New Data: Most Indians Believe in God With Most Certain of Their Belief

A new Pew Research Center face-to-face survey of around 30 thousand Indian adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (before the COVID pandemic) takes a closer look at religious identity, nationalism, and tolerance in Indian society. The study finds that an overwhelming 97% of Indians believe in God, with most of them saying they are certain in their belief.



India's population is diverse as well as devout. It is the home of the world's largest Hindu, Sikh, and Jain populations, the third-largest Muslim population, and millions of Christians and Buddhists.

Not only does a majority of Indian Hindus (77%) believe in karma, but an identical percentage of Muslims do as well. 32% of Indian Christians and 81% of Hindus say they believe in the purifying power of the Ganges River, a central belief in Hinduism. 

The majority of all religious groups in India believe in God; however, the nature of the deities varies. 61% of Hindus and 54% of Jains say there is "only one God with many manifestations." 66% of Muslims, 68% of Christians, 57% of Sikhs, and 39% of Buddhists say there is "only one God." In all religious communities, smaller shares believe there are many gods. 33% of Buddhists say they do not believe in any God at all, while fewer than half (43%) of Buddhists say they believe in God with absolute certainty.

Shiva is the most commonly selected deity Hindus feel closest to, with 44% of the Hindus selecting him. This is regardless of whether they believe in one God (42%), one God with many manifestations (46%), or many Gods (46%).

When it comes to facing financial difficulties, the percentages of people believing in God are nearly the same. For example, 94% of the Indians who have faced financial problems are likely to ask God for prosperity, 93% for good health, and 92% for forgiveness. These shares are nearly identical to the Indians who have not faced financial difficulties. Both groups are just as likely (27% vs. 28%) to feel close to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune.

When it comes to gender differences, 78% of men and 80% of women believe in God with absolute certainty. Among Muslims, men are more likely than women to believe with 81% men against 76% women.

In terms of geography, Hindus everywhere are equally likely to believe in God, but Muslims in the East are less likely than anywhere else to believe in God with absolute certainty.

Hindus in support of the BJP are more likely, at 81%, to believe in God with absolute certainty than Hindus who are not in favor of the BJP (74%). General category Indians are slightly more likely to believe in God with certainty (82% vs. 78%). This difference is especially prevalent among Christians (85% vs. 76%).

Only 7% of the Hindus nationally believe there are many gods. In contrast, 18% of the Hindus in the South say they believe in many gods. 10% of Muslims and 8% of Christians from this region have also said they believe in many gods. The shares are more than anywhere else in India.

69% of Indians also believe that God can be manifested in nature, such as mountains, rivers, and trees. 62% say God can be manifested in animals, and the same share says God can be manifested in people. Hindus are more likely than any other group to say these manifestations are possible, with 76% of them saying God can manifest in nature. In contrast, 44% of Muslims and 46% of Christians are more likely to say God can be manifested in people rather than nature or animals.

BJP supporters are more likely to believe God can be manifested in nature (75%), animals (67%), or people (65%) than opposition supporters (59%, 52%, and 57%, respectively). Urban Indians are less likely than rural Indians to say that God can be manifested in either of the options. Half of the Indians believe God can be manifested in lower caste people.

More than 90% of Indians are inclined to ask God for good health, prosperity, and forgiveness. The shares are roughly similar across all religious communities, with Buddhists being the least likely to ask for any of these. However, this has much to do with one-third of the Buddhists not believing in God at all. The vast majority of Buddhists who believe in God say they ask for good health, prosperity, and forgiveness.

These shares are also similar among men and women, different age groups, and whether or not the person is a college graduate. However, among Christians, the ones who are college-educated are more likely than others to ask for forgiveness, at 98% vs. 90%, respectively. A similar pattern has been noticed among Sikhs, where 95% of the college-educated Sikhs are likely to ask for forgiveness against 86% of other Sikhs.

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