In the National Population and Housing Census of 2005 religion was defined as any spiritual system with written doctrines. According to this definition only Buddhism, Christianity, Baha’i and Islam are therefore identified as religions. It is therefore perplexing that other religions, for example Hinduism, do not appear, nor does Taoism practised by Mien and Moun ethnic groups, nor Confucianism practiced by Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants.

The map hence contains only five categories: Buddhism, Christianity, Baha’i, Islam and other. It can be seen however, that spatially, ‘other’ is larger or at least as large as Buddhism, even if only 31% of the population are reported as belonging to this category.

Thus it might be suggested that a more appropriate term for the ‘other’ category would be Animism. The majority of non-Lao ethnic groups are essentially Animists whose spiritual universes are divided between the spirits of the land and those of their ancestors, but of course there is much diversity in the way in which these beliefs are practiced.

In actual fact, the officially defined religions of the Lao PDR are highly syncretic. Buddhism contains mixtures of Animism, Brahmanism, and, depending on the location, influences from the Mahayana as well as the Theravada doctrines.  Catholics may also continue to worship ancestral spirits. The Animistic practices of many of the Tai groups such as Tai Dam, also utilise a written language so they would need to be redefined or placed in an anomalous in-between category.

In future censuses, since religion is a socially important cross-cutting category, it would be good to have more detail represented in the categories to give a better idea of such highly diverse circumstances.




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