Religion in Thailand

While Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, it has a diverse religious culture.
While Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, it has a diverse religious culture.

Thailand has a diverse religious culture that has dominated the rule and governance of the country over time handed down from ruler to ruler. Today the country has the widest prevalence of Buddhism in the world with its national religion recognized as Theravada Buddhism. In fact, in 2000 the census found that almost 95% of the Thai population practice Buddhism.

In the Southern quarters of Thailand there are dominant Muslim populations although they only make up about 5% of the country’s population. Ethnically most of these Muslims belong to the group Malay and the Sunni sect and are found in the provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat.

There is also a small groups of Hindus and Sikhs in Thailand throughout the city areas of Thailand that are influential even though they make up less than 1% of the country’s population given their highly influential positions in retail commerce. In addition, there is also a very miniscule but notable Jewish community found in some parts of Thailand.

The existence of the diverse religions has led to a great diversity in terms of culture within Thailand with customs, holidays, and other aspects of culture influence by many countries in Southeast Asia and their religions in particularly China, Cambodia, and India.

This is also reflected in the religious practice of Buddhism, as Thai Buddhism is thought to have evolved over time to include beliefs that are influenced by a large number of conflicting religions such as ancestor worship, animism, and Hinduism.

Similar to other Asian countries, culture and religion overlap a great deal as religion has helped define and give meaning to the culture of the country. Many customs such as the exchange of the traditional hands pressed together greeting, or ‘Wai,’ is given as a sign of respect and acceptance of a strict social hierarchy that is culturally recognized if not mandated officially.

The Thailand government does recognize the principle of freedom of religion, which is protected under law; although it will not register any new religious groups that are not part of the existing dominate religious bodies. Unregistered religious groups are able to practice freely however for the most part.

The Thailand government does limit the amount of foreign missionaries that are allowed in the country at any given time, although there are still reports of many unregistered missionaries with very few incidents regarding discrimination or abuse reported.

The only areas of the country that suffer from religion based problems are located in the south where tensions and separatist violence has caused Muslim and Buddhist communities to have very harsh relationships with each other. It should be noted that Christianity is very minimal in Thailand with less than 1% of the population practicing it, leading to very few problems in this regard.