The ancient indigenous religion of both mainland and island SE Asia
is Animism. Its exact temporal beginnings are unknown and probably simply
developed naturally with the development of the early bronze age
communities. It continues to exert a strong influence on the modern
cultures both Buddhistic and Islamic of SE Asia. Together with aspects of
Confucianism from China, Animism underpins all the adopted religions of
the region. It may go back as early as the earliest known human
communities such as that of Ban Chiang in North East Thailand which is
thought to date from 3,000 BC. Buddhism and Hinduism, according to the
archaeological finds of the Malayan peninsula, Indonesia and the southern
delta regions of Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, made their appearance about
the first to third centuries of the Christian millenium. They seem to have
come with Indian traders and missionaries from Indian and Ceylon.
Knowledge of their philosophies, art work, and administrative approaches
accompanied the riseof the first commercial states in these regions such
as Funan, Chen-la, Sating Pra, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Takua Pa. Whilst
Hinduism took root most strongly in Cambodia from eight to thirteenth
centuries and in Indonesia in about the same time frame, it remained a
superficial influence in Thailand, Burma, Laos where Buddhism took hold
most strongly. In Indonesia, Hinduism saw the rise of the great empires
of Sri Vijaya, Malayu, Mataram, and Majapahit. In Cambodia, it was the
basis of the ancient Angkorian civilisation. However, archaeological
finds in Thailand and southern Burma show that Theravada Buddhism was most
dominant in the ancient kingdom of Dvaravati up to about the eleventh
century when it was overtaken by the Khmer and the Thai. Theravada
Buddhism however conquered its conquerors and spread throughout Pagan
Burma (11th century), the first great classical Thai kingdom at Sukhothai
(13th-14th centuries) and post Angkor Cambodia as well as Laos.|
Islam which had been present since the early Christian era among the Muslim traders only started to spread as a concerted movement in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries after the fall of Baghdad changed the balance of power in the west and affected the trade routes - and therefore revenues - of the Islamic world. By the end of the fourteenth century the great temple building empires of SE Asia were all in crisis perhaps as a result of the strain on manpower and resources which such huge building programs entailed. Islam, with its emphasis on individualism, took root most strongly among the commercial groups in the port cities of Sumara, Java, and southern Malay peninsula at Malacca, later spreading to the archipelago world of eastern Indonesia. A series of upheavals in Java and Sumatra over a two hundred year period saw the rout of the classical Hindu empires and the establishment of a new polity in the various Islam states such as Demak, Banten, Aceh and the newly resurrected Islamic state of Mataram. The arrival of the European merchants, missionaries and administrators, Portuguese, Dutch, French, British, pushed Islam to coalesce to protect its gains from the new threat as the counter-reformation spread to SE Asia.
Catholic Christianity first took hold in Goa, India after Da Gama's 1498 discovery of the sea passage to the east, then spread to Malacca which was captured from Islam in 1511, then to Macao and other ports. The conversion of the Philippines to Iberian Christianity began with the Spanish capture of Manila in 1571 and was rapidly accomplished so that by 1650 most of Lowland Luzon and the Visayas had been converted. Protestant Christianity arrived with the Dutch in the early seventeenth century but had to await the Protestant missionary movement of the early nineteenth century before any converted evangelising movement really began. Apart from the Philippines, Christianity has had comparatively little success in SE Asia where Buddhism remains the dominant religion. Like Buddhism on the mainland, Islam continues to be the dominant religion in the island world although Protestant Christianity is said to account for some 8% of Indonesia's population. In recent times, much Protestant missionary effort has been expanded in Java and Borneo.
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