Vietnam Religion

By | May 26, 2021

The revitalization of native traditions in Vietnam is particularly evident in the area of religion. Various forces are at work here: the desire of the state to strengthen “good Vietnamese traditions” and local initiatives to revive certain religious practices that have not been allowed or could not be practiced for decades.

According to eningbo, religious organizations in Vietnam are usually integrated into the Patriotic Front and are therefore subject to strict controls. This is especially true of the Catholic Church. However, it can be observed that Catholics are more self-confident about the state. This is particularly evident in land conflicts between the Catholic Church and the State. For example, in 2008 hundreds of Catholic believers gathered every night for months in Hanoi’s Thai Ha district to protest against the occupation of a church property by a private company through prayers. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago and is an expression of a certain liberalization of state religious policy. At the same time, however, there were signs that conservative forces within the party want to put the Catholics in their place again against the backdrop of the economic crisis. In December 2008, eight Catholics on charges before court found “to have disturbed public order.” A public park has now been built on the controversial property in Hanoi.

The visit of the former Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet to the Vatican in December 2009 was seen as a sign of the relaxation of the sometimes tense relationship. The appointment of an official representative of the Vatican in Vietnam at the beginning of 2011 was an important step towards resuming diplomatic relations. The replacement of Ngo Quang Kiet, the uncomfortable Archbishop of Hanoi, by the Vatican in the spring of 2010 was interpreted by some observers as a concession decision by Rome to Hanoi. But he himself rejected rumors that the Vatican was exerting influence.

The relationship of the Vietnamese state to the Catholics remains ambivalent overall. This also applies to the relationship to Buddhism. The background is that Buddhism in Vietnam was also very political in the past – this became evident, for example, in 1963 during the so-called Buddhist crisis in the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) and continued in the Buddhist uprising in 1966 – and thus after the reunification of the country in 1976 Security apparatus was and is viewed with skepticism. This is especially true of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), the largest Buddhist organization in South Vietnam before 1975. This is like other Buddhist organizations in Vietnam, which evade strict state control, with restrictive measures. It is true that a clear relaxation of the state’s religious policy can also be seen – for example, the well-known monk Thich Nhat Hanh was allowed to return to Vietnam for the first time in 30 years – but the UN reporter noted many improvements during his visit to Vietnam in 2014 persistent serious violations of religious freedom, including Buddhism.

In the new Law on Religions of November 2016, the role of religious organizations is re-regulated. Critics complain, however, that the law grants the security organs far-reaching rights if, for example, “national solidarity” is disturbed when carrying out religious activities.

Vietnamese tend to have a very pragmatic relationship with religion and can combine animist, Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian ideas. Religious ideas are present in various forms in the everyday life of the Vietnamese – even among high-ranking Vietnamese politicians. In 2004, for example, then Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung planted a tree in front of a famous temple in Hai Duong province – in the hope of being able to achieve an even higher political office. As is well known, this wish soon came true.

The ancestor cult is very pronounced in Vietnam. On certain festive days, the ancestors not only receive offerings such as certain dishes and drinks, but even small cars or iPhones made of paper mache.

Also “superstitious” ideas play a not insignificant role in Vietnam in everyday life. A “commercialization” of religions can be observed more and more: for example, some pagodas offer the ransom of bad karma for a fee – a service that is apparently so gladly accepted that the Vietnamese state intervenes.

The religious pragmatism of the Vietnamese, but also specific regional religious traditions, are expressed in the Cao Dai sect, which still has a broad following in South Vietnam. The headquarters of the Cao Dai is located in Tay Ninh, northwest of Ho Chi Minh City.

Both the Cao Dai sect and the popular Buddhist Hoa Hao sect, which was founded in 1939 in An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, played an important political role until 1975 and represented competition for the communist movement. After the war, both became religious organizations under the strict control of the socialist Vietnamese state. So were actions like trying by independent Hoa Hao followers, in a ceremony at the murder of the sect leader 2017 Huynh Phu So remind by the Viet Minh in 1947, suppressed by the security authorities.

In Vietnam, especially in the country, the course of the year is based on festivals. A certain zodiac sign is assigned to each year.

The most important festival of the year is the New Year (“Tet”), which is celebrated according to the lunar calendar. For the well-being of the family in the New Year, it is of great importance who is the first guest to enter the house. The “Mid-Autumn Festival” (Tết trung thu) also has a firm place in the Vietnamese festival calendar. The character of the festival is changing more and more.

Vietnamese temple in the Red River delta