TODAY: More studies needed on non-religious demographic

Following the release of General Household Survey 2015 report that showed more Singapore residents not identifying themselves with any religion, we have written a letter to TODAY Voices responding to academics’ views that non-religious residents could still be religious, and at the same time calling for more studies on the non-religious demographic.

Here’s the letter published on TODAY:

If URL is not working, you may refer to our unedited letter:

More studies needed on non-religious demographic

The Humanist Society (Singapore) read with interest the article published in TODAY on 9 March (“More S’pore residents not identifying themselves with any religion: General Household Survey 2015”).

The findings of the General Household Survey 2015 report revealed that more Singapore residents are not identifying themselves with any religion, compared with the situation six years ago.

We note that two academics, Mathew Mathews and Tan Ern Ser, offered some views regarding this shift in the numbers. Dr Mathews suggested that Singapore residents may still hold religious views while lacking a formal religious affiliation. Dr Tan speculated that among “religionists”, they may move towards fundamentalism as a response to secularisation.

The HSS would like to add our perspective to this discussion. This development definitely warrants greater in-depth research into the reasoning of the demographic which professed to be “non-religious”. Drawing from our experience, the HSS is comprised of over 100 members, the vast majority of whom have no religious affiliations and no religious beliefs. Our members instead aim to live our lives according to secular values such as compassion, rationality and reason.

As regards the increasing secularisation in Singapore and elsewhere, this can only be a positive trend. As the HSS has often pointed out, secularism is the only model that can work for a culturally diverse country such as Singapore. A country which safeguards its secular public space, is the best form of society for people with all faiths and none, to gather and contribute for the greater good of the country. In contrast, it is a common occurrence that religious fundamentalism is a sad symptom of negative socio-economic circumstances or political conflict. One need only look to the examples of various countries – Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and most recently ISIS/ DAESH in the Middle East.

The HSS calls for more academic research to be conducted on the “non-religious” population to better interpret this trend. There is a growing body of academic literature in the US and Europe on the psychology, sociology and morality of non-religious people. Research has shown that the lack of religiosity does not weaken empathy or cause unhappiness; in some cases quite the opposite.

Zheng Huifen

Vice President

Humanist Society (Singapore)