SINGAPORE — The high level of tolerance that Singaporeans have for different faiths, with six in 10 saying that they have a “personal connection” to at least one religion other than their own, is one marker of how the country’s religious diversity is “remarkable on a global scale”, a Pew Research Center analysis said.
The analysis, published on the United States-based think tank’s website last Friday (Oct 6), noted that aside from having high religious diversity — with no more than around a third of the population following any one religion — Singaporeans also have much higher levels of tolerance for and acceptance for people of other faiths than other regional countries surveyed.
The analysis drew from a 2022 Pew Research Center survey, where the findings were reported by CNA last month. It polled more than 13,000 adults in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
It said: “Singaporeans report high levels of inter-religious tolerance and acceptance on multiple measures. This tolerance appears alongside a history of state-sponsored co-existence in the country.
“Ever since its independence in 1965, the government has staunchly pushed the idea that being multi-racial and multi-religious is foundational to the country.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Singapore’s high levels of inter-religious tolerance and acceptance on multiple measures is noteworthy as conflicts and tension arising from religious divides are relatively common around the world.
The latest instance of such conflicts is the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has already resulted in a death toll in the thousands.
In other examples, sectarian clashes frequently occur in Nigeria between the Muslim-majority north and Christian-majority south, while Buddhist-majority Myanmar had been embroiled in humanitarian controversies over the past few years pertaining to their treatment of the Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic minority group in the country’s Rakhine state.
RELIGION AND THE SINGAPOREAN IDENTITY
The Pew Research Center’s analysis noted that contrary to the findings from other countries polled in the 2022 survey, where religion forms a substantial part of the national identity, Singaporeans did not believe that their religious beliefs play much of a role in determining their “Singaporean-ness”.
For instance, while around three in four of people whom Pew surveyed in Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand said that it was very important to belong to their nation’s majority religion to truly be part of their country, only 13 per cent of the 2,036 Singaporeans surveyed believe this to be true.
In the Census of Population 2020 here, a third of all Singaporeans said that they followed Buddhism, followed by Christianity (18.3 per cent), Islam (14.7 per cent) and Taoism (10.9 per cent).
Almost one in five (17 per cent) said that they did not identify with any religion.
SINGAPOREANS ‘WIDELY PLURALISTIC’
The analysis also noted that in Singapore, followers of all faiths were “widely pluralistic in their beliefs”.
Among those who identified with a religion, around two-thirds, or 68 per cent, of those who identified with a religion believed that “many religions can be true”, compared to only three in 10 who believed that their religion was the “only true religion”.
Furthermore, a quarter said that they felt connected to three or more other religions and around a quarter said that they felt connected to three or more other religions, the most of any of the countries surveyed.
Many Singaporean respondents also revered figures from religions other than their own.
For instance, 25 per cent of Singaporean Buddhists said that they prayed or offered their respects to Jesus Christ, while 31 per cent said that they prayed or offered their respects to Ganesh, the Hindu god of beginnings.
Even among those who did not identify as a follower of any particular religion, more than a third (36 per cent) said that they prayed or offered their respects to Guanyin, or the Guanyi Bodhisattva, commonly known as the goddess of mercy.
Additionally, Singaporeans of all faiths were “broadly tolerant” and accepting of followers of different religions, with an overwhelming majority believing that most religions practised in the country were compatible with Singaporean culture and values.
Most also believed that other religions were peaceful, adding that they would accept a member of those faiths as a neighbour.
Most Singaporeans viewed the presence of cultural diversity as a positive thing for the nation, the analysis noted.
Generally, more than half (56 per cent) of the Singaporeans polled said that having people of different religions, ethnic groups and cultures made Singapore a better place to live, in contrast to only 4 per cent who said that such diversity made it a worse place to live.
Highly religious Singaporeans — defined in the analysis as people who believe religion to be “very important” in their lives — were especially supportive of national diversity.
More than six in 10 (65 per cent) of them said that having people of many religions, ethnic groups and cultures made their country a better place to live.