Is Religion an important part of your life? 99% Sri Lankans say yes

Apparently, according to a Gallup poll done in 2008. Sri Lanka is 3rd on the list of the most religious countries in the world, after Egypt and Bangladesh, and leaps just ahead, by a whisker, of  Congo, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Indonesia, Djibouti and others. At the other end of the spectrum we got the countries who are the least religious, Estonia at 14%, Sweden 17%, Denmark, Norway, Hong Kong, Japan etc. Lists shown below. I’m sure I don’t have to point out some obvious trends, do I?

Lets break down these lists to perform some analysis shall we (data from Wikipedia and CIA Factbook);

Egypt – Approximately 90% adheres to Islam, the rest pretty much Christianity.

Bangladesh – Like Egypt, approximately 90% adheres to Islam, and most of the rest to Hinduism

Sri Lanka – 70% follow Buddhism, 15% Hinduism, 8% Christianity, and the rest Islam.

Indonesia – 86% follows Islam, 8.7 Christianity and the rest a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism

Congo – 50% Christians, and 48% Animists

Malawi – 80% Christian, 13% follow Islam

Senegal – 95% follow Islam

Djibouti – 94% follow Islam

Morocco – 98.7% follow Islam

UAE – 96% follow Islam

A you can see, from this list, Sri Lanka is the only country with a Buddhist majority. Sri Lanka doesn’t have the highest concentration of Buddhists even (Bhutan 66-75%, Burma 90%, Cambodia 95%, Japan 96%, Taiwan 93%, Vietnam 85%). Of course, wealth plays a major factor. Most of the least religious countries are developed or well developed. If you are rich, you have the option of ignoring God, most of the time atleast. If you are poor, you tend to pray to, and ask, God most of the time.

Few of the least religious countries;

Estonia – 76% no religious affiliation

Sweden – 75% Church of Sweden, BUT, that’s because till 1996, people born Sweden automatically became a member of the Church, if one of the parents was a member. Now only if you are christened you become a member, and single digit percentages attend church regularly.

Denmark – 81% members of the Church. According to a 2005 study by Zuckerman, Denmark has the third highest proportion of atheists and agnostics in the world, estimated to be between 43% and 80%.

Norway – 83% members of the Church of Norway.

Czech Republic – 60% no affiliation to any religion, 27% Protestant

Mongolia – 50% Buddhism (!) and 40% listed as having no religion.

Azerbaijan – 96.7% follow Islam. Religious affiliation is still nominal in Azerbaijan; percentages for actual practicing adherents are much lower, according to Wiki

As the report itself point’s out, “Obviously, these data only compare the importance of religion in people’s lives — they say nothing about what being highly religious means in different parts of the world and among different faiths”.

So why do Sri Lankans say they are highly religious?

Is it because the principles and conditions of the religions are being followed meticulously by Sri Lankans? Is it measured by how much the people idolize their god(s) and believe in spiritualism and supernatural powers? Or is it because of the number of times we visit places of worship, and the amount time we spend there? The value of alms and donations we give to the clergy? The involvement of religion in politics? Or is it because we are still a developing nation, education and wealth wise, with a civil war in our hands?

Personally, the results from the Poll are a bit hard to believe, although its a valid poll done by a highly respected agency. But 99%?


  1. So why do Sri Lankans say they are highly religious?

    Because we were forced to do so by the government for 12 years straight? Or at least they did that me in the most horrible place call school, two times a day. Morning and evening. Forced me to stand up and do religious activity, and refusal normally end up with punishments. And top of that, they forced me to study that too.

  2. Agree with Sam.

    Here in Sri Lanka, people follow religions because they really don’t have a choice. Parents also force their children to go to the Temple or Church and the kids go there because their parents ask them to do so. I honestly believe 99% of the Sri Lankans are following some religion blindly.

    When i say that i don’t have a religion people asks me how is that possible, some believe that its a must having a religion and most of the people thinks you will be automatically inheriting your father’s religion :P. They don’t open their eyes and see what the real truth is (14% of the world’s population have NO religion). I’m not gonna argue why that has happened but that’s the truth.

    My opinion is Religion is not important at all, all what matters is doing the correct thing. If at all some religion helps someone by making the correct decision then please follow that religion. My personal theory is having an open mind is the key, and i strongly believes that if you are a believer of some religion then you cant be having a much open mind.

    P.S. No offense to the 99% of the Sri Lankans who thinks religion is important, i was just sharing my view 🙂

  3. Despite the usual high standards of Gallup Polls, I think it is important to query the method used in gathering the data.

    I notice that countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are not in the top 10. Is this because according to their respective governments, everyone who lives in their countries officially practices Islam? This applies to all expatriates too. So any poll using government data would lead to a figure of 100%.

    Similarly, I was wondering whether Sri Lankan census data ‘allocates’ a religion for everyone. I haven’t lived in Sri Lanka for a while but to my recollection, the options of ‘atheism’ or ‘no religious affiliation’ are simply not accepted by officials in Sri Lanka.

    Try making a police report as an atheist. If you tell the officer you have no religion, he’ll usually ask you for your parent’s religion and put that down instead. I once tried saying my parents had no religion either. He looked at my name and said; “Henricus? Burgher namak ne?” and put down ‘Christian’…

  4. Sam, Chathura, you make extremely valid points. Us Sri Lankans are branded with a religion the minute we are born, and we are labelled as, for e.g. Buddhists or Christians, throughout the government and even private, primary and secondary education systems. Richard Dawkin’s and many other prominent thinkers believe this is a form of child abuse, and it is. And as Sean points out, it continues throughout the adult life as well.

    Its time we break down these type of barriers, and allow more freedom to people who are willing to open their minds, even a little bit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s