Overview of Religions in Vietnam

Vietnam is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious country. Vietnam was among 12 countries in the world and six countries in the Asia Pacific region, recognized as having a very high degree of religious diversity under global religious diversity surveys by the Pew Forum Institute (USA).1 This diversity in Vietnam resulted from the introduction, interference and fusion between indigenous religions formed in-country and imported overseas from other cultures. In the context of international integration, the level of religious diversity in Vietnam continues to improve.

There are many different forms of religion, from ancient religious forms such as Totemism, Shamanism, and Animism to modern, well-organized religious groups, for example, Catholicism, Buddhism, Protestantism, and Islam. Vietnam is also a country with diverse types of religious organizations. There are religions with only one organization (Buddhism, Catholicism), but there are also religions with many organizations and sects (Cao Dai religion, Protestantism, etc).

As of 2022, the Government of Vietnam had officially recognized 16 religions and 43 religious organizations.2 There are thousands of concentrated religious groups (including groups of foreigners lawfully residing in Vietnam); over 26.5 million believers3 (accounting for 27% of the country’s population); more than 54,000 dignitaries; 135 thousand positions and 29,658 places of worship.4 In addition, in Vietnam, the majority of people believe in and practice traditional/folk spiritual activities – which are often stated  as “no religion”.

Among 16 religions officially recognized by the State, nine were imported from abroad into Vietnam in different historical periods (Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Brahmanism, Baha’i, Adventist, Mormon, Minh Su Dao). The remaining seven religions were born in the South of the country in the early 20th century (Caodaism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi Viet Nam, Minh Ly Dao, Phat Giao Hieu Nghia Ta Lon).5

A prominent feature of the Vietnamese is their diversity of religion and beliefs. A follower of one religion of a one-god faith, such as Catholics, Protestants or Muslims ; can also participate in traditional/ folk spiritual activities at pagodas, temples, and religious festivals. In these spiritual activities, Vietnamese ethnic groups’ forms of beliefs could be classified as five types: (i) Ancestor worship (clan, clan, nation); (ii) Village god worship; (iii) Life cycle beliefs (birth, marriage, funerals, worship of the dead) ; (iv) Occupational beliefs; and (v) God worship beliefs. In which, ancestor worship is a fundamental and popular belief of Vietnamese people, regardless of ethnicity or whether they live in plains or mountains, rural or urban areas.6

Religious followers in Vietnam are widely distributed throughout the country, but concentrated in the Southeast provinces (30.15%) and Southwest (27.11%). In the Northern region, the number of believers accounts for 13.90%; the Central Highlands region accounts for 9.19%; the South Central Coast region accounts for 8.73%; and the North Central region accounts for 6.48%.7

In recent years, religious organizations in Vietnam have carried out purely religious activities following traditional teachings, laws and rituals; attached to the nation and country; comply with the laws and policies of the State and actively participate in social activities (education, health, social protection, charity, humanitarian).

Regarding the policy, the Constitution8of Vietnam states that every citizen “can follow any religion or follow none” and “all religions are equal before the law.” The Constitution also mandates respect and protection for freedom of belief and religion. The 2016 Law on Belief and Religion9 provides more details on freedom of belief and religion, registration of religious activities, religious organizations, state management, and handling of law violations. A series of decrees for implementation accompany the Law. Besides, Law on Land, Law on Education, and other laws also contain contents involving religion and belief. The legal system, therefore, has been well developed to support the needs for spiritual/religious development and state management.

From an international point of view, despite the significant achievement and growth of religions in the country in terms of the numbers of followers, type of religions and religious organization over the last 20 years, Vietnam, however, is still rated low in terms of freedom of religion. USCIRF designated Vietnam as a “country of particular concern”  for not fully exercising the freedom of religion as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act.10Freedom House gave Vietnam one out of four points in assessing individual freedom to practice and express their religious faith or non-belief publicly and privately.11 In most cases, the problems are often related to the long practicing time required to be licensed officially and the government’s surveillance and intervention during spiritual practices – especially for new religious phenomenons.12

In the increasingly integrated world, the development and diversity of religions in Vietnam will continue to change and flourish. It requires religious policies and authorities to be balanced between being updated to the new context, being flexible to meet people’s spiritual and religious needs, and maintaining social security for the citizens.

 

References

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