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Latest Data on Religion and Spirituality in East Asia Shows Ongoing Decline of Buddhism

From pewresearch.org

Highlighting a difficulty many researchers ancounter in understanding religion in East Asia, the latest survey by the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center has found that many people in the region do not identify with any one religion. Nonetheless, people in the areas surveyed—Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam—incorporate the practices and beliefs of many religions that they deem applicable to their lives.

In their discussion of the survey results, the authors of the Pew Research Center research noted: “By some measures, East Asia seems like 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—people leaving religion—are among the highest in the world. . . .” (Pew Research Center)

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

From pewresearch.org

In the five societies surveyed, the predominant religious identities were Buddhist and religious non-affiliation. However, notable proportions in South Korea and Hong Kong identified as Christian, while Taiwan had a significant number of Daoists.

In all of these countries, except for Vietnam, the practice of religious switching—changing one’s religious identity from childhood to adulthood—was found to be common. Many adults in Hong Kong and South Korea have left the religion of their upbringing, often moving away from Buddhism or Christianity to become religiously unaffiliated. Most individuals raised without a religion said that they remained 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 several areas surveyed identified as having no religion. These included Hong Kong with 61 per cent, South Korea with 52 per cent, and Vietnam with 48 per cent. In Japan, 42 per cent claimed no religion, as did 27 per cent of those surveyed in Taiwan.

Buddhism remains prevalent, with 46 per cent of Japanese, 38 per cent of Vietnamese, and 28 per cent of Taiwanese identifying as Buddhists. In South Korea and Hong Kong, 14 per cent identified as Buddhist. Christianity was less prevalent, with about a third of South Koreans, 20 per cent of Hongkongers, and 10 per cent of Vietnamese identifying as Christian. In Taiwan, 24 per cent identified as Daoist.

From pewresearch.org

As with many other places in the world, younger adults (aged 18–34) responded that they were religiously unaffiliated more frequently than older people. In Taiwan, 41 per cent of younger adults were unaffiliated, whereas 22 per cent of older adults identified as unaffiliated. In every area surveyed, younger people were less likely to be Buddhist than older people. This was made clearer when data showed that 26 per cent of adults in Hong Kong were raised Buddhist, but only 14 per cent currently identified as Buddhist.

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

“When we measure religion in these societies by what people believe and do, East Asia is a more religiously vibrant region than it might initially seem,” said senior researcher Jonathan Evans in an email sent 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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