Most Asians see strong links between religion and nationality

Religion and nationality

Religion and nationality share an indomitable bond for a significant majority of South and Southeast Asian inhabitants, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, released on September 12, was conducted in 2022 across six South and Southeast Asian nations: Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

In countries with a Buddhist majority such as Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, over 90 per cent of the population firmly believe that their religion and nationality are intertwined.

For these individuals, being a part of their nation is closely linked to embracing Buddhism.

Similarly, in Muslim-majority nations like Indonesia and Malaysia, almost all respondents emphasise the importance of being Muslim as an integral aspect of their Indonesian or Malaysian identity.

Singapore an outlier

The only outlier in this trend is Singapore, where 56 per cent of respondents expressed that living amongst individuals of diverse religions, ethnicities and cultures enriches their country.

In the Buddhist-majority nations, more than 90 per cent of the populace regards Buddhism as “a religion of personal choice.” Furthermore, a substantial majority (above 80 per cent) affirms that Buddhism is a cultural heritage, a family tradition and even “an ethnicity one is born into.”

Buddhist communities also advocate for the incorporation of religious principles into national laws. A striking 96 per cent of Cambodians, where Buddhism is the national religion, favour establishing national laws rooted in Buddhist Dharma principles.

While a slightly lower percentage (80 per cent) extends support for religion-based national law in Sri Lanka, the figure drops to 56 per cent in Thailand.

Regarding religious leaders’ involvement in politics, Cambodian Buddhists overwhelmingly believe that religious leaders should participate in elections (81 per cent). Conversely, in Sri Lanka, the support stands at 66 per cent; in Thailand, where the law prohibits religious figures from voting, it’s a mere 54 per cent.

Sharia-based national laws supported

In Indonesia and Malaysia, over 80 per cent of the population views Islam as “a religion of personal choice.” Moreover, more than 70 per cent consider Islam an integral part of their culture, family tradition and ethnic identity.

Notably, in Malaysia where Islam holds official status, 86 per cent of Muslims support implementing Islamic Sharia-based national laws.

The support for Sharia law is slightly lower in Indonesia, where Islam is one of five officially recognised religions, but still significant at 64 per cent.

In contrast to Buddhists, Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia actively support the participation of religious leaders in politics. Nearly 60 per cent believe religious leaders should publicly endorse political parties and engage in political protests.

In the religiously diverse landscape of Singapore, close to 90 per cent of adults believe that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Chinese traditional religions harmonise with the nation’s culture and values, fostering a climate of inclusivity.

Singapore’s adult population comprises:

  • 31% Buddhists
  • 20% with no religious affiliation
  • 19% Christians
  • 15% Muslim
  • 15% Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists and adherents of Chinese traditional religions

The survey of religion and nationality conducted by the Pew Research Center was carried out from June 1 to September 4 2022 for the report titled “Buddhism, Islam and Religious Pluralism in South and Southeast Asia.”


UCA News

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