Is religion a  tangled web in Myanmar? Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Is religion a tangled web in Myanmar? Photo from Wikimedia commons.

2015 Myanmar/Burma Update: political cleavages, the place of religion and differences in the 2015 Asian Barometer results.

Bridget Welsh from National Taiwan of University says that new national survey results from Myanmar show the key role that religion plays in society.

The Global Barometer Survey was conducted nationally in Myanmar in 2014 with interviews with 1,620 people from every state and division in the country.

There were challenges with logistical issues, but overall the response rate was extremely high – at 89 per cent – compared to other countries. For example, only 46 per cent of Singaporeans and 30 per cent of Japanese respond to the Barometer survey.

There were a range of questions related to ethnicity and whether different ethnic groups are treated equally. While 31 per cent of Bamar people surveyed strongly agreed that different ethnic groups receive equal treatment, only 16 per cent of minority groups strongly agreed that there was ethnic equality.

Yet the strongest points coming through the survey were related to religion. To begin with religion plays a powerful role in everyday life in Myanmar. Seventy-three per cent of people surveyed said that they were involved with some form of religious practice every day. Compared to the survey results in the rest of Asia this is the highest level.

Though importantly, Welsh argues that religion also plays an extremely strong role in relation to self-identity.

When asked to identify themselves either through their nation, their ethnicity or their religion more than half of Bamar people surveyed identified by religion. This was slightly lower for participants from ethnic minorities, but religion remained a stronger self-identifier than either nation or ethnicity.

Welsh concluded that religion has a powerful influence in everyday life and in self-identity in Myanmar – and creates some of the most challenging cleavages in the country.

Tamas Wells is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, an aid consultant and moderator of the Paung Ku Forum, an online discussion site on civil society, aid and development in Myanmar.