Table of Contents
- Fact 1: Religious Composition of Singapore
- Fact 2: Importance of Religion for National Identity
- Fact 3: Pluralistic Beliefs among Followers of Different Faiths
- Fact 4: Reverence for Figures from Different Religions
- Fact 5: Tolerance and Acceptance of Different Religions
- View on Diversity
Singapore stands out on the global scale for its remarkable religious diversity, especially when compared to its neighboring countries in South and Southeast Asia. While most countries in the region have a single large religious majority, Singapore has a more balanced distribution, with no more than around a third of the population following any one religion. In fact, a 2014 Pew Research Center report ranked Singapore as the most religiously diverse country in the world.
This diversity is accompanied by high levels of interreligious tolerance and acceptance among Singaporeans. The country has a history of state-sponsored coexistence, with the government promoting the idea of being multiracial and multireligious as foundational to the nation since its independence in 1965.
In this article, we will explore five key facts about Singaporeans’ opinions on the multireligious nature of their country and their expressions of pluralism, comparing them with the views in neighboring countries. The analysis is based on a 2022 Pew Research Center survey of over 13,000 adults in six South and Southeast Asian countries, as well as a 2019-2020 survey of about 30,000 adults in India.
Fact 1: Religious Composition of Singapore
Singapore boasts a significant presence of major world religions. Among Singaporean adults, the religious composition is as follows:
- 26% identify as Buddhist
- 18% identify as Muslim
- 17% identify as Christian
- 8% identify as Hindu
- 6% identify as followers of Chinese traditional religions like Taoism or Confucianism
- 4% identify as followers of other religions, including Indigenous religions
- 22% do not identify with any religion
Singapore also has a uniquely high share of people with no religious affiliation, commonly referred to as “nones.” Among the surveyed countries, neighboring Malaysia, which once included Singapore, has the next highest share of religiously unaffiliated adults, but at just 2%.
Fact 2: Importance of Religion for National Identity
In Singapore, being Buddhist is not seen as crucial to being truly Singaporean. This is in stark contrast to most other South and Southeast Asian countries, where membership in the majority religion is considered highly important for national identity.
For instance, approximately three-quarters or more of adults in Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia believe that belonging to their nation’s majority religion is essential to truly being part of their country. In Singapore, only 13% of adults hold this belief about the largest religious group in the country, Buddhism.
Fact 3: Pluralistic Beliefs among Followers of Different Faiths
Followers of all faiths in Singapore exhibit broad pluralistic beliefs. Among Singaporean adults who identify with a religion, around two-thirds (68%) believe that many religions can be true. Only three-in-ten individuals assert that their religion is the only true one. (This question was not asked to respondents who did not identify with a religious group.)
Even among all Singaporean adults, six-in-ten report having a personal connection to at least one religion other than their own. Approximately a quarter of respondents express a connection to three or more other religions, the highest proportion among the surveyed countries.
Fact 4: Reverence for Figures from Different Religions
Many Singaporeans hold reverence for figures from religions other than their own. For example, at least one-quarter of Singaporean Buddhists say they pray or offer their respects to Jesus Christ (25%) or Ganesh, the Hindu god of beginnings (31%).
Even among religious “nones” in Singapore, more than a third (36%) pray or offer their respects to Guanyin, also known as the Guanyi Bodhisattva, a figure believed by some Buddhists to have achieved enlightenment and assist those who are suffering.
Fact 5: Tolerance and Acceptance of Different Religions
Singaporeans of all faiths exhibit broad tolerance and acceptance towards followers of different religions. Overwhelming majorities of Singaporeans, including the religiously unaffiliated, believe that Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Chinese traditional religions, and Indigenous religions are compatible with Singaporean culture and values. (The largest religion in Singapore, Buddhism, was not included in the survey question.)
Singapore stands out among the surveyed countries in terms of this measure of tolerance. For instance, 88% of Singaporean adults believe that Islam is compatible with their national culture and values, compared to only half of Sri Lankan adults who share the same view.
Most Singaporeans also describe other religions as peaceful and express willingness to have members of those faiths as neighbors.
View on Diversity
The majority of Singaporeans view their nation’s diversity as beneficial. Overall, 56% of respondents believe that having people of different religions, ethnic groups, and cultures makes Singapore a better place to live. Only 4% perceive such diversity as making their country worse, while 37% believe it makes little difference.
Highly religious Singaporeans are particularly supportive of national diversity. Those who consider religion very important in their lives are more likely than their less religious counterparts to believe that having people of many religions, ethnic groups, and cultures improves their country (65% vs. 52%).
Singapore’s religious diversity and the high levels of interreligious tolerance and acceptance among its population make it a standout global example. With no single religious majority and a strong belief in the importance of multiracial and multireligious coexistence, Singapore is a model for religious diversity and pluralism.
The findings from the Pew Research Center’s surveys highlight the unique characteristics of Singaporean society and its positive attitudes towards different religions. The majority of Singaporeans embrace diversity and hold pluralistic beliefs, demonstrating a strong commitment to religious harmony and coexistence.
Note: This article is based on data and analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center. For more information on the surveys conducted in South and Southeast Asia and India, refer to the respective reports’ methodology sections and full survey questionnaires.