circumcision is performed not materially, but symbolically, with a religious leader making the gestures of circumcision with a wooden toy knife.
A 2005 census counted over 66,000 Muslims in Viet Nam, up from 63,000 in 1999. Over 77% lived in the South-East Region, with 34% in Ninh Thuận Province, 24% in Bình Thuận Province, and 9% in Ho Chi Minh City; another 22% lived in the Mekong Delta region, primarily in An Giang Province. In Ninh Thuận Province, where most of the Cham in Viet Nam reside, Cham Bani (Muslim Cham) number close to 22,000. Out of the twenty-two villages in Ninh Thuận, seven are Muslim.
The first Jews to visit Viet Nam likely arrived following the French colonization of the country, in the latter half of the nineteenth century. There are a handful of references to Jewish settlement in Saigon sprinkled through the pages of the Jewish Chronicle in the 1860s and 1870s.
As late as 1939, the estimated combined population of the Jewish communities of Haiphong, Hanoi, Saigon and Tourane in French Indo-China numbered approximately a thousand. In 1940 the antiSemitic Vichy-France "Statute on Jews" was implemented in French Indo-China (Viet Nam), leading to increased restrictions and wide-spread discrimination against Jews. The antiSemitic laws were repealed in January 1945.
Prior to the French evacuation of Indochina in 1954, the Jewish population in Indochina (which encompassed Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia) was reportedly 1,500; most of these Jews were said to have left with the French, leaving behind no organized Jewish communal structure. In 1971, about twelve French Jews still remained in South Viet Nam, all in Saigon. In 2005, the U.S. State Department's "International Religious Freedom Report" noted "There were no reported antiSemitic incidents during the period covered by this report. The country's small Jewish population is comprised almost entirely of expatriates."
Established in the 1950s, the Viet Namese Bahá'í community once claimed upwards of 200,000 followers, mainly concentrated in the South. The number of followers dwindled as a result of the banning of the practice of the Bahá'í Faith after the U.S.-Viet Nam War. After years of negotiation, the Bahá'í Faith was registered nationally in 2007, once again receiving full recognition as a religious community. In 2009 it was reported that the Bahá'í community has about seven thousand followers and seventy-three assemblies.
The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam formally allows religious freedom, however, governmental restrictions remain on organized activities of many religious groups. The government maintains a prominent role supervising officially recognized religions. Religious groups encounter the greatest restrictions when they are perceived by the government as a challenge to its rule or to the authority of the Communist party. In 2007, Viet Nam News reported that Viet Nam has six religions recognised by the State (Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Cao Đài, and Hòa Hảo), but that the Baha’i Community of Viet Nam had been awarded a "certificate of operation" from the Government's Committee for Religious Affairs. In 2007, the Committee for Religious Affairs was reported to have granted operation registration certificates to three new religions and a religious sect in addition to six existing religions. Every citizen is declared free to follow no, one, or more religions, practice religion without violating the law, be treated equally regardless of religious belief, and to be protected from being violated in their religious freedom, but is prohibited from using religion to violate the law.
In fact, there are some limitations in religious practice in Viet Nam. Foreign missionaries are not legally allowed to proselytize or perform religious activities. No other religions than the aforementioned eight are allowed. Preachers and religious associations are prohibited to use religion to propagate ideologies that are opposed to the government. Many Viet Namese preachers who fled for the U.S. and other countries say that they were suppressed by the Communist government on no or unreasonable grounds; however, preachers and religious associations who abide by the law working in Viet Nam today are aided and honored by the government.
The Viet Namese government has been criticized for its religious violations by the United States, the Vatican, and Viet Namese expatriates who oppose the Communist government. However, due to recent improvements in religious liberty, the United States no longer considers Viet Nam a Country of Particular Concern. The Vatican has also considered negotiations with Viet Nam about freedom for Viet Namese Catholics.
Despite some substantial attempts by the Viet Namese government to improve its international image and ease restrictions on religious freedom, the cases of dissident religious leaders' persecution has not stopped in recent years. The general secretary of the Mennonite Church in Viet Nam and religious freedom advocate Nguyen Hong Quang was arrested in 2004, and his house razed to the ground. Christian Montagnards and their house churches continue to suffer from state control and restrictions. In March, 2007, a member of the main Hanoi congregation of the legally recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) Nguyen Van Dai was arrested for accusations relating to his defense of religious freedom, including disseminating alleged "infractions" of religious liberty.
- Organized religions
- Bahá'í Faith in Vietnam
- Buddhism in Vietnam
- Christianity in Vietnam
- Judaism in Vietnam
- Islam in Vietnam
- Taoism in Vietnam
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Religion in Vietnam.|
- US State Department 2006 report on religious freedom in Vietnam
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- "Report on Vietnam" by International Christian Concern