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Vietnam - Religion

The country has an area of 127,000 square miles and a population of about 90 million. Most estimates suggest more than half of the population [over 40 million] is at least nominally Buddhist, while other estimates suggest that Buddhism has as few as 7.6 million followers. The Roman Catholic Church constitutes 7 percent [over 5 million]. Several Cao Dai organizations constitute 2.5 to 4 percent [2 million to 4 million], the primary Hoa Hao organization 1.5 to 3 percent [1 million to 3 million], Protestants 1 to 2 percent [500,000 to 2,000,000], and Muslims less than 0.1 percent of the population (50,000). Most other citizens consider themselves nonreligious, although many practice traditional beliefs such as animism and veneration of ancestors and national heroes.

Many Buddhists practice an amalgam of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism that is sometimes called the "triple religion." The government Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) cites an estimate of 10 million (11 percent of the population) practicing Mahayana Buddhists, most of whom are members of the ethnic Kinh community (the country's majority group, also referred to as Viet). There are proportionally fewer Buddhists in the highland areas, although migration of Kinh to these areas is changing the distribution. In Ho Chi Minh City alone, there are more than 1,000 active Buddhist pagodas. A Khmer ethnic minority in the south practices Theravada Buddhism and has more than 570 pagodas. Numbering more than one million, they live almost exclusively in the Mekong Delta.

During the year 2010 the government took further steps to implement its 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief and supplemental decrees on religious policy issued in 2005 (collectively, the government's "legal framework on religion"). The government also facilitated construction of new churches, prayer houses, pagodas, and training facilities for furthering the education of thousands of monks, priests, nuns, and pastors. New congregations were registered in many of the 64 provinces, and one new religious group and two Protestant denominations received national registration or recognition.

The government permitted the expansion of religious organizations’ charitable activities. President Nguyen Minh Triet met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Vietnam and the Holy See agreed to a Vatican appointment of a non-resident Representative for Vietnam as a first step toward the establishment of full diplomatic relations. The Catholic Church, Protestant congregations, and other smaller religious groups reported that their ability to gather and worship generally improved and that the government allowed registered religious groups to assign new clergy with limited restrictions. The government also permitted the Buddhist, Catholic, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Protestant faiths to hold several historic large-scale religious services throughout the country, some with over 100,000 participants.

Despite areas of progress during 2010, significant problems remained, especially at the provincial and village levels. These included the slow pace, in some cases due to government inaction, of registration of Protestant congregations in the North and the Northwest Highlands. Inconsistent application of procedures for registration caused some of the above-mentioned problems. In some areas, Protestant congregations experienced harassment. After five years of pending application, the central government has not yet approved a translation of the Bible in H'mong. The government maintained a prominent role overseeing all officially recognized religions. Religious groups encountered the greatest restrictions when the government perceived their activities as challenging its rule or the authority of the Communist Party. The government continued to refuse registration and to discourage participation in unrecognized factions of the Hoa Hao Buddhist and Cao Dai faiths reportedly due to their past and current support of opponents of the government. The leadership of the unrecognized Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) reported the government continued to monitor its activities closely and encouraged leaders to restrict their movements. There were also instances of government participation in, or sanction of, violence against religious groups.

In addition to organized religions, there exist a melange of beliefs without institutional structure that nevertheless had an enduring impact on Vietnamese. Despite official disapproval of superstitious practices, most Vietnamese, regardless of their professed religion, level of education, or ideology, were influenced at one time or another by such practices as astrology, geomancy and sorcery. Diviners and other specialists in the occult remained in popular demand because they were believed to be able to diagnose supernatural causes of illness, establish lucky dates for personal undertakings, or predict the future. Moreover, many Vietnamese believed that individual destiny was guided by astrological phenomena. By consulting one's horoscope, one could make the most of auspicious times and avoid disaster. It was not unusual, for example, for a couple to consult an astrologer before marrying. He would determine if the betrothed were suitably matched and even fix the date of the ceremony.

Adherence to a religious faith generally does not seriously disadvantage individuals in nongovernment civil, economic, and secular life, although it prevents advancement within the CPV and military. Practitioners of various religious groups serve in local and provincial government positions and are represented in the National Assembly. Some religious organizations, such as the VBS, as well as clergy and religious followers are members of the CPV-affiliated mass political and social organization, the Vietnam Fatherland Front. High-ranking government officials often make a special point to send greetings and visit churches over Christmas and Easter as well as attend Vesak day activities.

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Page last modified: 03-08-2012 19:22:10 ZULU