Tuesday 21. September 2021
#209 - November 2017

The religious landscape in Europe

Yasemin El-Menouar of the Bertelsmann Foundation examines the topic of religion across Europe.

Although secularisation is well advanced on the continent of Europe, religion is once again a subject for debate here. There are more and more signs of religious attitudes in Europe strengthening, even though people are turning away from established government-recognised religions. Religion sociologist Martin Riesebrodt sums it up as follows: “Religion may have had its day as an established pillar of the state, but, as a social force, religions do have a supporting role to play in Europe.”


Uncertainty over statistical data

Given the debates on the role of religion in Europe, the uncertainty and vagueness of the available data come as a real surprise. At present, there is no reliable, up-to-date data on religious affiliation in many European countries, as shown by the Swiss Metadatabase of Religious Affiliation in Europe (SMRE). In addition, many of the statistics relating to religion contradict one another, possibly because the question of religious affiliation is sometimes raised objectively, sometimes subjectively.


For example, in a survey from 2015, the Eurobarometer concludes that the percentage of Christians in the EU countries is currently 72% (45% Catholic, 11% Protestant, 10% Orthodox, 6% others), and the percentage of those with no religion is 24% (10% atheist, 14% agnostic). The percentage of Muslims is stated as 1.8%, Jews 0.3%, Buddhists 0.4% and Hindus 0.3%. Thirteen of the 28 EU Member States can be classified as predominantly Catholic (with a proportion of over 60%), three as predominantly Orthodox and two as predominantly Protestant. In the Czech Republic, those with no religion are in the majority with a percentage of 64.4%.


Religious self-assessment

In a survey by Berlin market research company Dalia Research in December 2016, participants were specifically asked to state their own religious affiliations. According to this, 50% of EU citizens describe themselves as Christian (42% Catholic, 8% Protestant). 38% of respondents said they had no religion. 3% describe themselves as Muslims, 1% as Jews, 1% as Buddhists, and 8% belong to other faiths.


Regarding the six largest EU countries, the greatest numbers of professed Catholics are found in Italy (73%), Poland (71%) and Spain (53%), while the majority of the population in France (58%) and the UK (54%) described themselves as having no religion. In Germany, on the other hand, there is an above-average number of Protestants (26%), around the same percentage as the Catholics (25%). France has the highest proportion of Muslims (7%), followed by Germany (5%) and the UK (4%).


The Europe-wide perspective

Widening the focus from the 28 EU Member States (population 507 million) to all European countries (population 820 million) results in a shift in balance, in particular regarding the place of Islam in Europe. According to the 2008 European Values Study (EVS), in the 47 European countries reviewed, Catholics (37%) and Orthodox Christians (31%) predominate, but they are followed in terms of numbers by Muslims (15%) ahead of Protestants (14.5%). There is a Muslim majority in five European countries.


According to calculations by the Pew Research Center, Christianity is projected to remain the most important (numerically) religion in Europe, but by the year 2050 the number of Christians will have dropped by around 100 million to 454 million. This corresponds to a percentage of 65.2% compared with today’s 74.5%. In contrast, the proportion of Muslims in the European population will rise from 5.9% to 10.2%, and that of those professing no religion from 18.8% to 23.3%. The number of Jews in Europe will shrink slightly, from 1.4 million (0.2%) to 1.2 million.


The new relevance of religion

The figures show that religion is far from declining in Europe; however, what is changing is the religious landscape. On the one hand, Islam is experiencing a rapid transformation process in Europe, which is triggering a reflection on Christian identity. Right-wing authoritarian societies and groups express their views more resolutely, but so also do groups with no religious affiliations. On the other hand, migration is leading towards an accelerating religious pluralisation, leading to growth especially in Christian Evangelical communities. In 2012, 42% of non-European migrants coming into the EU were Christian, and 39% were Muslim.


The subject of religion has therefore acquired new social and political relevance, creating the need to renegotiate the relationship between religion and society. But if we are to do this, the information we have on the religious landscape of Europe should be more detailed than what is currently available.


Yasemin El-Menouar

Bertelsmann Foundation


Translated from the original text in German


EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.