Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 98.7 million (midyear 2020 estimate). The government’s 2019 National Population and Housing Census reported approximately 13 million religious adherents, accounting for 14 percent of the total population. The census noted Catholics represented the largest number of adherents, with six million followers, accounting for 45 percent of the total number of believers nationwide and six percent of the overall population. The census recorded Buddhists as the second largest religious group, accounting for five million followers or 35 percent of the total number of religious adherents nationwide and five percent of the overall population. Protestants were the third largest group with nearly one million followers, accounting for seven percent of the total number of believers nationwide and one percent of the overall population. The census results contrast with January 2018 statistics released by the GCRA in which 26 percent of the population is categorized as religious believers participating in registered activities, with 15 percent of the population Buddhist, seven percent Roman Catholic, two percent Hoa Hao Buddhist, one percent Cao Dai, and one percent Protestant. GCRA officials, however, also estimate 90 percent of the population follows some sort of faith tradition, registered or otherwise. According to observers, many religious adherents choose not to make their religious affiliation public for fear of adverse consequences, resulting in substantial discrepancies among various estimates.
According to government statistics, the total number of religious adherents reportedly decreased by roughly 2.5 million and the ratio of religious adherents dropped from more than 18 percent to 14 percent of the total population between the 2009 and 2019 censuses. Catholics and Protestants saw increases in membership, while Buddhists and religious groups based on local traditions saw a declining number of adherents, according to census data. Anecdotal reporting from provincial Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS), Catholic, and Protestant leaders, however, indicates membership in all religious traditions continues to grow.
According to census data, VBS membership decreased from more than nearly seven million in 2009 to approximately five million in 2019. The GCRA estimates that the number of Buddhist followers is more than 10 million. The VBS notes that this number only counts those officially registered to sanghas (community of monks and nuns) and does not account for potentially tens of millions of others who believe in and observe Buddhist practices to various degrees without formal participation in a registered Buddhist religious group.
Within the Buddhist community, Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant affiliation of the Kinh (Viet) ethnic majority, while approximately 1 percent of the total population, almost all from the ethnic minority Khmer group, practices Theravada Buddhism.
Smaller religious groups combined constitute less than 0.16 percent of the population and include Hindus (mostly an estimated 70,000 ethnic Cham in the south-central coastal area); approximately 80,000 Muslims scattered throughout the country (approximately 40 percent are Sunnis; the remaining 60 percent practice Bani Islam); an estimated 3,000 members of the Baha’i Faith; and approximately 1,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ). Religious groups originating in the country (Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, and Phat Giao Hieu Nghia Ta Lon) comprise a total of 0.34 percent of the population. A small, mostly foreign, Jewish population resides in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. National statistics on religious adherents from the GCRA and the Vietnam Fatherland Front are considered less comprehensive, as they do not account for members of unregistered religious groups.
Other individuals have no religious affiliation or practice animism or the veneration of ancestors, tutelary and protective saints, national heroes, or local, respected persons. Many individuals blend traditional practices with religious teachings, particularly Buddhism and Christianity. Research institutions, including the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, estimate there are approximately 100 “new religions,” mostly in the North and Central Highlands.
Ethnic minorities constitute approximately 14 percent of the population. Based on adherents’ estimates, two-thirds of Protestants are members of ethnic minorities, including groups in the Northwest Highlands (H’mong, Dzao, Thai, and others) and in the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Sedang, and M’nong, among others). The Khmer Krom ethnic group overwhelmingly practices Theravada Buddhism.