Religion in Asia

Asia is the largest and most populous continent, with a wide variety of religions. The largest religion in Asia is Islam with approx. 1.1 billion adherents. Asia was the birthplace of many religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastranism, but all major religious traditions are practiced there and new forms are constantly emerging.

Indian religions

Main article: Indian religions

Indian religions are the predominant and oldest religions of Asia. Most of Asia's population follows Indian religions. All Indian religions originated in South Asia. These religions all have the concepts of dharma, karma, and reincarnation.


Hinduism is the second largest religion and oldest in Asia with approximately 1 billion followers.[1]

Hinduism is the majority religion in India (80%), Nepal (81%), and the Indonesian island of Bali (83.5%),[2] with strong minorities in the Asian nations of Bhutan, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Burma, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. Before the arrival of Buddhism and Islam in Southwest Asia and Southeast Asia, Hinduism (and Shaivism in particular) was the most widely practiced religion in Southwest Asia and Southeast Asia.[3][4][5]

Hinduism as we know it can be subdivided into a number of major currents. The main divisions of Hinduism are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Smartism and Shaktism. The vast majority of present-day Hindus can be categorized under one of these four groups, although there are many other, partly overlapping, allegiances and denominations.

Hinduism predates recorded history and is thought to have had a beginning during the Indus Valley Civilization itself. It has no single founder; rather, it is a diverse melange of traditions, practices, and lineages. Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism emerged in ancient India from Hinduism.


Main article: Jainism

Jainism is an Indian religion. Jains are mostly found in India but are increasingly found throughout the world.[6] Jains have significantly influenced and contributed to ethical, political and economic spheres in India. Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship and have the highest degree of literacy for a religious community in India.[7][8] Jain libraries are the oldest in the country.[9][10] It has traditionally been confined to the Indian Subcontinent and West Asia. It is based on the teachings of Vardhaman Mahavir and also on 23 other Tirthankaras.


Main article: Buddhism in Asia

Buddhism is the fourth largest world religion and the 3rd largest in Asia, which is 12% of Asia's population.[11] It is dominant and the majority in Bhutan,[11] Burma,[11] Cambodia,[11] Tibet,[11] Laos,[11] Mongolia,[11] Sri Lanka[11] and Thailand.[11][12] Large Buddhist populations live in China (18.2%),[11] Japan (36.2%),[11] Taiwan (35%),[11] Macau (17%),[11] North Korea (13.8%),[11] Nepal (10.7%),[11] Vietnam (10%),[11] Singapore (33%),[11] Hong Kong (15%)[11] and South Korea (22.9%).[11] It also has strong minorities in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Russia. Buddhism was founded by Siddartha Gautama, also known as Buddha.

Before the rise of Islam, Buddhism was one of the most widely practiced religions in Central Asia, ancient Persia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.[13][14][15]


Main article: Sikhism

Sikhism is the fifth largest organized religion in the world,[16] with approximately 30 million adherents.[17] And one of the most steadily growing.[18] It is a monotheistic religion founded by Guru Nanak Dev in the 1500s. The religion professes its roots in the area of Punjab, whose territories form part of India and Pakistan.

This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (literally the counsel of the gurus) or the Sikh Dharm. Sikhism originated from the word Sikh, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit root śhiṣhya meaning "disciple" or "learner", or śhikṣha meaning "instruction".

Sikhism is the 3rd largest religion in India with 2% of the total population being Sikh. There is also a large concentration of Sikhs in Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, the Philippines, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Hongkong, Singapore, Indonesia, Kuwait and U.A.E.

East Asian religions

Main article: East Asian religions

East Asian religions (also known as Far Eastern religions, Chinese religions, or Taoic religions) form a subset of the Eastern religions.


Main article: Confucianism

Confucianism was founded in ancient China by Confucius (551 B.C.E. - 479). Confucianism is a complex of moral, social, political, philosophical, and religious concerns that permeated the culture and history of East Asia. Confucianism emphasizes family, social hierarchy, and personal integrity and is manifested in practices and attitudes rather than institutions and is centered on the family and local society. It was, however, considered the state religion of East Asian countries in some periods. Today the Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese diasporas have brought Confucianism to all parts of the world.


Main article: Taoism

Taoism (also romanized Daoism) is a diverse philosophical and religious tradition that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (also romanized "Dao"), a term that means "way", "path" or "principle". The concept is shared with other Chinese philosophies and religions. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes both the source and the driving force inherent in everything that exists. It is ultimately ineffable: "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao."[19]

Laozi is traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism and is closely associated with "original", or "primordial", Taoism.[20] Whether he actually existed is commonly disputed;[21][22] however, the work attributed to him – the Daodejing – is dated to the late 4th century BC.[23]

Taoist propriety and ethics vary according to the particular school, but in general tends to emphasize wu-wei (action through non-action), "naturalness", simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: compassion, moderation, and humility.

Significant Taoist communities can be found in China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam and in the Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese diasporas.

Chinese folk religion

Main article: Chinese folk religion

Chinese folk religion is a label used to describe the ethnic religious traditions which have been a main belief system in China and among the Han Chinese ethnic group for most of the civilization's history. This group of diverse beliefs comprises Chinese mythology and includes the worship of various shen (神, shén; "deities", "spirits", "awarenesses", "consciousnesses", "archetypes") which can be nature deities, Taizu or clan deities, city deities, national deities, cultural heroes and demigods, dragons and ancestors. Chinese folk religion is sometimes categorized with Taoism, since over the world institutional Taoism has been attempting to assimilate or administer local religions. More accurately, Taoism can be defined as a component of Chinese religion, since it sprang out of folk religion and Chinese philosophy. Chinese folk religion is sometimes seen as a constituent part of Chinese traditional religion, but more often, the two are regarded as synonymous. With around 454 million adherents, or about 6.6% of the world population, Chinese folk religion is one of the major religious traditions in the world. In China more than 30% of the population adheres to folk religions or Taoism.[24]


Main article: Shintoism

Kami-no-michi is almost unique to Japan and the Japanese diaspora. It is a set of practices carried out to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written records of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in the 7th and 8th century. Still, these earliest Japanese writings do not refer to a unified "Shinto religion", but rather to disorganized folklore, history, and mythology. Shinto today is a term that applies to public shrines suited to various purposes such as war memorials, harvest festivals, romance, and historical monuments, as well as various sectarian organizations.

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan, practiced by nearly 80% of the population, yet only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys.[25] According to surveys carried out in 2006 and 2008 show that 3% to 3.9% of the population of Japan are members of Shinto sects and derived religions.[26]


Main article: Korean Shamanism

Muism ("religion of the Mu")[27][28] or sometimes Sinism (Shingyo, "religion of the gods", with shin being the Korean character derivative of the Hanja),[29] encompasses a variety of indigenous religious beliefs and practices of the Korean people, the Korean sphere and the Korean diaspora.[30] In contemporary South Korea, the most used term is Muism and a shaman is known as a mudang (무당, 巫堂). The role of the mudang, usually a woman, is to act as intermediary between a spirit entity, spirits or gods and human beings.

Women are enlisted by those who want the help of the spirit world. Shamans hold gut, or services, in order to gain good fortune for clients, cure illnesses by exorcising negative or 'bad' spirits that cling to people, or propitiate local or village gods. Such services are also held to guide the spirit of a deceased person to higher realms. Today this religion is a minority, but has in recent years seen a resurgence.[31]

Vietnamese folk religion

Iranian religions

Main article: Iranian religions


Zoroastrianism was once the state religion of the Persian Empire, but is now a minority mostly found in India and Iran. It worships a monotheistic god, Ahura Mazda, and was founded by Zoroaster. It is the original Iranian religion, and spawned Manichaeism and Mazdakism bishnoism. Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra, in Avestan), probably founded some time before the 6th century BC. The term Zoroastrianism is, in general usage, essentially synonymous with Mazdaism, i.e., the worship of Ahura Mazda, exalted by Zoroaster as the supreme divine authority.

In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil originates from Him. Thus, in Zoroastrianism good and evil have distinct sources, with evil (druj) trying to destroy the creation of Mazda (asha), and good trying to sustain it. Mazda is not immanent in the world, and His creation is represented by the Amesha Spentas and the host of other Yazatas, through whom the works of God are evident to humanity, and through whom worship of Mazda is ultimately directed. The most important texts of the religion are those of the Avesta, of which a significant portion has been lost, and mostly only the liturgies of which have survived. The lost portions are known of only through references and brief quotations in the later works of (primarily) the 9th-11th centuries.

The total number of currently practicing adherents of Zoroastrianism is unknown. A 2004 esitimate gives a range of 124,000 to 190,000,[32] roughly half of them in India (the Parsi and Irani groups).

The biggest numbers of Zoroastrians in Asia can be found in India where lives 69,000 Zoroastrian,[33] and in Iran (25,000),[34] Afghanistan (10,000), Pakistan (5,000), Singapore (4,500), Persian Gulf Countries (2,200) and in Azerbaijan (2,000).[35]

Shamanism and Animism

Shamanism and Animism has historically been practised in Asia, and is still practiced in most of Asia.[36][37][38]

Sanamahi /Sanamahism

Sanamahism , the veneration of Sanamahi, is an old Asian religion, mostly practiced in Manipur. Today, it is a minority faith among the populace, but it is undergoing a revival.[39][40][41]

Abrahamic religions

Main article: Abrahamic religions


Judaism is the predominant religion in Israel (75.6%), which has a nominal Jewish population of about 6.1 million,[42]

Outside of Israel there are small ancient communities of Jewish people living in Turkey (17,400),[43] Azerbaijan (9,100),[44] Iran (8,756),[45] India (5,000) and Uzbekistan (4,000).[46]


CSI - The first Anglican Church in India[47]
Main article: Christianity in Asia

Christianity is a widespread minority religion in Asia with more than 286 million adherents according to Pew Research Center in 2010,[48] and nearly 364 million according to Britannica Book of the Year 2014.[49] constituting around 12.6% of the total population of Asia.

Only six countries are predominantly Christian: Asian Russia which is predominantly the Russian Orthodox Church ;Cyprus, which is predominantly Orthodox; the Philippines, which is the third-largest Roman Catholic nation in the world;[50] East Timor; Armenia, which was the first state to adopt a Christian denomination as its state religion; and Georgia. Christianity also accounts for 29.2% of South Korea's population (54.5% of its religious population) and is now the predominant religion in South Korea, Christianity is also a large minority religion in Lebanon accounting for 40% of its population.[51] Christianity is also a large minority religion in Kazakhstan (26%),[52] Singapore (18.3%),[53] and Kyrgyzstan (17%).

Asian countries with large Christian populations are Philippines (84 million),[50] China (68 million),[54] India (24 million),[55] Indonesia (23 million), Kazakhstan (16.5 million), South Korea (15 million), Vietnam (7 million),[56] Georgia (4.6 million),[57] Armenia (3.2 million),[58] Malaysia (2.6 million),[59] Japan (2.5 million), Pakistan (2.5 million),[60] Uzbekistan (2.5 million),[61] Syria (1.8 million),[62] Sri Lanka (1.5 million)[63] and Taiwan (one million).[64]

There are still large ancient communities of Middle Eastern Christians and Arab Christians in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran,[65] Turkey,[66] Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine numbering more than 3 million in West Asia. There are also a large populations of expatriate workers which include a sizeable Christian communities live in Arabian Peninsula numbering more than 3 million.[67]

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith is an Abrahamic religion although it is quite different from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. It was so founded by Bahá'u'lláh in what was then Persia (also known as Iran). Today the largest national population of Bahá'ís is in India with between 1.7 million[68] to 3.2 million,[69] where there is also the Lotus Temple. Significant populations are found in many countries including Vietnam and Malaysia where "about 1%", some 260,000, of the population are Bahá'ís.[70] In other places, like Kazakhstan there are 25 Local Spiritual Assemblies.[71]

In modern-day Iran, the religion is severely persecuted (see Persecution of Bahá'ís). In neighboring Turkmenistan, Bahá'í Faith is effectively banned,[72] and individuals have had their homes raided for Bahá'í literature.[73] For further information, see Bahá'í Statistics for Asia and Category:Bahá'í Faith by country.


Main article: Islam in Asia
Mosque in Afghanistan

Islam is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion articulated by the Qur'an, a book considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God (Arabic: الله Allāh) and by the teachings and normative example (called the Sunnah and composed of hadith) of Muhammad, considered by them to be the last prophet of God. Islam is the largest religion in Asia with approx. 1.1 billion adherents.[74] South Asia and Southeast Asia are home of the most populous Muslim countries, with Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh having more than 100 million adherents each. According to U.S. government figures, in 2006 there were 20 million Muslims in China. In the Western Asia, the non-Arab countries of Iran and Turkey are the largest Muslim-majority countries. In South Asia, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the countries with the largest Muslim-majority. In Central Asia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan are the countries with the largest Muslim-majority.

Malaysia is 61.3 percent Muslim, Indonesia is 87 percent Muslim, Brunei is 76 percent Muslim, the Maldives are 100 percent Muslim, Southern Philippines is 95 percent Muslim, and Saudi Arabia is 100 percent Muslim.

Of the 104-million-strong population of the Philippines, around 11 percent, some 11 - 15 million people are Muslim.[75][76][77][78] India's Muslim population is 13.4% of the total, approximately 161 million people.[79] Thailand's Muslims make up 4.6 percent of the population, or approximately 3 million people.[80] Also Sri Lanka's Muslims make up 10 percent of the population, or approximately 2.5 million people

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a minority Muslim sect, originated on the Asian continent in 1889 in Qadian, India. The community had 10 million members as of the 1980s. As of 2008, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been established in all Asian countries except for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia and North Korea. Ahmadis are most persecuted in Asia, particularly in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.


According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2012 religiously unaffiliated (including agnostics and atheists) make up about 21.2% of Asia population.[81] According to the same survey, the religiously unaffiliated are the majority of the population only in four Asian countries: North Korea (71%), Japan (57%), Hong Kong (56%), and China (52%).[81]

In the People's Republic of China, 59% of the population claim to be non-religious.[82] However, this percentage may be significantly greater (up to 80%) or smaller (down to 30%) in reality, because some Chinese define religion differently. Some Chinese define religion as practicing customs (which may be done for cultural or traditional reasons), while others define it as actually consciously believing their religion will lead to post-mortem salvation or reincarnation. A Dentsu statistic states that 46% of Vietnamese and 51% of Japanese are irreligious.[83]

See also


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