The Kingdom of Cambodia is located in the Southeastern part of Asia and borders Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and the Gulf of Thailand. Cambodia has a population of about 15 million people. Theravada Buddhism is the official and by far the most prevalent religion in Cambodia. There are smaller numbers of other faiths including Islam, Christianity, Animism, Hinduism, Folk religions, and other beliefs.
Religious History of Cambodia -
Religion has always been a primary source of cultural inspiration to the people Cambodia. For nearly 2000 years and more the Cambodian people have established a unique spiritual belief of the Khmer from Animism to Hinduism and Buddhism. Religion in Cambodia is believed to have been heavily influenced by oceanic merchants who brought the Indian culture to the Southeast Asian ports on their way to trade in China. The Funan Kingdom was the first Khmer state to assimilate the religious beliefs brought by the merchants.
Theravada Buddhism -
Buddhism in Cambodia dates back to the 5th Century AD, with traces originating from as early as the 3rd Century BC. Since the 13th Century AD, Theravada Buddhism has been a state religion in Cambodia and is currently estimated to have a following of approximately 95% of the country's population. Theravada Buddhism is said to have been practiced in Cambodia for at least the last two thousand years. Buddhism found its way in Cambodia through two different ways, and the first one was through Hindu merchants entering the Funan Empire while the second form of Buddhism assimilated into the Khmer culture during the Angkor Empire when Buddhist traditions of the Mon people were absorbed by the Cambodians
Traces of Hinduism found its way into the Cambodian culture during the start of the Funan Kingdom. Hinduism was one of the official religions of the Khmer Empire including Theravada Buddhism. Cambodia is home to the only two temples in the world that are dedicated to Brahma. The largest Hindu temple in the world is known as the Angkor Wat and is found in Cambodia.
Gaspar da Cruz, a Portuguese member of the Dominican Order, was the first recognized Christian missionary to enter Cambodia between 1555 and 1556. According to Cruz, he felt that his mission was a complete failure since the Bremens were the hardest people to convert because the King would never approve. During his mission, he was only able to baptize one person, at his death bed before leaving Cambodia. Later on, Baptist missions were located in Battambang and Siem Reap provinces. In 1923 a Christian and Missionary Alliance was established in Cambodia and by 1962 they had converted around 2000 people. American Protestant missions were mostly popular among the hill tribes and the Cham and after the Khmer Republic was established resulting in the growth of Christianity.
A majority of the Cham and Malay minority ethnic groups in Cambodia practice Islam. The number of Muslims in Cambodia however drastically deteriorated during the Khmer Rouge to the point of unifying the Muslim community in the 19th century. Every year some people from the Cham Islamic community go to Kelantan in Malaysia or Mecca to study the Qur'an or even to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Animism, Folk Religions, and Other Beliefs -
Indigenous beliefs originated from the different native ethnic groups in Cambodia. Most of the hill tribes practice the native religion which includes Animism, Folk religion, and other beliefs. Most of the Cambodian people who practice indigenous religion believe in invisible spirits and associate water, rice, stones, and fire among others. When faced with a crisis the community would make animal sacrifice. Other components of indigenous belief include the belief in taboos and other practices.
Religious Freedoms in Contemporary Cambodia -
The Cambodian Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right of religious worship. Buddhism might be the state's official religion, but the modern Cambodian government continues to contribute to the general freedom of religious practices. There have been limited cases of discrimination and any form of abuse based on religion in Cambodia.
What are the common religious beliefs in Cambodia?
Theravada Buddhism is the official, and by far most prevalent, religion in Cambodia. Smaller numbers of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others also have a presence.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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