VietnamCulture and HistoryAn Overview of Religions in Vietnam

An Overview of Religions in Vietnam

Data source

In Vietnam, as of 2019, 95% of the population practice a religion or belief. Every year, about 8,500 religious events take place across the country. There are 6 major religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Caodaism, Protestantism, Hoahaoism, Islam, and several folk religions. Many religious rituals from ancient times are still practiced and have become a part of Vietnamese daily life. The 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam have made the folk religions more diverse and the non-native beliefs more suitable for Vietnamese traditions.

Types of Religions in Vietnam

Folk Religions

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Phu Tay Ho Temple in Hanoi

Folk religions in Vietnam include worship of ancestors, national heroes, and gods of nature. Almost half of the population in Vietnam has faith in one or more of these figures. You can visit numerous temples worshipping deities such as the Wind, Forest, Fire, Water, and Ocean Gods. You can also find many houses built mainly to give incense and offerings to a family’s ancestors. Even today, on the ancestors’ death date, the younger generation will hold memorials to remember and show appreciation to the deceased. Besides, national heroes like Tran Hung Dao or the country founders like Hung Kings are also worshiped.

Buddhism

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Buddhism in Vietnam is a combination of Mahayana and Theravada branches. Even though they first came to the North of Vietnam and the latter was practiced by the Chams when the Nguyen King took control of Champa’s land, the current South of Vietnam, both branches came early into the country.

Buddhism is the earliest non-native religion to come to Vietnam through the Indian missionaries in the 1st and 2nd centuries. The development of Buddhism continued for many centuries to come. It became the most popular religion in the country during the 11th to 14th centuries during the Ly and Tran Dynasties. By this time, there were several pagodas built, such as Phap Van Pagoda (Bac Ninh Province), Kien So Pagoda (Hanoi), and Dien Huu One Pillar Pagoda (Hanoi).

After this period, Buddhism’s development declined, and roughly about 14% of the population still holds this faith today. However, although Buddhism is not practiced as much, Buddha’s teachings are still deeply rooted in Vietnamese beliefs and culture.

Read more on Best Temples and Pagodas in Vietnam

Catholicism

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi

Catholicism came to Vietnam in the 16th century when the Westerners discovered new lands. The missionary work was unsuccessful because of the language and cultural barriers. At first, the Kings in Vietnam supported the religion, but later, they were against it. They thought Catholicism ideology could make people worship Jesus and question their power.

It was not until the civil war in Vietnam created an advantage for Catholic missionaries to build influence on the kings that missionary work was allowed again. They even received support from the Nguyen King. To reach out to the Vietnamese, who used a different kind of writing, the priests created a dictionary with Romanized words. Itwas the key to the success of Catholic missionary work and the beginning of the Vietnamese Alphabet.

From the beginning of the 19th century, Catholicism received much support. It was then that many churches were built, such as Phat Diem Stone Church (Ninh Binh), St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Hanoi), Phu Cam Church (Hue), and Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (Basilica) (Ho Chi Minh). Until today, the number of archdioceses and dioceses is 26, with 7% of the followers being Vietnamese.

Along with the religion’s development, Western cultural influence also makes Vietnamese see Christmas as a celebrating event, even though it is not a national holiday.

Caodaism

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Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh Province – the cradle of Caodaism

It is an indigenous religion that appeared quite late at the beginning of the 20th century. When the followers of other faiths declined due to political reasons, people‘s need for another belief during the revolution against French oppressors was the main reason Caodaism was created. It combines Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and spiritism in Western culture. Because of its late creation, the number of Caodaism followers is not as much as the two non-native religions. In 2016, about 3% of the population had faith in the religion. Most of their organizations are located in provinces in Southern Vietnam, like Tay Ninh, Can Tho, Tien Giang, and Hau Giang in the Mekong Delta.

Read about the Cao Dai Holy See in Tay Ninh

Protestantism

Protestantism only came to Vietnam at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. From early times, the missionaries had put much effort into evangelizing ethnic minorities in the Central Highland of Vietnam, especially around the Da Lat area. They even translated the Bible into the local languages. According to government statistics, after about 120 years in Vietnam, the religion has 1.5 million followers (approximately 2% of the population) and 400 worshipping places.

Hoahaoism

Another of Vietnam’s indigenous religions is Hoahaoism or Hoa Hao Buddhism. The creation of Hoahaoism was an effort to make Buddhist preaching popular again in the early 20th century. The Hoahaoism doctrine’s main focus is on following Buddha and self-improvement. Thus, it could also be considered a branch of Buddhism in Vietnam. In 2016, about 1% of the population belonged to Hoahaoism, most of whom were from the Southwest of Vietnam.

Islam

Islam came to Southeast Asian countries in the 11th and 12th centuries. The religion was prevalent in Champa (present Southern Vietnam) and divided into two branches. One is the Cham Bani (a combination of Islam and Brahmin, which had been the main religion in Champa before Islam). The second one is Cham Islam, which is similar to Islam around the world. Most of Cham Bani’s followers are from the Central of Vietnam, while Cham Islam’s followers are in the South. In total, about 0.1% of Vietnamese are Muslims.

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Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City

Other Religions in Vietnam

Besides the 6 major religions, there are many small religions and sects in Vietnam, such as Tinh Do Cu Si, Baha’i, Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Minh Su, Minh Ly, and Brahmin. Their followers account for 1% of the population, creating a diversity of religions in Vietnam.

Religious Freedom in Vietnam

Because there are many religions in Vietnam, and all of them have taken important roles in many Vietnamese revolutions, the Vietnamese government created decrees and laws giving protection to the freedom of practicing religions and their equality in court. Everyone is allowed to choose and practice faith freely, and the dignitaries can give preachings. However, all religious activities and organizations must be registered and reported to the government.

Summary of An Overview of Religions in Vietnam Religions in Vietnam

Even though Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism appeared in the country from an early time, other religions in Vietnam have impacted the locals’ traditions with worship places across the nation. Traveling to Vietnam, you will not only get to visit the beautiful religious architecture like temples, pagodas, and churches but also see for yourself how religions influence Vietnamese thinking and daily life.

For more information, check out the Vietnam government’s summary on Religions and Beliefs in Vietnam

Sources from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religions in Việt Nam

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