In the milieu of an agrarian society, faiths and religious practices tended to become phenomena of the prevalent popular culture. The 19th century was an epoch when all Vietnamese believed in spirits. Moreover, Vietnams spiritual life might be described as largely syncretic and polytheistic.
Generally speaking, it has been understood that the Vietnamese used to practice three traditional religions, namely Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. Subsequently, the religious consensus changed with the advent of Christianity in the 17th century, introduced at first by the Portuguese and then by French missionaries. Yet factual realities were much more complex as different sets of beliefs amalgamated among different strata of the population. The amalgamation brought into being somewhat mixed worship practices with clear syncretic overtones. Therefore, there were no clear distinctions between Taoism and the Cult of Spirits in its countless local forms, between mainstream religions and the superstitious practices of everyday life.
However, in the course of amalgamation and domestication mentioned above, the highly developed philosophic concepts of Taoism were not disseminated in all strata of society. On the contrary, superstitious beliefs and practices became widespread while mainstream religions and orthodox doctrines were largely misunderstood, misinterpreted and soon their popularity was on the decline. Obviously, this phenomenon must have had negative repercussions relative to the processes of popular culture evolution and social development.
However, it should be pointed out that many Western scholars in their multitudinous observations concerning Vietnamese faiths, generally failed to identify the cultural significance of Vietnams religious phenomena, although some comments were partially correct. Feelings of gratitude towards ancestors, national heroes and local spirits, which were so characteristic of the different strata of Vietnamese society, easily transformed into popular religious beliefs. However, outsiders tended to dismiss these religious phenomena as irrelevant practices.
Moreover, the system of Vietnamese faiths has been predominantly universalistic and syncretic, as it tended to embrace all religions and beliefs which were practiced in Vietnam. However, the crucial issue of Vietnams religious life was a need to separate mainstream religious phenomena and superstitious practices. It was also a gist of the Bửu Sơn Kỳ Hương teaching, which aimed at revitalizing true Buddhist values and eliminating what Bửu Sơn Kỳ Hương followers viewed as irrational superstitions.