East Asians Leave Childhood Religion Most in World, but Remain Spiritual

Pew survey of more than 10,000 adults in Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam examines Christians’ and Buddhists’ beliefs, practices, and affinity to other traditions.

The rate of religious conversion in East Asia is among the highest in the world: Half of adults in Hong Kong and South Korea have left the religion they were brought up in for another religion or no religion.

Among Christians, substantially more adults in those two places left the faith than those who converted to Christianity.

The region also has the highest levels of deconversion. More than a third of adults in Hong Kong and South Korea say they now no longer identify with any religion.

Yet 4 in 10 adults in East Asia and Vietnam who are religiously unaffiliated still believe in unseen beings or a god.

And about 80 percent of Taiwanese and Japanese adults say they burned incense to honor their ancestors in the past year.

These are among the findings of “Religion and Spirituality in East Asian Societies,” a massive report released today by Pew Research Center. While few people in the region pray daily or say religion is very important in their lives, many “continue to hold religious or spiritual beliefs and to engage in traditional rituals,” said Pew researchers.

Surveys of 10,390 adults in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan—defined here as East Asia—and Vietnam were conducted between June and September last year.

Although Vietnam is located in Southeast Asia, Pew included the nation in this survey due to its adoption of Confucian traditions, its historic ties to China, and its embrace of Mahayana, a branch of Buddhism common across East Asia. (Last September, Pew released an in-depth survey on religion in Southeast Asia, highlighting six nations.)

Researchers acknowledged the complexity of measuring “religion” in the region, as this word often denotes organized, hierarchical …

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