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Although religion has always been a source of conflict and consensus for the world, the varied nature of religion has been a source of fascination to me. From childhood, I’ve been encouraged to educate myself in the intricacies of the world we all inhabit, especially regarding religious differences, since we particularly live in a society so focused on religion. The differences in religion originate from certain factors: the number of people following a particular religion, the number of conflicts associated with that religion, even just the number of religions followed in a particular area all paint a picture that differs from country to country. My research, backed up by my own observations, brings the aforementioned image to light.
Thailand is an especially interesting country to observe. With Buddhism being the religion of approximately 95% of the population, it was easy to find similarity with our own country, where religion was ingrained within other aspects of life. Although Thailand does not declare itself to have a major religion as Pakistan does, there is internal debate about making it a Buddhist Theocracy and that speaks to the two countries’ similarity, at least from a religious perspective. One major difference though, is the way religious places in Thailand are commercialized. The three large statues of Buddha (sitting, standing, and sleeping) serve as both religious centres and world famous tourist attractions. Though some places in Pakistan attempt to do the same, there is no doubt that Thailand has been able to maintain these cultural centres better, and has a more organized system in place.
The USA, however, is so completely unique in comparison so as to be on a completely different planet. The USA’s majority religion is Chritianity, but in recent years the number of people who identify as Chiristian has dropped by an approximate 20%. Couple this with the increase in immigrant population, some of whom have their own religious and cultural beliefs, and it starts to become easy to see the religious diversity in the western superpower. There were different churches on every street; some catering to certain sects of Christianity, others catering to specific races, or advertisements for different religious beliefs along the highway. Particularly intriguing was the fact that the Muslim communities have no mosques, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, mosques are given the term ‘Islamic Centers’ and are gathering places for all important religious events in a community. Similarly, there are such limited places to eat Halal food that any restaurant’s name is immediately spread through word of mouth to the entire community. This close-knit behavior, with everyone knowing everyone else, provides an interesting contrast to our own nation, and gave me a different perspective on the everyday struggles faced by minority religious groups around the world.
Sweden and Japan provide another new perspective as almost completely secular states. In Sweden, for example, only 9% of people see belief in God as a necessity to have morals, while Japan follows that with a still very low 39%. Looking up the statistics, I was not all that surprised considering the lack of religious influence that I noticed in my own trip. Not to say there aren’t religious organizations in these countries, or people that follow religious faiths, but the intense presence of religion that one notices in countries such as Pakistan or India was absent. Instead, state influences (for Sweden) and commercial influences (Japan) remained more dominant to the casual observer. However, despite this, the religious history of these places remains undeniable, with churches and shrines preserved throughout the centuries, some of which are open to tourists.
These perspectives on religion may differ, but they also speak to the uniqueness of different cultures and nations throughout the world who each have their own different and unique way of doing things—especially when it comes to the strange uniting yet dividing force that is religion.