Religion in Thailand

Buddhism is the largest religion in Thailand, which is practiced by 93% of the population. There is no official state religion in the Thai constitution, which guarantees religious freedom for all Thai citizens, though the king is required by law to be a Theravada Buddhist. Many other people, especially among the Isan ethnic group, practise Tai folk religions. A significant Muslim population, mostly constituted by Thai Malays, is present especially in the southern regions.

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Religion in Thailand (2018 census)[1] [2]

  Buddhism (93.46%)
  Islam (5.37%)
  Christianity (1.13%)
  Other (0.03%)
Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Theravada Buddhist temple in Bangkok
A Thai Theravada Buddhist temple (left) and a Chinese folk religion temple (right), side by side, showing the Thai and Chinese religious heritage of the country.
The front gate of the Devasathan, the official center of Hinduism in Bangkok.
San Phra Kan is a shrine dedicated to Vishnu of Hinduism, located in Lop Buri.

DemographicsEdit

 
Wat Arun, a Theravada Buddhist temple, at twilight.

According to official census data approximate 95% of Thais follow Buddhism. However, the religious life of the country is more complex than how it is portrayed by such statistics. Of the large Thai Chinese population, most of those who follow Buddhism have been integrated into the dominant Theravada tradition, with only a negligible minority having retained Chinese Buddhism. Otherwise, a large part of the Thai Chinese have retained the practice of ethnic Chinese religion, including Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese salvationist religions (such as Yiguandao and the Church of Virtue). Despite being practised freely, these religions have no official recognition, and their followers are counted as Theravada Buddhists in statistical studies.[3] Also, many Thai and Isan practise their ethnic Tai folk religion.

Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4% to 5% of the population. Thailand's southernmost provinces — Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and part of Songkhla and Chumphon — have large populations of Muslims, consisting of both ethnic Thai and Malay.

Christians, mainly Catholics, represent just over 1% of the population. A small but influential community of Sikhs in Thailand and some Hindus, mostly live in the country's cities and are engaged in retail commerce. There is also a small Jewish community in Thailand, dating back to the 17th century.

CensusesEdit

OverviewEdit

Religion Census 2010[4] Census 2015[5] Census 2018[1]
Population % Population % Population %
Buddhism 61,746,429 93.58% 63,620,298 94.50% 63,299,192 93.46%
Islam 3,259,340 4.94% 2,892,311 4.29% 3,639,233 5.37%
Christianity 789,376 1.20% 787,589 1.17% 767,624 1.13%
Hinduism 41,808 0.06% 22,110 0.03% 12,195 0.018%
Sikhism 11,124 0.02% 716 0.001%
Confucianism 16,718 0.02% 1,030 0.001% 2,009 0.002%
Other religions 70,742 0.11% 1,583 0.002%
Not religious 46,122 0.07% 2,925 0.005% 2,082 0.003%
Unknown 3,820 0.005% - - 4,085 0.006%
Total 65,981,660 100% 67,228,562 100% 67,726,419 100%

Religions by regionEdit

According to the 2015 census,[5] 67,328,562 Thailand residents in the different regions of the country belonged to the following religious groups:

Religion Bangkok % Central Region % Northern Region % Northeastern Region % Southern Region %
Buddhism 8,197,188 93.95% 18,771,520 97.57% 11,044,018 96.23% 18,698,599 99.83% 6,908,973 75.45%
Islam 364,855 4.18% 247,430 1.29% 35,561 0.31% 16,851 0.09% 2,227,613 24.33%
Christianity 146,592 1.68% 214,444 1.11% 393,969 3.43% 13,825 0.07% 18,759 0.21%
Hinduism 16,306 0.19% 5,280 0.03% 207 0.002% 318 0.001% - -
Sikhism - - - - 378 0.003% - - 491 0.005%
Other religions - - 294 0.00% 1,808 0.16% - - 359 0.004%
Not religious 289 0.00% 473 0.002% 1,001 0.01% 436 0.002% 726 0.008%
Religion in Thailand (2015)[2]
Religion Percent
Buddhism
94.50%
Islam
4.29%
Christianity
1.17%
Hinduism
0.03%
Unaffiliated/others
0.01%

Religions by provinceEdit

According to the 2010 census, Thailand residents in the different provinces of the country belonged to the following religious groups:

Religion Buddhism % Islam % Christianity % Hinduism % Confucianism % Sikhism % Other religions % Not religious % Unknown % Total
Bangkok[6] 7,686,022 92.54% 382,385 4.60% 157,534 1.89% 22,820 0.27% 6,800 0.08% 7,183 0.08% 24,330 0.29% 17,091 0.20% 1,053 0.01% 8,305,218
Amnat Charoen[7] 281,675 99.28% 267 0.09% 1,649 0.58% 59 0.02% 13 0.01% 13 0.01% 53 0.02% - - - - 283,729
Ang Thong[8] 249,847 98.25% 3,994 1.57% 213 0.08% 172 0.07% 7 0.01% 7 0.01% 42 0.01% 9 0.01% - - 254,292
Bueng Kan[9] 360,468 99.37% 242 0.07% 1,913 0.53% 96 0.03% 21 0.01% 12 0.01% - - 3 0.01% - - 362,754
Buriram[10] 1,261,658 98.96% 1,911 0.15% 7,508 0.59% 745 0.06% 278 0.02% 131 0.01% 1,746 0.14% 911 0.07% 25 0.01% 1,274,912
Chachoengsao[11] 663,790 92.76% 46,041 6.43% 4,457 0.62% 231 0.03% 43 0.01% 55 0.01% 626 0.09% 360 0.05% - - 715,603
Chai Nat[12] 304,407 99.61% 592 0.19% 424 0.14% 35 0.01% 23 0.01% 18 0.01% 47 0.02% 41 0.01% - - 305,587
Chaiyaphum[13] 961,401 99.74% 944 0.10% 1,185 0.12% 227 0.02% 59 0.01% 57 0.01% 9 0.01% 16 0.01% 9 0.01% 963,907
Chanthaburi[14] 475,653 97.95% 1,937 0.40% 5,922 1.22% 129 0.03% 65 0.01% 40 0.01% 1,016 0.21% 849 0.17% - - 485,611
Chiang Mai[15] 1,592,164 91.66% 6,789 0.39% 133,761 7.70% 790 0.05% 365 0.02% 189 0.01% 546 0.03% 2,420 0.14% 17 0.01% 1,737,041
Chiang Rai[16] 1,065,169 90.81% 3,167 0.27% 103,450 8.82% 478 0.04% 212 0.02% 52 0.01% 139 0.01% 245 0.02% 15 0.01% 1,172,928
Chonburi[17] 1,463,280 94.08% 23,269 1.50% 56,878 3.66% 1,155 0.07% 610 0.04% 426 0.03% 6,139 0.39% 3,601 0.23% - - 1,555,358
Chumphon[18] 462,822 98.94% 3,545 0.76% 1,040 0.22% 115 0.02% 88 0.02% 11 0.01% 79 0.01% 101 0.02% - - 467,801
Kalasin[19] 821,714 99.66% 1,058 0.13% 1,348 0.16% 72 0.01% 30 0.01% 33 0.01% 203 0.02% 76 0.01% - - 824,534
Kamphaeng Phet[20] 790,017 99.08% 1,571 0.20% 3,775 0.47% 226 0.03% 124 0.01% 94 0.01% 746 0.09% 838 0.11% - - 797,391
Kanchanaburi[21] 789,692 98.52% 2,849 0.35% 7,833 0.97% 203 0.02% 204 0.02% 20 0.01% 145 0.01% 573 0.07% - - 801,519
Khon Kaen[22] 1,731,964 99.43% 2,593 0.15% 6,251 0.36% 517 0.03% 232 0.01% 370 0.02% 39 0.01% 2 0.01% 2 0.01% 1,741,969
Krabi[23] 235,594 65.04% 125,476 34.64% 517 0.14% 120 0.03% 59 0.01% 34 0.01% 305 0.08% 93 0.02% 5 0.01% 362,203
Lampang[24] 729,866 98.21% 1,422 0.19% 10,730 1.44% 68 0.01% 108 0.01% 37 0.01% 665 0.08% 243 0.03% 3 0.01% 743,143
Lamphun[25] 410,259 99.40% 631 0.15% 1,698 0.41% 30 0.01% 12 0.01% 16 0.01% 96 0.02% - - - - 412,741
Loei[26] 543,592 99.55% 544 0.10% 1,778 0.33% - - 12 0.01% 17 0.01% 73 0.01% 16 0.01% - - 546,031
Lopburi[27] 765,821 99.47% 1,525 0.20% 1,304 0.17% 141 0.02% 55 0.01% 51 0.01% 294 0.04% 733 0.10% - - 769,925
Mae Hong Son[28]
Maha Sarakham[29]
Mukdahan[30]
Nakhon Nayok[31]
Nakhon Pathom[32] 928,954 98.42% 2,162 0.23% 9,803 1.04% 444 0.05% 108 0.01% 38 0.01% 1,574 0.17% 810 0.09% - - 943,892
Nakhon Phanom[33]
Nakhon Ratchasima[34]
Nakhon Sawan[35]
Nakhon Si Thammarat[36] 1,353,244 93.30% 94,914 6.54% 1,323 0.09% 250 0.02% 167 0.01% 29 0.01% 538 0.03% - - - - 1,450,466
Nan[37] 444,201 98.10% 329 0.07% 8,071 1.78% 27 0.01% 10 0.01% 19 0.01% 156 0.03% - - - - 452,814
Narathiwat[38] 93,968 14.02% 575,585 85.90% 212 0.03% 44 0.01% 161 0.02% 30 0.01% 2 0.01% - - - - 670,002
Nong Bua Lamphu[39] 484,770 99.75% 448 0.09% 650 0.13% 57 0.01% 13 0.01% 19 0.01% - - 17 0.01% - - 485,974
Nong Khai[40] 817,218 99.48% 575 0.07% 3,416 0.42% 214 0.03% 61 0.01% 32 0.01% - - 10 0.01% - - 821,526
Nonthaburi[41] 1,282,703 96.14% 41,816 3.13% 7,760 0.59% 656 0.05% 373 0.01% 89 0.01% 172 0.01% 473 0.03% 40 0.01% 1,334,083
Pathum Thani[42] 1,271,785 95.83% 35,867 2.70% 9,807 0.74% 1,367 0.10% 706 0.05% 99 0.01% 6,592 0.50% 845 0.06% 78 0.01% 1,327,147
Pattani[43] 94,507 15.52% 513,841 84.37% 221 0.04% 77 0.01% 58 0.01% 49 0.01% 237 0.39% 23 0.01% 3 0.01% 609,015
Phang Nga[44] 200,324 77.48% 57,081 22.08% 786 0.30% 98 0.04% 23 0.01% 46 0.01% 2 0.01% 174 0.07% - - 258,534
Phatthalung[45] 423,199 87.99% 56,282 11.70% 973 0.20% 79 0.02% 109 0.02% 24 0.01% 248 0.05% 58 0.01% 3 0.01% 480,976
Phayao[46] 412,121 98.74% 487 0.12% 4,275 1.02% 35 0.01% 19 0.01% 14 0.01% 103 0.02% 321 0.07% 4 0.01% 417,380
Phetchabun[47] 929,722 98.90% 2,774 0.30% 5,818 0.62% 392 0.04% 499 0.05% 57 0.01% 407 0.04% 400 0.04% 7 0.01% 940,076
Phetchaburi[48] 460,327 97.41% 10,398 2.20% 1,411 0.30% 61 0.01% 52 0.01% 5 0.01% 128 0.03% 206 0.04% - - 472,589
Phichit[49]
Phitsanulok[50]
Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya[51] 827,251 95.01% 37,056 4.26% 3,024 0.35% 330 0.04% 78 0.01% 44 0.01% 458 0.05% 57 0.01% 2,373 0.27% 870,671
Phrae[52] 423,310 99.04% 551 0.13% 3,118 0.73% 45 0.01% 52 0.01% 35 0.01% 184 0.04% 101 0.02% 2 0.01% 427,398
Phuket[53] 418,025 79.52% 83,969 15.97% 19,058 3.63% 1,011 0.19% 67 0.01% 104 0.02% 930 0.18% 2,453 0.47% 91 0.02% 525,709
Prachinburi[54]
Prachuap Khiri Khan[55]
Ranong[56]
Ratchaburi[57] 781,901 98.14% 2,802 0.35% 10,108 1.27% 411 0.05% 205 0.03% 90 0.01% 474 0.06% 757 0.10% - - 796,748
Rayong[58]
Roi Et[59]
Sa Kaeo[60] 553,526 99.56% 721 0.13% 1,393 0.25% 90 0.01% 31 0.01% 14 0.01% 54 0.01% 132 0.02% - - 555,961
Sakon Nakhon[61]
Samut Prakan[62]
Samut Prakan[63]
Samut Songkhram[64]
Saraburi[65]
Satun[66] 89,715 32.64% 184,552 67.14% 403 0.15% 17 0.01% 152 0.06% 16 0.01% - - 8 0.01% - - 274,863
Sing Buri[67] 197,857 98.94% 891 0.45% 1,149 0.57% 50 0.03% 3 0.01% 7 0.01% - - 23 0.01% 2 0.01% 199,982
Sisaket[68] 1,047,650 99.21% 1,677 0.16% 5,818 0.55% 196 0.02% 30 0.01% 41 0.01% 312 0.03% 255 0.02% - - 1,055,979
Songkhla[69] 1,102,830 74.46% 374,728 25.30% 2,635 0.18% 218 0.01% 214 0.01% 37 0.01% 271 0.01% 88 0.01% - - 1,481,021
Sukhothai[70]
Suphan Buri[71]
Surat Thani[72] 978,368 96.93% 22,521 2.23% 2,313 0.23% 460 0.05% 238 0.02% 42 0.01% 2,469 0.24% 2,940 0.29% - - 1,009,351
Surin[73]
Tak[74]
Trang[75] 511,698 85.44% 85,609 14.29% 1,216 0.20% 74 0.01% 13 0.01% 26 0.01% 200 0.03% 40 0.01% - - 598,877
Trat[76]
Ubon Ratchathani[77]
Udon Thani[78]
Uthai Thani[79]
Uttaradit[80]
Yala[81] 100,778 23.27% 331,747 76.59% 453 0.10% 69 0.02% 61 0.01% 40 0.01% - - 16 0.01% 3 0.01% 433,167
Yasothon[82] 482,651 98.91% 453 0.09% 4,689 0.96% 140 0.03% 28 0.01% 15 0.01% - - - - - - 487,976
Total 61,746,429 100% 3,259,340 100% 789,376 100% 41,808 100% 16,718 100% 11,124 100% 66,922 100% 46,122 100% 3,820 100% 65,981,660

Main religionsEdit

 
Chinese Maitreya temple in rural Chiang Rai Province.

BuddhismEdit

Buddhism in Thailand is largely of the Theravada school. Over 90% of Thailand's population adheres to such school, though Thai Buddhism is practised alongside Chinese indigenous religions by the large Thai Chinese population, and alongside Hinduism by the Thais.[83]

Buddhist temples in Thailand are characterised by tall golden stupas, and the Buddhist architecture of Thailand is similar to that in other Southeast Asian countries, especially Cambodia and Laos, which share a cultural and historical heritage with Thailand.

Ethnic religionsEdit

 
Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket at night.
 
San Phanthai Norasing, a shrine to a local deity associated with the rooster in Mueang Samut Sakhon, Samut Sakhon Province.

Chinese folk religionEdit

Many within the large Thai Chinese population practise various Chinese religions, including the worship of local gods, Chinese ancestral worship, Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese salvationist religions.[3] One of the latter, Yiguandao (Thai: Anuttharatham), spread to Thailand since the 1970s, and it has grown so popular to come into conflict with Buddhism; in 2009 there were more than 7000 Yiguandao churches in the country and approximately 200.000 people convert each year into the religion.[84] Despite the large number of followers and temples these religions have no state recognition, their temples are not counted as places of worship, and their followers are counted as "Theravada Buddhists" in officially released religious figures.[3] Chinese temples are called sanchao in Thai language.[3]

The Chinese folk religion of Thailand has developed local features, including the worship of local gods.[3] Major Chinese festivals such as Nian, Zhongqiu, and Qingming, are widely celebrated, especially in Bangkok, Phuket, and other parts of Thailand where there are large Chinese populations.[85]

The Chinese in the city of Phuket practise a nine-day vegetarian festival between September and October. During the festive season, devotees will abstain from meat and mortification of the flesh by Chinese mediums is also commonly seen. The rites and rituals are devoted to the veneration of Tua Pek Kong. Such traditions were developed during the 19th century in Phuket by the local Chinese with influences from Thai culture.[86]

Thai folk religionEdit

Many Thais and Isan practise distinctive indigenous religions characterised by worship of local gods and ancestors. They are very similar to the Chinese folk religion.

HinduismEdit

Several thousand Hindus of Indian origin live in Thailand, mainly in the larger cities. Besides this group of "traditional Hindus", Thailand in its earliest days was under the rule of the Khmer Empire, which had strong Hindu roots, and the influence among Thais remains even today. There are also some ethnic Cham Hindus living in Thailand.[87] The popular Ramakien epic based on Buddhist Dasaratha Jataka is very similar to the Hindu Ramayana. The former capital of Ayutthaya was named for Ayodhya, the Indian birthplace of the Rama, the protagonist of the story. There is a class of brahmins who perform rituals for Hindu gods.[83] Brahmin rituals are still common. Hindu-Buddhist deities are worshipped by many Thais and statues and shrines of Brahma, Ganesh, Indra, Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi and other Hindu-Buddhist gods are a common sight (for example the Erawan Shrine area). Another relic of Hinduism is Garuda, now a symbol of the monarchy.

Abrahamic religionsEdit

 
Haroon Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Bangkok

IslamEdit

According to the 2015 census, Thailand has 2,892,311 Muslims, or 4.29% of the total population. 2,227,613 of these Muslims are concentrated in the southern region of the country, where they represent up to 24.33% of the population.[5]

ChristianityEdit

Christianity was introduced by European missionaries as early as the 1550s, when Portuguese mercenaries and their chaplain arrived in Ayutthaya. Historically, it has played a significant role in the modernisation of Thailand, notably in social and educational institutions.[88] As of 2015 just over one percent of the population of Thailand are Christians.[5] Of that group, 400,000 are estimated to be Catholics.[89]

Thailand's Department of Religion, currently under the Ministry of Culture, has formally recognised five major Christian churches/denominations: the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptists, the Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of Christ in Thailand, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand. Although not officially recognised, missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have been active in Thailand for decades, though their converts are comparatively few.

JudaismEdit

 
Gurudwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha in Bangkok.

Judaism in Thailand dates back to the 17th century, with the arrival of a few Baghdadi Jewish families. The present community consists of both Ashkenazi (for instance the expatriate community plus some descendants of refugees from imperial Russia and later the Soviet Union), and Sephardi Jews, who were born in such places as Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, and wealthy gem traders. Most of the Jewish community in Thailand, consisting of an estimated 2,000 residents, reside in Bangkok,[90] although there are at any given time thousands of tourists (some long-term) coming primarily from Israel. There are Jewish synagogues in Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Ko Samui, but no community there.

Other religionsEdit

SikhismEdit

The first Sikh known to have come to Thailand was Ladha Singh, who arrived in 1890. Other Sikhs joined him in the early 1900s, and by 1911 more than a hundred Sikh families had settled in Thailand, mainly in Thonburi Region. There were at that time no gurdwaras (Sikh temples), and religious prayers were held in private homes every Sunday and on gurpurab days. The Sikh community continued to grow, and in 1912 it was decided to build a gurdwara. It stands today in Bangkok's Pahurat area and imitates the Golden Temple in Amritsar Punjab, India. A tiny but influential community of Sikhs live in the country's cities, most engaged in retail commerce.

Freedom of religionEdit

 
A Buddhist monk talking to a Catholic priest in a temple in Kanchanaburi

Thai law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. It does not, however, register new religious groups that have not been accepted into one of the existing religious governing bodies on doctrinal or other grounds. In practice, unregistered religious organisations operate freely, and the government's practice of not recognising any new religious groups does not restrict the activities of unregistered religious groups.

The government officially limits the number of foreign missionaries that may work in the country, although unregistered missionaries are present in large numbers and are allowed to live and work freely. There have been no widespread reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice. However, in the far southern border provinces, continued separatist violence has resulted in mistrust in relations between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.[91]

ReferencesEdit

CitationsEdit

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  3. ^ a b c d e Kataoka 2012.
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SourcesEdit

  • Kataoka, Tatsuki (December 2012). "Religion as Non-religion: The Place of Chinese Temples in Phuket, Southern Thailand". Southeast Asian Studies. Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. 1 (3): 461–485. hdl:2433/167311.

See alsoEdit