Main Characteristics of Belief and Religious Living in Vietnam

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Religious activities in Vietnamese social life are very diverse and rich, it is associated with many fields of human life, from general expressions to individual expressions of community and individuals. Through a long process of formation and development, beliefs, and religions together with their living manifestations in Vietnam have created a unique and distinctive character in both free expression and state management. From that point of view, the article tries to point out some of the most obvious features in the manifestation of religious and belief activities in Vietnam such as diversity and tolerance; accompanying the development of the state in history; records in the legal documents; deep participation in social, economic, cultural and political activities.

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Introduction When it comes to beliefs and religions in Vietnam, any Vietnamese will envision a very vivid and rich picture of its manifestations and activities. However, to be able to point out which manifestations are most typical in religious and belief activities in Vietnam, not everyone can easily point them out. Why so? Just because their manifestations are so diverse that one cannot say, what the basic characteristic is. There are many works of scholars and research centers on characteristics of religion, beliefs, and religious and belief activities in Vietnam. These works have shown many characteristics in very diverse and rich aspects. So far, it is not over, so people continue to search, describe, analyze, and debate. For example, Nguyen Thanh Xuan in his book Some Religions in Vietnam (1992), one of the first publications on religion in Vietnam during the reform period (Doi Moi) generalized seven majors religions in Vietnam with many characteristics, but do not point out the main character of religion in Vietnam. Recently, in the textbook Theory of Politics of Religion and Belief, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics (2018) has said that Religion in Vietnam has four characteristics: many different forms of religion; exist black, sociable forms; promotion of the Mother factor; religious followers are mainly peasants. In particular, the author O.V. Novakova (2018) still affirms that Buddhism in Vietnam is recognized to be the state religion by the majority of Vietnamese people. Does this mean that Buddhism is still considered the state religion, as one of the main characteristics of religious activities in Vietnam? It is noteworthy that the majority of Vietnamese people are close to Buddhism but are not Buddhists. To contribute to identifying the characteristics of religious and belief activities in Vietnam, based on recognition by many scholars and researchers of belief and religion in Vietnam, the article tries to use historical and logical methods based on dialectical and materialistic methodology of Marxism-Leninism to analyze the accepted database and to reinforce the author’s choice for core traits of religions and religious life in Vietnam. Thereby, the article helps readers to better understand religions and beliefs in Vietnam and have an accurate view of the situation of religious freedom in Vietnam. Moreover, the authors’ desire is not only to affirm the basic characteristics of religious and belief activities in Vietnam, but also to compare them with other countries to be able to locate the Vietnamese religions within the limits. However, the article does not discuss this issue fully. The reseaches are not over, and the discussion can be furthered in new articles. Diversity and tolerance Vietnam is situated in a special geographic zone with a humid monsoon tropical climate with rich and diverse nature, where cultures of many ethnic groups have flowed together. The environment used to play a very important role in life of Vietnamese people, so their minds gradually became receptacles of numerous gods. That is why the beliefs and religions of the Vietnamese people are chaotic. As soon as world religions had been introduced, Vietnamese actively accepted and adapted them to indigenous ideas and religions. Therefore, along with the development of religion, traditional beliefs remain important part of people’s lives. Many of them have needs for religion, but very often this is not a particular religion . One can either attend the church or go to the temple. This is the striking feature of religious tolerance in Vietnam. “Vietnam has never recorded sectarian conflicts for religious reasons ... Rarely occurs religious violence caused by people.” [US Embassy in Vietnam 2017] This is reflected in daily religious communication activities in Vietnam such as between Buddhists and Catholic clergy in culturally diverse regions such as Thai Binh, Vung Tau, An Giang; between Buddhism and Islam in Dong Nai, An Giang; between Catholics, Protestants and ethnic minorities following traditional beliefs in the Central Highlands; the Tay and Muong live in harmony with the Buddhists and Catholics in the Northwest region; Cham Ba La Mon and Cham Bani have a good relationship with people who are not of the same religion; Theravada Buddhism and Tonkin Buddhism also coexisted in Southern Vietnam. The diversity, and tolerance in religious belief activities in Vietnam is clearly shown through statistics, 26.4% of the population are classified as religious believers: 14.91% are Buddhists, 7.35% are Roman Catholics, 1.09% are Protestants, 1.16% are Cao Dai followers, and 1.47% are Hoa Hao Buddhists. Among the Buddhist community, Tonkin Buddhism is the main religion of the majority, the Kinh (Vietnamese) (about 1.2% of the population, mostly the Khmer ethnic group) practice Southern Buddhism. Smaller religious groups make up less than 0.16% of the population, of which about 70,000 Cham ethnic people practice separate Hinduism in the South Central Coast; about 80,000 Muslims live scattered across the country (of which about 40% follow Sunni lineage; the rest 60% follow Bani Islam); about 3,000 followers of the Baha’i religion; and approximately 1,000 are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (of the Church of Jesus Christ). The indigenous religious groups (Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao, Pure Land Buddhist Association, Hieu Nghia Ta Lon Buddhism) accounted for a total of 0.34%. A small group, mostly foreigners, are Jewish people residing in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Other citizens identified themselves with no religion, or beliefs of mascot worship, ancestor worship, village princes, patron saints, national heroes, or people who were respected in local. Many individuals combine traditional forms of worship and religious teachings, especially Buddhism and Christianity. Vietnam has 42 organizations belonging to 16 religions, 29,977 total number of worshiping facilities, 55,839 total dignitaries. The diversity and tolerance are rooted in the nature of Vietnamese people who are easy to believe, easy to be superstitious, they love everything mystical and mysterious. Besides, the Vietnamese do not have the state religion like monotheistic religions with a strict institutional doctrine. The religious beliefs of Vietnamese people, before the acceptance of foreign religions, were polytheistic, so some foreign religions could easily take root and develop. The Vietnamese people pay little attention to dogma, but focus on practicing the religion, so the rigid stubbornness of the scriptures, the institutional strictness are almost absent [Langlois, Đặng Nghiêm Vạn 2004: 529-562], but the religious life of the Vietnamese is richer and easier to develop than those of China, Japan, and other monotheistic countries. Tolerance makes it easy for Vietnamese people to accept and integrate all beliefs and religions. Although these religions and beliefs are very different, they can coexist, be equitable, avoide conflicts and wars, and exist in harmony. Peace in spiritual life is also a philosophy of the Vietnamese people, as is shown in the way of accepting foreign religions: they are not too fanatic, do not like the ascetic way of life, keep a balance so that their life is peaceful and free. In the past, Vietnamese people used to follow Confucianism, but a few people belonged to the Confucian ranks; those who followed Buddhism were not faithful Buddhists; the Taoism followers did not like temples and hermits’ life. One can both follow Confucianism in family and social life; to be in accordance with Buddhism in the effort to destroy craving-anger, awareness of the law of cause and effect, karma, samsara; and just follow Taoism naturally and peacefully of life, free of dust. Such a fusion also served a model for such endogenous religions as Cao Dai and Hoa Hao. In those religions many different doctrines were combined into a very particular religion, with neither contradiction, nor resistance [Đỗ Lan Hiền 2007]. Along with religions, in Vietnam, there is a dense and rich folk belief system. Beliefs in Vietnam also have a full range of genres such as Shamanism, Taoism, Spiritism, etc. Among them, there are some typical beliefs: ancestor worship, village worship, and worship of Three Palaces - Four Palaces. The types of beliefs which are in harmony with religions bear indigenous imprints, contribute to the creation and protection of traditional cultural identities, especially diverse and tolerant in Vietnam. Accompanying the development of the state in history As soon as Vietnam entered the independence and self-reliance period, participation in religion was the spiritual support for the development of the state. For the Ly-Tran dynasty, Buddhism was their main ideology [Nguyễn Đăng Thục 1995]. Besides early Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism were present in the early period of the monarchy’s development. Later, there were also Hinduism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, and endogenous religion called Cao Dai. Christianity came to Vietnam under the early Le Dynasty through Roman Catholic missionaries, and it developed quite strongly. Catholicism was very influential in the South of the Nguyen Dynasty. However, King Minh Mang returned to a conservative policy of persecuting Catholics until 1858 when the French attacked Vietnam, forcing Tu Duc to finish the Catholic prohibition. About the 10th century Arabic and Malay missionaries brought Islam to Vietnam and strengthened it in the 15th century because the Cham community was originally Hindu. In modern history, the concept that there there is a relationship between the government and the Church, which is not internal, is expressed in President Ho Chi Minh’s Decree: “The government does not interfere in the internal set of religions. As for Catholicism, the religious relationship between the Vietnamese Catholic Church and the Roman Holy See is an internal matter of religion. The government does not interfere and the freedom of belief and freedom of worship is a right of the people” [Đặng Nghiêm Vạn 2001]. By the ordinance 234-SL in 1955 President Ho Chi Minh stated in Article 1: “The Government guarantees freedom of belief and freedom of worship of the people. No one can violate that freedom. Every Vietnamese has the right to follow a religion or not to follow a religion” [Decree No. 223]. With that realization, the government led by Ho Chi Minh built a great bloc having united all followers and non-followers in the revolutionary struggle for national liberation. Entering the Doi Moi period, the Communist Party of Vietnam has had new perceptions. Instead of considering religion as “the opium for the people”, the Party now perceived religion as “a social reality”. Resolution 24-NQ / TW of the Party (10/1990) made a breakthrough in awareness: “Religion is a long-standing problem. Religious belief is the spiritual need of a part of the people. Religious ethics has many things suitable for the construction of a new society” [Resolution 24-NQ / TW of the Party]. After Resolution 24 there was issued Resolution 25-NQ / TW (3/2013) on religious work, that produced a change in affirming renewed ideas about the social reality of religion in a more specific and clear way: “Belief and religion are the spiritual needs of a part of the people, which are and will exist with the nation in the process of building socialism in our country. Religious compatriots are part of the bloc of great national unity. Implement consistently the policy of respecting and ensuring freedom of belief, following or not following a religion, the right to normal religious activities under the law. All religions operate within the legal framework and are equal before the law”. [Ban chấp hành Trung ương 2003] Awareness in Resolution 25 of the Communist Party of Vietnam paved the way for the construction of the 2013 Constitution and the 2016 Law on Beliefs and Religions as the basis for religious activities with the guarantee of the state. Religious activities recorded in legal documents During the Doi Moi period (since 1990) more than 100 legal documents on beliefs and religions were issued, namely: Decree 69 / HDBT (1991) on religious activities; Decree 26 / ND-CP (1999) on religious activities (with circulars guiding the implementation); Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions (2004) of the National Assembly Standing Committee; Decree 92/2012 / ND-CP (2012) detailing and implementing the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions; Directive 1940 / CT-TTg (2008) of the Prime Minister on houses, land related to religious activities, etc. There are many legal documents with provisions governing the field of beliefs and religions, such as the Civil Code, Penal Code, Land Law, etc. Thus, the 2013 Vietnamese Constitution defines for the first time not only citizens who have the right to freedom of belief and religion but also the rights themselves belonged to everyone and protected by the State. Article 24 of the 2013 Constitution clearly states: “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of belief, religion, following or not following a religion. Religious equality before the law; 2. The State respects and protects the right to freedom of belief and religion; 3. No one is allowed to violate the freedom of belief or religion or take advantage of beliefs and religions to violate the law” [Hiến pháp 2013]. After the Constitution, the Law on Religious Beliefs was drafted in 2016 and came into effect in 2018, having inherited the existing legal provisions, with the addition of regulations to ensure better self-authority. due to belief and religion. The Law on Religious Belief has added a chapter on freedom of belief and religion. The Law on Religious Beliefs refers to manifestations of religious activities such as Registration of religious activities: if the previous registration of religious activities is considered a starting point for the formation of a religious organization. Nowadays, the Law only considers religious activities to satisfy the religious needs of religious followers, but there is no religious organization recognized and registered by the competent state authority as such. The Law introduces the content of dignity, appoints people with foreign nationality to operate for religious organizations in Vietnam. Therefore, foreigners legally residing in Vietnam have the right: to practice religion, to participate in religious activities; to use legal sites for concentrated religious activity; to invite dignitaries, monks to perform religious rituals and preaching; to be admitted to religious institutions, to study at religious training institutions or religious fostering classes of religious organizations in Vietnam; to bring religious publications and religious items to serve the needs of religious activities according to the provisions of Vietnamese law; to supplement the direction of creating conditions for foreigners lawfully residing in Vietnam to enter into religious institutions; to be recognized by a Vietnamese religious organization, to have its dignity, to be allowed to gather their own religious activities at a religious establishment or at another legal place in Vietnam. Some activities only need to notify the competent state agencies, such as: periodic festival announcements; notice the operation of the training institution; notice of enrollment, notice of transfer of dignitaries, positions, monks, notice of annual meeting, announcement of donations; activities of affiliated religious organizations and religious organizations in the fields of health, education, training and social protection expanded in accordance with relevant legal regulations; to encourage and create conditions for religious organizations to deeply participate in charitable and humanitarian purposes. Thanks to the implementation of the Party and State’s policies and laws on freedom of belief and religion, Vietnam has gained great achievements in ensuring the people’s right to freedom of belief and religion. Never before has the religious life in Vietnam developed so strongly as today. All religions live together in harmony, and unite to actively contribute to the cause of national construction and defense [Nguyễn Đức Quỳnh 2018]. Belief and religion are an indispensable part of social, economic, cultural, and political activities With 13.2 million religious followers accounting for 13.7% of the total population of Vietnam , with 13.2 million religious followers accounting for 13.7% of the total population of Vietnam, this is both a resource and a good source of capital. They have obligations, responsibilities and interests in economic development. In the team of business people, the business has a large number of people of all religions. They are thoes who directly produce material possessions, and at the same time create jobs for others. Typical is the contribution of Buddhism to the economic development in Vietnam. That is because the Buddhist ideology respects the maximum effort of one’s self-cultivation, the thought of maximum improvement for the individual, for the society. Also, the thought of the subject integrating with the object, or the meditation method against impatience, subjectivity etc. Social activities of religions relates to medical examination and treatment systems (hospitals, medical centers, clinics); nursing home system; vocational sites; kindergartens, love classes; counseling and nurturing centers for HIV / AIDS infected people; and other support activities. The social activities of religions have practical meaning in the community building and the network of many communities across the country. The religions have passed the religious way of life as ‘sacrament’, ‘renunciation’, ‘out of secrecy’ into a new way of religion, ‘incarnation’. Specifically, Catholics determined to devote themthelves to the Word of God on the bosom of the Vietnam Church, caring after and healing people, helping hose who are hungry and setting free those who are bound. As for Buddhism, ‘embarking on’, ‘entering’ into society, it creates insight into human life, bringing enlightenment and a spirit of liberation to humanity. Clearly, religion shows itself to be an important economic and social resource in Vietnam. Religious culture contributes to shaping modern characteristics of Vietnamese culture when compared to many other cultures in the world. Many religions in the process of being imported into Vietnam, have merged with indigenous beliefs to jointly develop or create endogenous religions bearing Vietnamese nuances such as Cao Dai, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Tu An Hieu Nghia. Although Vietnam is one of the few countries with a relatively large proportion of people declaring non-religious (more than 30%) [Nguyễn Xuân Nghĩa 2010], about 80% of the population has a religious life. Religious architectures such as communal houses, pagodas, churches, churches etc. are material cultural treasures having shaped Vietnam’s image in the world. Besides, there are religious festivals such as Buddha’s Birthday, Yulanpen Festival etc. The Christmas festival contributes to uniting the community, supplementing and preserving the development of good traditions of national culture. Furthermore, spiritual activities in some temples and churches attract tourists and create jobs for people. About politics, security, and national defense, the majority of religions in Vietnam are of exogenous origin, so religious organizations have relationships with the outside, along with the development of information and communication. Religion foreign activities also flourished. It is noteworthy, that in Vietnam hostile forces continue to carry out a plot of sabotage, seeking to incite and entice extremists in religion to create hotspots, causing social instability, creating an excuse for the outside to intervene in Vietnam, putting Vietnam on the list of countries that need special attention on religious freedom (CPC) . Conclusion Religious and belief activities in Vietnam are built on the foundation of traditional historical values and influenced by distinct geopolitical factors. Religious activities manifest quite concentratedly and boldly through the diversity and tolerance associated with the early development of the state and especially clearly confirmed in the legal system of Vietnam in the Doi Moi era. All manifestations of religious activities are closely related to political, economic, cultural and social life. They create harmonious beauty of religious spiritual values in Vietnam. Therefore, in the new context, it is even more important to pay attention to about 30 million religious Vietnamese and a lot more who do not have a religion but carry many faiths. Their lives need to be identified, modeled, and shaped in the common space of one of the most diverse countries in the world in terms of beliefs and religions. In other words, religious and belief activities in Vietnam need to be quantified in the laws of an increasingly highly legalized state. Appendix: Religious Catalog LIST OF RELIGIONS (Until November 1, 2018) (42 organizations of 16 religions are recognized and registered to operate) Code Religion Religious organizations Number of religious organizations 1 Buddhism Vietnam Buddhist Church 1 2 Catholic Vietnamese Catholic Church 2 3 Protestantism 1.The Vietnamese Protestant Church (North) 3 2. The Vietnamese Protestant Church (South) 4 3. Vietnamese Christian Missionary Association 5 4. Mennonite Church of Vietnam 6 5. Vietnamese Christian Union Church 7 6. Vietnamese Presbyterian Protestant Church 8 7. Vietnam Baptist Association 9 8. Vietnamese Baptist Church 10 9. Vietnamese Pentecostal Gospel Church (Registration to operate) 11 10. Vietnam Integrity Gospel Church (Registration grant) 12 4 Cao Dai 1. Tay Ninh Cao Dai Church 13 2. Cao Dai Tien Thien Church 14 3. Chon ly Cao Dai Church 15 4. Cao Dai Minh Chon Church 16 5. Cao Dai Ban Chinh dao Church 17 6. Cao Dai Cau kho Tam quan Church 18 7. Cao Dai Missionary Church 19 8. The Cao Dai Church of Vietnam in Binh Duc 20 9. Cao Dai Bach y lien hoan Chon ly Church 21 10. Cao Dai Chieu Minh Long Chau Church 22 11. Cao Dai Chieu Minh Tam Thanh vo vi Church 23 5 Hoa Hao Buddhism Hoa Hao Buddhist Church 24 6 Islam 1. The Representative Committee of the Muslim Council of Ho Chi Minh City 25 2. The Management Board of Al noor Hanoi Cathedral 26 3. The Muslim Community Representative Committee of An Giang province 27 4. The Representative Committee of the Muslim Community of Tay Ninh province 28 5. The Bani Muslim Monk Council of Ninh Thuan Province 29 6. Bani Muslim Monk Council of Binh Thuan Province 30 7. The Representative Committee of the Muslim Community of Ninh Thuan province 31 7 Baha’i religion Baha’i Vietnam Religious Community 32 8 Tinh do Cu sy Vietnamese Buddhist Association Tinh do Cu sy Vietnamese Buddhist Association 33 9 Tu An Hieu nghia Tu An Hieu nghia 34 10 Bưu Son Ky Huong Buu Son Ky Huong 35 11 Nam Tong Minh Su-Dao Buddhist Church Nam Tong Minh Su-Dao Buddhist Church 36 12 The Church of Minh Ly religion - Tam Tong Mieu The Church of Minh Ly religion - Tam Tong Mieu 37 13 Chăm Bà la môn 1. Council of Champa dignitaries Ninh Thuan province 38 2. The Council of Champa dignitaries in Binh Thuan province 39 14 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Members (Mormon) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Members (Mormon) 40 15 Buddhist Hieu Nghia Ta Lon (Registered operation) Buddhist Hieu Nghia Ta Lon (Registered operation) 41 16 Vietnamese Adventist Church Vietnamese Adventist Church 42

About the authors

Anh Cuong Nguyen

Vietnam National University

Ph.D. (Intern. Relations), Associate Proftssor, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities Hanoi

Thi Ngoc Thuy Tran

Thuyloi University

Ph.D. (Intern. Relations), Lecturer, Faculty of political theory Vietnam

Van Nhac Dinh

Vietnam National University

Ph.D. Student, Faculty of political studies, VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities Hanoi

Hai Anh Nguyen

Vietnam National University

Ph.D. Student, Faculty of religious studies, VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities Hanoi


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