The purpose of this study was to conduct a descriptive analysis of multiple dimensions of religious belief and practice among older people in Japan with data from a nationwide sample. Six dimensions were evaluated: religious affiliation, involvement in formal religious organisations, private religious practices, the functions of prayer, belief in punishment by supernatural forces, and beliefs about the afterlife. In addition to describing these dimensions for the sample as a whole, tests were performed to see if they varied by age, sex, marital status, education and for those living in rural or urban areas. The findings suggest that even though older people in Japan are not highly involved in formal religious institutions, they engage frequently in private religious practices, and that while many older people in Japan do not endorse some religious beliefs (e.g. about the quality of the afterlife), there is strong adherence to others (e.g. beliefs about punishment by supernatural forces). It was found that older women are more deeply involved in religion than older men, and that levels of religious involvement appear to be higher in rural than in urban areas. Less pronounced differences were found with respect to age, but compared to the ‘young-old’, the ‘oldest-old’ aged 75 or more years were more deeply involved in those aspects of religion that take place outside formal institutions.
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