Laos religion and belief

The main religion in Laos is Buddhism. Today some 60 percent of the Lao population (predominantly lowland Lao and some other Tai-speaking groups) follow Theravada Buddhism. The remainder of the population belongs to at least 48 distinct ethnic minority groups. Most of these ethnic minorities are practitioners of animism, with beliefs that vary greatly among groups. Animism is predominant among most Sino-Thai groups, such as the Thai Dam and Thai Daeng, as well as among Mon-Khmer and Burmo-Tibetan groups. Even among lowland Lao, many pre-Buddhist animistic religious beliefs have been incorporated into Theravada Buddhist practice. Catholics and Protestants constitute approximately 2 percent of the population. Other minority religious groups include those practicing the Bahaii faith, Islam, Mahayana Buddhism, and Confucianism. A very small number of citizens follow no religion.
Theravada Buddhism is by far the most prominent organized religion in the country, with nearly 5,000 temples serving as the focus of religious practice as well as the center of community life in rural areas. In most lowland Lao villages, religious tradition remains strong. Most Buddhist men spend some part of their lives as monks in temples, even if only for a few days. There are approximately 22,000 monks in the country, nearly 9,000 of whom have attained the rank of "senior monk," indicating years of study in temples. In addition, there are approximately 450 nuns, generally older women who are widowed, residing in temples throughout the country.
Lao Buddhists belong to the Theravada tradition, based on the earliest teachings of the Buddha and preserved in Sri Lanka after Mahayana Buddhism branched off in the second century B.C. Theravada Buddhism is also the dominant school in neighboring Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.
For the Lao Loum, the wat (pagoda) is one of the two focal points of village life (the other is the school). The wat provides a symbol of village identity as well as a location for ceremonies and festivals. Prior to the establishment of secular schools, village boys received basic education from monks at the wat. Nearly every lowland village has a wat, and some have two. Minimally, a wat must have a residence building for the monks and novices, and a main building housing the Buddha statues, which is used for secular village meetings as well as for prayer sessions.


Despite the importance of Buddhism to Lao Loum and some Lao Theung groups, animist beliefs are widespread among all segments of the Lao population. The belief in phi (spirits) colors the relationships of many Lao with nature and community and provides one explanation for illness and disease. Because Buddhism is mixed with this belief, in some regions, the monks are respected as able to prevent evil spirits from leaving their homes or to drive out them from sick people. Some temples also built a small spirit hut attached to phi khoun wat, the benevolent spirit of the monastery.
Phi is ubiquitous and diverse. Some are connected with the universal elements—earth, heaven, fire, and water. Many Lao Loum people also believe that they are being protected by khwan (thirty-two spirits). Illness occurs when one or more of these spirits leaves the body; this condition may be reversed by the soukhwan—more commonly called the baci—a ceremony that calls all thirty-two khwan back to bestow health, prosperity, and well-being on the affected participants. Cotton strings are tied around the wrists of the participants to keep the spirits in place. The ceremony is often performed to welcome guests, before and after making long trips, and as a curing ritual or after recovery from an illness.
Although each of these ethnic groups has different customs and beliefs, one thing they have in common is an ancestral cult. Hmong also believe in a variety of spirits, some associated with the house, some with nature, and some with ancestors. Every house has at least a small altar on one wall, which is the center of any ritual related to the household or its members. Annual ceremonies at Hmong New Year renew the general protection of the household and ancestral spirits. The spirit of the door is important to household well-being and is the object of another annual ceremony and sacrifice. As with other Lao groups, illness is frequently attributed to the action of spirits, and spiritual practitioners are called to carry out curing rites. Two classes exist: ordinary practitioners and shamans. Ordinary priests or the household head conduct the household ceremonies and ordinary divinations. The shaman may be called on to engage in significant curing rituals.
Christianity is a minority religion in Laos. There are approximately 45,000 members of the Roman Catholic Church, many of whom are ethnic Vietnamese, concentrated in major urban centers and surrounding areas along the Mekong River in the central and southern regions of the country.
Approximately 400 Protestant congregations conduct services throughout the country for a community that has grown rapidly in the past decade. Church officials estimate Protestants to number as many as 100,000. Many Protestants are members of ethnic Mon-Khmer groups, especially the Khmu in the north and the Brou in the central provinces. The numbers of Protestants also have expanded rapidly in the Hmong and Yao communities. In urban areas, Protestantism has attracted many lowland Lao followers.
Muslims are a small minority in Laos and constitute about 0.01% of the population. Muslims are visible in the capital, Vientiane, which also has a Jama Masjid.
The Muslim population is mostly engaged in trade and manage meat shops. A small community of Cham Muslims from Cambodia who escaped the Khmer Rouge is also found. Muslims live primarily in urban areas.
Bahá'í Faith
The founder of this religion is Baha'u'llah (meaning glory of God). This religion does not have dignitaries and monks, everyone cultivates with their hearts, performs good deeds, avoids bad things and holds hostility to each other. Propagated in Laos in 1955 in Laos, the Bahá'í faith was accepted by many people. Nowadays, this religion is found in the capital Vientiane, Vientiane province, Kaysone Phomvihane and Pakse with about 8000 believers. Although well established and able to function as communities in these cities, the Bahá'ís have more difficulty in other provinces and are unable to print their own religious material.

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