Fewer Singapore residents identify as Buddhists or Taoists

(From left) Ms Louisa Wi, 44, Lia Tan, 12, temple founder Joel Tan, 45, Mr Eddie Png, 47, Ms Jamie Ang, 35, Josiah Tan, 14, Mr Edmund Koh (seated), 27, Mr Kelvin Soon, 35, and Mr Jeffrey Ong, 54, are committee members at Yun Yin Dian temple, where yo
(From left) Ms Louisa Wi, 44, Lia Tan, 12, temple founder Joel Tan, 45, Mr Eddie Png, 47, Ms Jamie Ang, 35, Josiah Tan, 14, Mr Edmund Koh (seated), 27, Mr Kelvin Soon, 35, and Mr Jeffrey Ong, 54, are committee members at Yun Yin Dian temple, where youth take the lead.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

The number of Singapore residents who identify as Buddhists or Taoists has dropped from 44.2 per cent in 2010 to 43.2 per cent last year.

But the Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF) and Taoist Federation told The Straits Times that they are not worried about the decline, which was outlined in the latest General Household Survey released on March 9.

They said their religions do not require devotees to declare their faiths, and temples have no membership criteria, unlike churches.

Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, SBF president, said: "Buddhists and Taoists are more fluid. Sticking to one religion is a Western concept."

The Taoist Federation added that the survey's data do not reflect what its management has observed on the ground.

Its administrator, Master Wei Yi, said the temple-going crowd has taken on a more youthful face.

He said of the lot, many might not necessarily declare themselves as Taoists - a plausible reason behind the survey's figures. For instance, he said a good number who visit Taoist temples at the start of a year for blessings are free-thinkers.

The Taoist Federation started ramping up activities and publicity to increase awareness about the religion about a decade ago. It has assembled a pool of about 20 young Taoists priests below age 35.

They act as the religion's ambassadors to drive home the point that "you can be young to pick up the scriptures", said Master Wei Yi.

He cited the example of youth taking the lead in the case of Yun Yin Dian temple in Bedok North. It was set up in 2009 by Mr Joel Tan, 45, self-employed, and aircraft engineer Steven Goh, 35, and has more than 20 members under its youth wing. Among them is Secondary 2 student Josiah Tan, 14, who plays the drums for temple activities, including its trance rituals.

The temple also organises community outreach programmes such as providing free tuition to needy students. "Taoism is not just for old people. There are activities that are interesting and appealing to the young which can also benefit the wider community," said Josiah.

Melody Zaccheus

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Fewer identify as Buddhists or Taoists'. Print Edition | Subscribe