Thursday 19 June 2014

Most feel Singapore has religious harmony: Institute of Policy Studies 2014 survey on race, religion and language

They are confident rising religiosity won't impact situation: IPS study
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2014

A MAJORITY of people in Singapore feel there is a high level of religious harmony here, and are confident that will not be affected by a trend of rising religiosity, a study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) has found.

Most are also comfortable having friends and neighbours of another faith.

These results, the third set of findings from a large-scale survey on race, religion and language by the think-tank, point to a "healthy level of religious harmony" here, said lead researcher Mathew Mathews.

In the study which polled about 3,000 people and measured self-reported perceptions on religion, six out of 10 people agreed that those of different religions live in harmony here.

Many also said they trust, and indeed want, the Government to play a central role in maintaining this peace.

More than 60 per cent of respondents said they believe they should report offensive actions, such as bigotry or insensitive comments made about a religion, to the authorities.

Dr Mathew sees this as an indication of people's commitment towards maintaining religious harmony, since they themselves are "policing the scene" by reporting incidents.

It also indicates policies on religious harmony put in place over the years have worked, he said. Among them are hard measures such as laws like the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act that deals with those who attempt to cause ill will between different religious groups, and also soft measures, such as encouraging understanding through groups like the Inter-racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC).

"We cannot underestimate the role of legislation in informing people about what is acceptable. The rules help people to frame it and over time, it becomes a norm," Dr Mathew said.

For example, while religion plays an important role in a person's life - 57 per cent of respondents said religion is important to their overall sense of identity - most respondents in the survey were satisfied with the status quo in terms of religious rights.

Only 23.7 per cent said they believed religious groups should be given more rights than they currently have.

That shows many people accept that concessions have to be made in a multi-religious society for all to get along, said Dr Mathew.

More than tolerance, there is also a "strong spirit of cooperation and friendship" between the different religious communities here, said Inter-Religious Organisation president Noor Mohamed Marican.

He cited an example of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge donating $69,000 and 20 tonnes of rice to mosques to help in preparations for the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.

Even so, events in the past 12 months have led to worries about rising religiosity.

Earlier this year, a controversy erupted over a Health Promotion Board sexuality advisory that Christian and Muslim groups said normalised same-sex relationships. Last year, there was also unhappiness in some segments over Muslim women in certain jobs requiring uniforms not being allowed to wear the headscarf.

Increasing religiosity, though, is not yet a big bugbear for most of the survey respondents. Only slightly more than a third believed it could harm religious harmony.

In the survey, Protestant Christians and Muslims also exhibited a "stronger sense of religious orientation" compared to other groups, noted Dr Mathew. But he said this did not translate into social exclusivity.

As an example, some nine in 10 respondents across all religious groups, including the two faiths, reported being comfortable with having a colleague or neighbour of a different faith.

These numbers fell, though, when it came to ties in the private sphere. Only about two in 10 Protestant Christians said they were comfortable with their child marrying a Muslim. It was the same case the other way around.

But Dr Mathew said this may have more to do with religious sanctions - Islam and Christianity encourage marriage with those of like faith - than intolerance.

"The fact that you can hold on to religious beliefs and yet live in a multi-religious setting speaks to the commitment people have towards religious harmony," he said.

Religious identity strongest in Muslims, Protestants
IPS study finds they are most concerned about moral issues and friends giving up beliefs
By Neo Chai Chin and Laura Philomin, TODAY, 18 Jun 2014

Religion is important to their identity, and Muslims and Protestant Christians are the two religious groups that are most affected by and most disapproving when friends or family members of the same faith give up their religious beliefs.

They also feel more strongly than their Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic and other counterparts about moral issues such as homosexual sex, sex before marriage, adoption of children by gay couples and gambling.

These were among the findings in a study on religiosity and management of religious harmony released yesterday by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

The study’s authors said: “Considering that for many Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, a mark of the good person includes the teaching of one’s morals, it is important that they temper this with a respect for those who do not share such values.”

About two-thirds of Muslims and 44 per cent of Protestants said religion was very important to their sense of identity — significantly higher numbers than those of other faiths. About 69 per cent of Muslims and half the Protestants said they disapproved of family members of their faith giving up their religious beliefs, compared with 20 per cent of Buddhists and 31 per cent of Hindus, for example.

The study’s authors noted that giving up religious beliefs is more disconcerting among religious groups where there are higher levels of religious participation and identity.

Lead author, IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, said greater religiosity among Muslims here was observed a few decades ago and coincided with increased global Muslim piety. Many Muslims in Malaysia and the region also take their religion very seriously and this is increasingly so, he noted. As for Protestants, the dominant form of Protestant Christianity here is of a “conservative variety where there is an emphasis on doing the right thing”.

Many Singaporean Protestants are first-generation Christians and “you expect converts to be a lot more fervent about their faith, especially since they made a choice to embrace the religion”, Dr Mathew said.

Mr Noor Mohamed Marican, president of Inter-Religious Organisation, said it is important that Muslim and Protestant leaders have strong ties and communication with different religious leaders, as inter-faith dialogues based on goodwill will prevent misunderstandings. “We must learn to respectfully agree to disagree and see above and beyond our disagreements,” he said.

Speaking in his capacity as Bishop of the Lutheran Church, Reverend Terry Kee said: “If you look at the survey, it’s not just Muslim and Christians ... almost all the faiths had similar conviction in terms of the importance of good strong morals. With the increase of non-religious influence ... (and) in the face of eroding moral fabric of our society, this actually brings the religious community closer together ... on how we can work together to preserve and protect the moral value of our nation.”

Rev Kee, who is also a vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore, added: “So this would not be a problem between different religions but, rather, it may become a problem between a more united religious community versus the non-religious.”

Literary and cultural critic Nazry Bahrawi of the Singapore University of Technology and Design also felt Singapore’s biggest challenge with regard to harmony is not inter-religious. “Rather, our developing ‘culture war’ really has to do with how Protestants and Muslims react to changing views of sexuality,” he said, urging both religious groups to consider theology from multiple traditions and perspectives.

Singapore could consider ethics instead of moral education modules in schools to promote more empathy and less judgment of others, he suggested.

The study’s authors also warned that vibrant religious centres elsewhere are likely to have some influence on believers in Singapore through constant exchanges and the Internet. With immigrant flows, there is the possibility of intra-religious conflicts over theology, religious practice and other issues.

Established religious structures here should also be open to incorporating “splinter groups” with their own interpretation of religion and “steer them clear from tendencies that may destabilise religious harmony”, they wrote.

Religion 'still helps shape views on morality'
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2014

WHEN it comes to issues such as sex, marriage and gambling, religion still plays an important part in shaping what people perceive as acceptable behaviour, an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey on religion has found.

For example, about 57 per cent of respondents across all religious groups said it was wrong for those who are not married to have sex. Among those with no religion, a smaller number, about 37 per cent, felt the same way.

This indicates that people's perceptions about morality and their religious values are often intertwined, said IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, who led the survey.

"With people who identify with particular religions... it is more likely you will feel a strong sense of importance of certain kinds of values, and you will police it and it will reinforce your ideas of (morality)," he said.

Between different religious groups, there can be different ideas of what is considered right and wrong.

On cohabitation before marriage, about 60 per cent of Protestant Christian and 75 per cent of Muslim respondents said it was wrong. Among Buddhist respondents, about 32 per cent felt the same way.

Dr Mathew said that on some issues, religious beliefs play out more as there are stronger restrictions, especially for monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam that believe in one all-powerful God.

Yet, the findings of the survey also revealed a sense of a "shared consensus" about morality here, he said.

This can be seen especially when respondents were asked about issues such as same-sex relations. On this count, those with no religion were almost as "conservative" as those with a religion.

For example, 65 per cent of them frowned upon homosexual sex, not far off from the 78 per cent of those with a religion who also did so. And 70 per cent felt it was wrong for married people to have sex with someone other than their spouse. Among those with a religion, about 80 per cent said it was wrong.

Dr Mathew put this down to culture, and what some have termed "Asian conservativeness".

Norms, he said, should be informed by such "universal principles" rather than by religious morality for a secular society to function well.

"It is important for those who feel strongly about their religious beliefs and values to try and put them within the broader framework of secular society," he said.

Different faiths never an issue in their marriage
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2014

MADAM Tay Bee Yan, 48, visits two temples on her twice-yearly pilgrimages to Waterloo Street.

First, she goes to the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple dedicated to the goddess of compassion Guan Yin, where the devout Buddhist lights a joss stick or two.

Then, she accompanies her Hindu husband, Mr S. Raveendran, 55, to the Sri Krishnan Temple next door, where he prays to the deities there.

The couple have negotiated ups and downs in their eight-year marriage, but their different faiths have never been an issue, they said. "There are many similarities between Hindus and Buddhists," said Madam Tay, a management support officer.

"We are both vegetarians," she added, laughing.

And yet, a national survey on religion found that many are not comfortable to marry a person of another faith or to have their children do so. Among Buddhists, for instance, only 35 per cent are comfortable to have a Hindu spouse.

But both Madam Tay and Mr Raveendran's families are supportive. "We come from open-minded families," said Mr Raveendran, a retired prisons officer.

Madam Tay said: "I was already 38 when I met my husband. I didn't even know I was going to get married. When I did, my family didn't object to his religion."

The couple have decided to let their two boys, aged seven and five, choose their religion when they are older. But Madam Tay admitted that "whenever they are naughty, I will tell them to go to the altar and talk to Guan Yin".

1 couple, 2 faiths: Mutual respect vital
By Maria Almenoar, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2014

AN INSTITUTE of Policy Studies (IPS) survey has found that many in Singapore society are uncomfortable with someone of a different religion joining their family.

Fewer than half the Muslims and Protestant Christians surveyed were open to marrying someone of a different religion themselves. This may come as a shock to some, especially in this day and age, but it does not surprise me. As a third-generation member of an inter-religious family, I know first-hand how tricky it can be when people of different faiths come together in one family.

My late grandfather on my father's side was Muslim and married a Catholic, who converted to Islam. My parents, well, followed suit. My Muslim father married a Catholic too, though my mother did not convert to Islam.

Given our family history, you might imagine it would have been simple enough when my parents decided to marry 42 years ago. But although my mother's family did not object to the union, a member of my father's family was not entirely comfortable with her remaining Catholic.

For a few years, there was some tension in the family. Luckily, I never saw first-hand how it affected my mother or my parents' relationship because by the time I was old enough to understand the concept of religion and the family drama, my mother got along well with my father's side.

Today, our extended family gets on well. This is especially true among us cousins, even though my cousins attended a madrasah whereas my sister and I went to convent schools.

But if there was friction in an extended family like mine, what more other families?

While it seems that the general acceptance of other religious beliefs is present - nine in 10 people have no issues working with a co-worker of a different religion - that "approval rate" drops significantly when it hits closer home.

With religion being a serious and emotional undertaking, there is unhappiness that a loved one may change as a person if he converts to a different religion to suit his partner.

While this statistic was not captured in the IPS survey, anecdotally it would seem that the resistance comes mainly from the older generation.

I have heard a number of stories of friends ending serious relationships because their partners were of different faiths. Most of the time, the objections came from their parents and very rarely from siblings.

A Muslim friend ended a serious relationship of many years because his Buddhist girlfriend had no plans to convert to Islam and his parents disapproved. It was just too hard a barrier to overcome, he said.

While inter-religious relationships and inter-racial relationships were a rarity among the older generation, there is a sense that they are becoming more common nowadays. For example, since 2011, mixed parentage has been reflected on identity cards to recognise evolving societal changes.

So it is likely that future generations may in turn become more comfortable with inter-religious relationships.

But even when that day comes, couples who are of different faiths will still have to find a way to make their relationships work in the long run.

I married a free-thinker and what I try to live by with my husband is what I've learnt from my parents: that the key to making such a relationship work lies in having mutual respect for each other's beliefs where neither party is hampered from pursuing his or her own relationship with God or feel a dilution in their religious beliefs.

It is not an easy journey for anyone in such a relationship but I have no doubt that my parents would say it was worth it all those years ago.

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