Key findings about religion in India (2023)

Key findings about religion in India (1)

India’s massive population is diverse as well as devout. Not only do most of the world’s Hindus, Jains and Sikhs live in India, but it also is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and to millions of Christians and Buddhists.

A new Pew Research Center report, based on a face-to-face survey of 29,999 Indian adults fielded between late 2019 and early 2020 – before the COVID-19 pandemic – takes a closer look at religious identity, nationalism and tolerance in Indian society. The survey was conducted by local interviewers in 17 languages and covered nearly all of India’s states and union territories. Here are key findings from the report.

How we did this

“Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation” is Pew Research Center’s most comprehensive, in-depth exploration of Indian public opinion to date. For this report, we completed 29,999 face-to-face interviews, in 17 languages, with adults ages 18 and older living in 26 Indian states and three union territories. The sample includes interviews with 22,975 Hindus, 3,336 Muslims, 1,782 Sikhs, 1,011 Christians, 719 Buddhists and 109 Jains. An additional 67 respondents belong to other religions or are religiously unaffiliated. Interviews for this nationally representative survey were conducted from Nov. 17, 2019, to March 23, 2020.

Respondents were selected using a probability-based sample design that would allow for robust analysis of all major religious groups in India as well as all major regional zones. Six groups were targeted for oversampling as part of the survey design: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and those living in the Northeast region. Data was weighted to account for the different probabilities of selection among respondents and to align with demographic benchmarks for the Indian adult population from the 2011 census.

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Indians value religious tolerance, though they also live religiously segregated lives. Across the country, most people (84%) say that to be “truly Indian,” it is very important to respect all religions. Indians also are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community (80%). People in all six major religious groups overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths, and most say that people of other faiths also are very free to practice their own religion.

(Video) Startling findings in Pew survey on religion, tolerance, nationalism and segregation in India

But Indians’ commitment to tolerance is accompanied by a strong preference for keeping religious communities segregated. For example, Indians generally say they do not have much in common with members of other religious groups, and large majorities in the six major groups say their close friends come mainly or entirely from their own religious community. That’s true not only for 86% of India’s large Hindu population, but also for smaller groups such as Sikhs (80%) and Jains (72%).

Moreover, roughly two-thirds of Hindus say it is very important to stop Hindu women (67%) or Hindu men (65%) from marrying into other religious communities. Even larger shares of Muslims oppose interreligious marriage: 80% say it is very important to stop Muslim women from marrying outside their religion, and 76% say it is very important to stop Muslim men from doing so.

For many Hindus, national identity, religion and language are closely connected. Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian. Among Hindus who say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian, 80% also say it is very important to speak Hindi to be truly Indian.

Key findings about religion in India (3)

Hindus who strongly link Hindu and Indian identities express a keen desire for religious segregation. For instance, 76% of Hindus who say being Hindu is very important to being truly Indian feel it is very important to stop Hindu women from marrying into another religion. By comparison, 52% of Hindus who place less importance on Hinduism’s role in Indian identity hold this view about religious intermarriage.

Moreover, Hindus in the Northern (69%) and Central (83%) parts of the country are much more likely than those in the South (42%) to strongly link Hindu identity with national identity. Together, the Northern and Central regions cover the country’s “Hindi belt,” where Hindi, one of dozens of languages spoken in India, is most prevalent. The vast majority of Hindus in these regions strongly link Indian identity with being able to speak Hindi.

Among Hindus, views of national identity go hand-in-hand with politics. Support for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is greater among Hindus who closely associate their religious identity and the Hindi language with being truly Indian. In the 2019 national elections, 60% of Hindu voters who think it is very important to be Hindu and to speak Hindi to be truly Indian cast their vote for the BJP, compared with 33% among Hindu voters who feel less strongly about both these aspects of national identity. These views also map onto regional support for the BJP, which tends to be much higher in the Northern and Central parts of the country than in the South.

Dietary laws are central to Indians’ religious identity. Hindus traditionally view cows as sacred, and laws on cow slaughter have recently been a flashpoint in India. Nearly three-quarters of Hindus (72%) in India say a person cannot be Hindu if they eat beef. That is larger than the shares of Hindus who say a person cannot be Hindu if they do not believe in God (49%) or never go to a temple (48%).

Similarly, three-quarters of Indian Muslims (77%) say that a person cannot be Muslim if they eat pork, which is greater than the share who say a person cannot be Muslim if they do not believe in God (60%) or never attend mosque (61%).

Muslims favor having access to their own religious courts. Since 1937, India’s Muslims have had the option of resolving family and inheritance-related cases in officially recognized Islamic courts, known as dar-ul-qaza. These courts are overseen by religious magistrates known as qazi and operate under Shariah principles, although their decisions are not legally binding.

(Video) Pew Research: Key findings about religion in India

Whether or not Muslims should be allowed to go to their own religious courts remains a hotly debated topic. The survey finds that three-quarters of Muslims (74%) support having access to the existing system of Islamic courts, but followers of other religions are far less likely to support Muslim access to this separate court system.

Key findings about religion in India (6)

Muslims are more likely than Hindus to say the 1947 partition establishing the separate states of India and Pakistan harmed Hindu-Muslim relations. More than seven decades after the Indian subcontinent was divided into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule, the predominant view among Indian Muslims is that the partition of the subcontinent was a bad thing for Hindu-Muslim relations (48%). Only three-in-ten Muslims say it was a good thing.

Hindus, however, lean in the opposite direction: 43% of Hindus say Partition was beneficial for Hindu-Muslim relations, while 37% say it was harmful. Sikhs, whose historical homeland of Punjab was split by Partition, are even more likely than Muslims to say the event was bad for Hindu-Muslim relations: Two-thirds of Sikhs (66%) take this position.

Key findings about religion in India (7)

India’s caste system, an ancient social hierarchy with origins in Hindu writings, continues to fracture society. Regardless of whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain, Indians nearly universally identify with a caste. Members of lower caste groups historically have faced discrimination and unequal economic opportunities, but the survey finds that most people – including most members of lower castes – say there is not a lot of caste discrimination in India. The Indian Constitution prohibits caste-based discrimination, including untouchability, and in recent decades the government has enacted economic advancement policies like reserved seats in universities and government jobs for members of some lower-caste communities.

Still, a large majority of Indians overall (70%) say that most or all of their close friends share their caste. Much as they object to interreligious marriages, a large share of Indians (64%) say it is very important to stop women in their community from marrying into other castes, and about the same share (62%) say it is very important to stop men in their community from marrying into other castes. These figures vary only modestly across different castes.

Religious conversion is rare in India; to the extent that it is occurring, Hindus gain as many people as they lose. Conversion of people belonging to lower castes away from Hinduism to other religions, especially Christianity, has been contentious in India, and some states have laws against proselytism. This survey, though, finds that religious switching has a minimal impact on the size of religious groups. Across India, 98% of survey respondents give the same answer when asked to identify their current religion and, separately, their childhood religion.

Key findings about religion in India (8)

An overall pattern of stability in the share of religious groups is accompanied by little net change from movement into, or out of, most religious groups. Among Hindus, for instance, any conversion out of the group is matched by conversion into the group: 0.7% of respondents say they were raised Hindu but now identify as something else, and roughly the same share (0.8%) say they were not raised Hindu but now identify as Hindu. For Christians, however, there are some net gains from conversion: 0.4% of survey respondents are former Hindus who now identify as Christian, while 0.1% were raised Christian but have since left Christianity.

Most Indians believe in God and say religion is very important in their lives. Nearly all Indians say they believe in God (97%), and roughly 80% of people in most religious groups say they are absolutely certain that God exists. The main exception is Buddhists, one-third of whom say they do not believe in God. (Belief in God is not central to Buddhist teachings.)

Indians do not always agree about the nature of God: Most Hindus say there is one God with many manifestations, while Muslims and Christians are more likely to say, simply, “there is only one God.” But across all major faiths, the vast majority of Indians say that religion is very important in their lives, and significant portions of each religious group also pray daily and observe a range of other religious rituals.

(Video) Why are there Christians in India?

Key findings about religion in India (9)

India’s religious groups share several religious practices and beliefs. After living side by side for generations, India’s minority groups often engage in practices or hold beliefs that are more closely associated with Hindu traditions than with their own. For instance, many Sikh (29%), Christian (22%) and Muslim (18%) women in India say they wear a bindi – the forehead marking often worn by married women – even though the bindi has Hindu origins. Meanwhile, Muslims in India are just as likely as Hindus to say they believe in karma (77% each), as do 54% of Indian Christians.

Some members of the majority Hindu community celebrate Muslim and Christian festivals: 7% of Indian Hindus say they celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid, and 17% celebrate Christmas.

Key findings about religion in India (10)

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.


Interreligious RelationsIslamHinduism

Key findings about religion in India (11)

Jonathan Evans is a research associate focusing on religion research at Pew Research Center.


(Video) Gravitas: 'India values religious freedom' finds Pew survey

Key findings about religion in India (12)

Neha Sahgal is Vice President of Research at Pew Research Center.



What do you know about the major religion found in India? ›

Hindus make up 79.8% of India's population and Muslims account for 14.2%; Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains account for most of the remaining 6%.

How important is religion in India? ›

Religion very important across India's religious groups

Though their specific practices and beliefs may vary, all of India's major religious communities are highly observant by standard measures. For instance, the vast majority of Indians, across all major faiths, say that religion is very important in their lives.

What impact does religion have on India? ›

Indian society has been shaped by religion on a political, cultural, and economic level for centuries. India is proud of its rich religious history, which includes Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.

What are some important points of the Hindu religion? ›

Beliefs of Hinduism
  • a belief in many gods, which are seen as manifestations of a single unity. ...
  • a preference for one deity while not excluding or disbelieving others.
  • a belief in the universal law of cause and effect (karma) and reincarnation.

What is India's most important religion? ›

India is home to several religions, but the most common is Hinduism at 80% of the population. Hinduism is the third-most widespread religion in the world after Islam and Christianity and it is thought to be the oldest religion in the world dating back at least 5,000 years ago.

How many religious beliefs are there in India? ›

A comprehensive list of religions practised in India includes Hinduism , Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, and Bahaism.

What is the main importance of religion? ›

Religion ideally serves several functions. It gives meaning and purpose to life, reinforces social unity and stability, serves as an agent of social control, promotes psychological and physical well-being, and may motivate people to work for positive social change.

Do you have freedom of religion in India? ›

Executive Summary. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination based on religion.

What are the 5 importance of religion? ›

These include (a) giving meaning and purpose to life, (b) reinforcing social unity and stability, (c) serving as an agent of social control of behavior, (d) promoting physical and psychological well-being, and (e) motivating people to work for positive social change.

How is religion practiced in India? ›

Ans : The most common religious practices in India include daily worship, pilgrimage, fasting, and yoga. Ans : For Hindus, pilgrimage is an opportunity to visit and receive the blessings of important deities at sacred sites.

What is India's growing religion? ›

India. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in India.

What are the religious customs in India? ›

Hindus celebrate Diwali, Holi and Makar Sakranti, Muslims observe Eid, Baisakhi (crop harvesting) is a Sikh festival, Jains commemorate Mahavir Jayanti and Buddhists mark Buddha's birthday. Christmas and Good Friday are celebrated by Christians too. Then there are festivals to honour saints, public figures and gurus.

What are the 5 most important things in Hinduism? ›

Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahiṃsā), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, virtue, and compassion, among others.

What is the most important thing in life according to Hinduism? ›

Moksha is the ultimate aim in life for Hindus. It means to be saved (salvation). When a Hindu achieves moksha, they break free from the cycle of samsara.

Why is Hinduism the most important religion in India? ›

During the Gupta empire—from about 320 to 550 CE—emperors used Hinduism as a unifying religion and helped popularize it by promoting educational systems that included Hindu teachings; they also gave land to brahmins. The Gupta emperors helped make Hinduism the most popular religion on the Indian subcontinent.

Where is Hinduism the most important religion? ›

By total number, India has the most Hindus. As a percentage, Nepal has the largest percentage of Hindus in the world followed by India and Mauritius.

What are the three main religions in India? ›

The analysis focuses on India's three largest religious groups – Hindus, Muslims and Christians – and also covers Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains when suitable data is available.

What is the first religion in India? ›

Hinduism is the world's oldest religion, according to many scholars, with roots and customs dating back more than 4,000 years. Today, with more than 1 billion followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Roughly 94 percent of the world's Hindus live in India.

Do Hindus believe in God? ›

Hinduism has monotheistic (one God) as well as polytheistic (many Gods) elements: the one Ultimate Reality or Supreme Being (Brahman) also exists simultaneously in the deities of the Creator (Brahma), the Sustainer (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva).

What are 3 important uses of religion? ›

The Purpose of Religion

Religion can be a source of comfort and guidance. It can provide a basis for moral beliefs and behaviors. It can also provide a sense of community and connection to tradition. Some research even suggests that it may affect health.

How does religion affect culture? ›

Just as our culture can shape our religious beliefs, so too can our religion shape our culture. Religion is often a major force in shaping values, norms, and practices. The five major Indian religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism. Each of these religions has its own distinct culture.

What is the most important religion? ›

Largest religious groups
ReligionFollowers (billions)Founded
Christianity2.4Middle East
Islam2Arabia (Middle East)
Hinduism1.2Indian subcontinent
Buddhism0.5Indian subcontinent
1 more row

What are the rights of religious minorities in India? ›

In India, minority rights guard against discrimination based on a person's ethnicity, culture, language, or religion. Minority members must be able to use their own names, learn and utilise their native tongues, and freely express their identity.

What is the freedom of thought in India? ›

The heart of the Article 19 says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Can I change my religion to no religion in India? ›

No law restricts the conversion of religions. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens, including the right to change one's religion.

How does religion affect human life? ›

Religious worship also leads to a reduction in the incidence of domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse, and addiction. In addition, religious practice can increase physical and mental health, longevity, and education attainment.

What are the 7 points of religion? ›

According to Smart, a religious framework is composed of seven dimensions: narrative/mythological, doctrinal, ethical, institutional, material, ritual, and experiential (Smart, 1999). These dimensions capture the broad and encompassing nature of religion.

Why is religious freedom important? ›

The central place of religion in Americans' lives and the diversity of religions practiced is a testament to the value placed on religious freedom. The idea that people should be able to follow their conscience in how they worship has been part of the American identity since its beginning.

How did religion start in India? ›

The documented history of Indian religions begins with the historical Vedic religion, the religious practices of the early Indo-Aryans, which were collected and later redacted into the Samhitas (usually known as the Vedas), four canonical collections of hymns or mantras composed in archaic Sanskrit.

Why is Indian population high? ›

India has a high population density because most locations in India contain natural resources that sustain agriculture and industries. The number of cities and availability of water have also contributed to the population increase. India has an unequal distribution of its population.

What is the future of Hinduism in India? ›

By 2045, Hindus are expected to be growing by about 0.2% annually, or roughly half as fast as the global population overall, largely as a result of declining fertility rates in India.

What is the growth of Hinduism in India? ›

Demographics. The Hindu population has increased more than three times from 303,675,084 in 1951 to 966,257,353 in 2011, but the Hindu percentage share of total population has declined from 84.1% in 1951 to 79.8% in 2011.

What is interesting about India? ›

India has the second-largest population in the world. India is the 7th largest country in the world. Thousands of languages are spoken all over India. The national symbol of India is the endangered Bengal Tiger.

What is the main culture in India? ›

India is identified as the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, the third and fourth largest religions. About 84 percent of the population identifies as Hindu, according to the “Handbook of Research on Development and Religion,” edited by Matthew Clarke (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013).

What kind of culture is India? ›

India is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse nations in the world, with some of the most deeply religious societies and cultures. Religion plays a central and definitive role in the life of many of its people. Although India is a secular Hindu-majority country, it has a large Muslim population.

How did religion start? ›

One idea is that, as humans evolved from small hunter-gatherer tribes into large agrarian cultures, our ancestors needed to encourage cooperation and tolerance among relative strangers. Religion then—along with the belief in a moralizing God—was a cultural adaptation to these challenges.

What is the main God in Hinduism? ›

Most Hindus are principally devoted to the god Vishnu, the god Shiva, or the Goddess. These categorical practices are sometimes described as, respectively, Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaivism (Shiva), and Shaktism (Shakti being another term for the female creative energy).

What are the 7 main beliefs of Hinduism? ›

Overview of Hindu Theology
  • The Atman (the Soul)
  • Reincarnation and Samsara.
  • The Law of Karma.
  • Prakriti (Matter) and Guna.
  • Maya (Illusion)
  • Moksha (Liberation)
  • God (Brahman/Ishvara)
  • Dharma (Religious Duties)

What is the importance of Hinduism in society? ›

In addition to the tremendous impact of the caste system, Hinduism has been used in Indian society as a unifying religion and a vehicle for personal salvation. Hinduism teaches five elements (also known as tensile strands) of the religious tradition: doctrine, practice, society, story, and devotion.

What do you know about Christianity religion in India? ›

Christianity is India's third-largest religion with about 26 million adherents, making up 2.3 percent of the population as of the 2011 census.

What were the major religions in ancient India? ›

s oldest religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as Jainism. All three evolved from shared beliefs and traditions, such as reincarnation, karma, and liberation and achieving nirvana. These beliefs and traditions evolved in the Indus River Valley around 3500 BCE.

What religions came from Hinduism? ›

Buddhism evolved from Hinduism and the ancient Indian social structure.

Does India accept Christianity? ›

Conversion is a contentious issue in India, and nine states have enacted laws against proselytism as of early 2021. While Christianity is a proselytizing religion, many other religions in India are non-proselytizing, and religious conversion is rare in the country.

What is the state religion of India? ›

India is known as a state because it does not promote any religion as the 'state religion'.

What are the 4 main beliefs in Hinduism? ›

Hindus believe that there are four goals in human life: kama, the pursuit of pleasure; artha, the pursuit of material success; dharma, leading a just and good life; and moksha, enlightenment, which frees a person from suffering and unites the individual soul with Brahman.

What 4 religions were founded in India? ›

There is a sense of pride associated with the country's rich religious history as the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism all emerged out of India.

What is the summary of Hinduism? ›

Hinduism is a religion with various Gods and Goddesses. According to Hinduism, three Gods rule the world. Brahma: the creator; Vishnu: the preserver and Shiva: the destroyer. Lord Vishnu did his job of preserving the world by incarnating himself in different forms at times of crisis.

Is Hinduism a culture or religion? ›

Hinduism is more than a religion. It is a culture, a way of life, and a code of behavior. This is reflected in a term Indians use to describe the Hindu religion: Sanatana Dharma, which means eternal faith, or the eternal way things are (truth).


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