From Confucianism to Catholicism, Vietnam is home to a complex patchwork of religions and beliefs.
Since the days of mythical dragon-kings and ancient spirits, religion has and continues to spread a large blanket of influence over the day-to-day operations of Vietnamese society.
Today, religion remains an integral part of Vietnamese life, dictating the social behaviours and spiritual practices of individuals in Vietnam and abroad.
The act of openly practicing religion, however, has not always been met with tolerance.
On the 11 June 1963, a Buddhist monk named Thích Quang Duc burnt himself to death in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon, in protest against the suppression and persecution of Buddhist monks by the South Vietnamese government. This act of self-immolation today remains one of the most prominent images of the “American War”, as it’s know to this day in Vietnam.
Countless individuals and religious groups have been persecuted and discriminated against since then, and in September 2004, the United States Secretary of State declared Vietnam a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
In recent years, however, substantial efforts have been made to increase religious liberty in Vietnam. In November 2006, the U.S. lifted the CPC designation, based on a determination that the country was no longer a serious violator of religious freedoms.
Nowadays, the Vietnamese people are slowly but surely moving towards a more open-minded culture and acts of religious intolerance are becoming increasingly scarce.
Le Phuc Tham Anh, historian and tour guide of the Ninh Binh province, explained that Buddhism today is more prevalent than ever throughout Vietnam.
“Over 80 per cent of Vietnamese identify themselves as Buddhist. It is the most widely practiced religion in Vietnam … Buddhism came to Vietnam by the Chinese in the second century. Indian preachers and Chinese immigrants came by sea and spread it around the country,” said Anh.
The newly created Bai Dinh Pagoda, nestled in the Bai Dinh Mountain of Ninh Binh, is the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam. While the complex has become a popular destination for Buddhist pilgrimages and tourists from across the globe, the site also serves as a symbol of Vietnam’s growing capacity for religious freedom.
Christianity, which was first introduced to Vietnam in the 16th century during French colonial rule, is also extensively practiced across the nation, with approximately three million followers today. More specifically, Catholicism accounts for nearly 10 percent of Vietnam’s population.
The road to achieve religious liberty in Vietnam has been a tumultuous one and although significant progress has been made since the days of Thích Quang Duc’s self-immolation, many Vietnamese say there is still some way to go.