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Engage in dialogue to sustain inter-faith harmony

Published on May 7, 2014 12:48 PM
Former foreign minister George Yeo (in green shirt) and religious representatives gathered at Bedok Reservoir for a prayer session in 2011. Inter-religious dialogue is not exclusively for the religious elite, says the writer. Dialogue in its simple form spurs people to engage in informal talk to learn about other religions. -- ST FILE PHOTO

The Pew Research Centre's latest study found that Singapore is the most religiously diverse country in the world. It topped the list of 232 countries involved in the study.

The study, released early last month, looks at the percentage of each country's population that belongs to eight major religious groups. The closer a country comes to having an even distribution of the various religions in its population, the higher will be its religious diversity index. The eight groups or religions are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, folk religions, "other religions" and the religiously unaffiliated.

Following the report, an article appeared on April 4 in The Atlantic ( that suggested there was an inverse relationship between religious diversity and religious hostility. It concluded that spiritual consensus that characterises homogeneous societies is not the key to peace. Instead, the countries that have high levels of religious violence are primarily countries dominated by a single faith. It may not be true everywhere, but religious plurality does appear to be compatible with peaceful societies.

Singapore is one such country that validates this outcome. Its very high religious diversity does not give rise to conflict. Observers, especially critical ones, usually cite the dominant role of the state as the most significant reason the diverse religious groups live together peacefully. But is this true? And is the religious harmony that Singapore enjoys today sustainable as the country enters the era of the "new normal", where a central authority assumes a lesser role in people's lives?

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