Religion in Vietnam has historically been largely defined by the East Asian mix of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, known locally as the Tam Giáo, or “triple religion.” Beyond Tam Giáo, Catholicism is also practiced in modern Vietnam. Vietnamese Buddhism has typically been the most popular. This fits perfectly with the “triple religion” concept, making it difficult for many Vietnamese to identify exactly which religion they practice
The earliest forms of Vietnamese religious practice were animistic and totemic in nature. The decorations on Dong Son bronze drums, generally agreed to have ceremonial and possibly religious value, depict the figures of birds, leading historians to believe birds were objects of worship for the early Vietnamese. Dragons were another frequently recurring figure in Vietnamese art, arising from the veneration of Lạc Long Quân, a mythical dragon-king who is said to be the father of the Vietnamese people. The Golden Turtle God was said to appear to kings in times of crisis, notably to Lê Lợi, from whom he took the legendary sword Thuận Thiên after it had been dropped into Hoan Kiem Lake. Besides animals, mountains, rivers, and other entities of the natural environment were believed to have spirits, protecting humans who worshipped adequately and punishing those whose worship was lacking. Contact with Chinese civilization, and the introduction of the triple religion of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, added a further ethical and moral dimension to the indigenous Vietnamese religion.
Long-established religions in Vietnam include the Vietnamese folk religion, which has been historically structured by the doctrines of Confucianism and Taoism from China, as well as a strong tradition of Buddhism (called the three teachings or tam giáo). Vietnam is one of the least religious countries in the world. According to official statistics from the government, as of 2014 there are 24 million people identified with one of the recognised organised religions, out of a population of 90 million. Of these, 11 million are Buddhists (12.2%), 6.2 million are Catholics (6.8%), 4.4 million are Caodaists (4.8%), 1.4 million are Protestants (1.6%), 1.3 million are Hoahaoists (1.4%), and there are 75,000 Muslims, 7,000 Bahais, 1,500 Hindus and other smaller groups (<1%). Traditional folk religions (worship of gods, goddesses and ancestors) have experienced a rebirth since the 1980s
Along with obligations to clan and family, education has always played a vital role in Vietnamese culture. In ancient times, scholars were placed at the top of society. Men not born of noble blood could only elevate their status by studying for the rigorous Imperial examination. Similar to Mandarin officials, passing the examination could potentially open doors to a government position, granting them power and prestige.