Religion in Papua New Guinea is dominated by various branches of Christianity, with traditional animism and ancestor worship often occurring less openly as another layer underneath or more openly side by side with Christianity. The Catholic Church has a plurality of the population. The courts, government, and general society uphold a constitutional right to freedom of speech, thought, and beliefs. A secular state, there is no state religion in the country, although the government openly partners with several Christian groups to provide services, and churches participate in local government bodies.
A large majority of Papua New Guineans identify themselves as members of a Christian church (96% in the decennial 2000 census); however, many combine their Christian faith with traditional indigenous practices, known as religious syncretism. Other religions represented in the country include the Baháʼí Faith, Hinduism and Islam.
The Summer Institute of Linguistics is a missionary institution drawing its support from conservative evangelical Protestant churches in the United States and to a lesser extent Australia; it translates the Bible into local languages and conducts extensive linguistic research.
Religious syncretism is high, with many citizens combining their Christian faith with some traditional indigenous religious practices.
The Asabano people of Papua New Guinea had traditional methods of treating human remains that varied based on the type of relationship the survivors planned to have with the deceased. These methods included corpse exposure with curation or disposal of bones, disposal of corpses in rivers, and even cannibalism. However, after their conversion to Christianity in the 1970s, the Asabano began burning or burying bone relics and commenced coffin burial in cemeteries.
New religious movements
Some cargo cults—the beliefs in a lost "Golden Age", which would be re-established when the dead ancestors returned—sprang up in Papua New Guinea during the 20th century, including the Taro Cult and the events known as the Vailala Madness in the Gulf of Papua, which, by the late 1920s, was no longer active.
The Makasol (or "Wind Nation"), also known as Paliau movement, is neo-traditionalMillenarianist counter-cultural religious and social movement in Papua New Guinea. Its base is in the Manus Province, a motherland of its founder, the prophet Paliau Maloat (d. 1991). He had served in the colonial police force, but became an opposition political activist, organized a movement, and had been arrested twice by the colonial authority. Later he also opposed the independent Papua governing elite.
The faith of the movement focuses on a new Holy Trinity—Wing, Wang and Wong. The new counter-cultural project is based on native values: local production for use; indigenous medical practices; new versions of traditional social institutions ("men's houses" and replacing the structure of local level governments).
There are similar indigenist movements to the Makasol. An example is the movement led by the remarkable "prophet" Yali in the Rai Coast District of northern Papua.
The Baháʼí Faith in Papua New Guinea began after 1916 with a mention by `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, that Baháʼís should take the religion there. The first Baháʼís moved (referred to as "Baháʼí pioneering") to Papua New Guinea in 1954. With local converts the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1958. The first National Spiritual Assembly was then elected in 1969. According to the census of 2000, the number of Baháʼís does not exceed 21,000. But the Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated three times more Baháʼís at 60,000 or 0.9% of the nation in 2005 Either way it is the largest minority religion in Papua New Guinea, albeit a small one. Among its more well known members are the late Margaret Elias and the late Sirus Naraqi.
Margaret Elias was the daughter of the first Papua New Guinean woman on the national assembly, and the country's first woman lawyer (in the 1970s). She attended the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women and was given an award in 1995 and 2002 for her many years in the public service, particularly in the national government. She went on to support various initiatives for education.
Islam in Papua New Guinea counts for more than 5,000 followers, (most of whom are Sunni) mainly as a result of a recent spike in conversions. Despite being a dominant religion in neighbouring Indonesia, adherents of Islam make up a small segment of the population.
According to ARDA, PNG had (1,620) 0.02% Hindus in 2015, up from 911 (0.01%) in 2010.
The constitution of Papua New Guinea establishes freedom of religion and religious practice, provided that it does not infringe on the rights of others or of the public interest. There is no state religion, although the preamble to the constitution mentions "the Christian principles" the country is founded upon. Parliament sessions and most official government functions open and close with Christian prayer. Since 2016, the government has pursued programs to increase the partnership between churches and the state, including subsidies to churches and the establishment of church councils to assist in local governance.
Religious groups are required to register the government in order to hold property and obtain tax-exempt status. Foreign missionaries are allowed into the country on special work visas with lower fees than other visa categories.
Churches operate roughly half of the educational and medical institutions in the country, and receive government subsidies to provide these services. Public schools provide one hour of non-compulsory religious education per week; in practice, few students opt out of these lessons. Government officials have discussed plans to make religious education compulsory, but as of the end of 2017, these were not implemented.
Religious leaders have stated that religious groups are generally able to practice their religion without interference. However, there have been multiple incidences of Muslim refugees and asylum seekers being the targets of stabbings. Other Muslim residents of Papua New Guinea have not faced such attacks.
In the past, the Papuan government were opposed towards formally recognizing Islam and its institutions. However, the government has reportedly threatened to ban Islam to the present day. There are reports of native Muslims experiencing discrimination and even violence from the Christian majority.
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