chapter  5
21 Pages

Religious Pluralism and Pilgrimage Studies in West (Peninsular) Malaysia

WithYEOH SENG-GUAN

In Malaysia, the religious mosaic and, by extension, the pilgrimage universe is extraordinarily diverse and plural. Its 30 million citizens are not only polyglot in an array of Asian and non-Asian languages and are multi-ethnic but a large majority also profess and practice one of the major religions found in this middle-income level Southeast Asian country. Despite rapid modernization and urbanization in the past two or three decades-powerful sociological forces conventionally believed to undermine and disperse religious belief and practice-only a minuscule percentage of Malaysians declare in the periodic national census that they do not have a religious affiliation.1 Of those that do, significant numbers continue to live according to the basic tenets, worldviews and habitus of their respective faiths in their everyday existence. Superficially, this is especially evident during the special moments and holy days of their respective religious calendars. Large numbers of devotees fulfil their ritual obligations and seek boons at an array of places of worship that includes not only mosque, temples, gurdwaras and churches but also at graveyards and nondescript shrines. Most of these festivities and religious events are usually given extensive coverage by the state media to project an aura of harmonious religious pluralism and multiculturalism. Additionally, for the major religions formally recognized by the state-Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianist-Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism-a selection of their holy days are accorded as national public holidays.